THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS"
If you don't remember or have never heard of The Doctor and the Devils, don't feel too bad. 20th Century Fox effectively buried it in October of 1985. (Total domestic gross = $147,040) It's not hard to see why. The mid-'80s were a period where slasher flicks ruled the horror landscape. It was all Freddy and Jason. Selling a pseudo-arty, slow-burn chiller couldn't have been an easy task. Nonetheless, the film is now reemerging, thanks to a Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory.
Based on an original screenplay by poet Dylan Thomas, The Doctor and the Devils takes place in 1820s Edinburgh. Timothy Dalton plays Thomas Rock, a brilliant anatomy professor who is intensely devoted to his work. His subjects are the bodies of recently hanged criminals. Desiring “fresh” corpses to further his studies, he employs two grave robbers, Fallon (Jonathan Pryce) and Broom (Stephen Rea), to procure them. They begin murdering people, then bringing the bodies to Rock. This sets off a chain of events that have major repercussions for everyone involved.
By far, the most interesting thing about The Doctor and the Devils is its exploration of early medicine. Rock argues that there should be no ethical lines, provided that knowledge is being acquired. There are several really engaging scenes in which the local medical board chastises him for his attempts to advance learning, and he responds with passionate arguments suggesting that sacrifices need to be made for the greater good. Timothy Dalton really excels in the role, conveying Rock's fierce intellect and hunger to understand more about human anatomy. Pryce and Rea are quite good as well, providing dark comic relief that contrasts Rock's serious entanglement.
The downside to the film is that it stuffs in too much. There's a whole subplot involving a prostitute (played by Twiggy) that falls a bit flat. Scenes between Fallon and Broom sometimes go on a bit long, as well. They're great characters, but best when they're supporting the main story. At certain times, it also feels as though the plot could do even more with its material. Everything with Rock in it is so strong that you want more focus on him and less on everyone else.
The Doctor and the Devils is a fascinating curio, despite its flaws. This was clearly an attempt to make a literate, sophisticated thriller. It'll work better for some viewers than others, but no matter what you think, its very existence is notable.
Scream Factory's Blu-Ray comes with audio commentary from author and film historian Steve Haberman, the theatrical trailer, and a fun 15-minute interview with executive producer Mel Brooks, producer Jonathan Sanger, and former Brooksfilms Development Executive Randy Auerbach. They discuss how this unusual film came together, and how Brooks – who, of course, was primarily known for comedy – created his Brooksfilms label so that he wouldn't have to put his name on non-comedies he produced, thereby preventing audience confusion.
For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.
The Doctor and the Devils is rated R for language, violence, and sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!