Shhh! We're all friends here, right? See I have a little confession to make. This is one of the few times that I saw a movie adaptation of the book first, loved it, and then read the book and wasnt dissapointed by either book or film.
Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher is a great story, which inspired one of the great horror films of all times.
When I was about 10 years old, I saw RKO's production of "The Body Snatcher" for the first time. Its a moody, atmospheric little masterpiece from RKO's Val Lewton, who produced some great chillers in the 40's, including Bedlam, Cat People, I walked with a Zombie, and The Body Snatchers. The film stuck quite close to the book, and featured Boris Karloff in the performance of his career as the sympathetic villian. I watched it several times in my youth (which predated, let me remind you, the VCR era, so it sometimes meant getting up at 2am to watch a movie)
|See this guy? Scary. So is the story.|
It wasnt until I got to college and took a Gothic Literature class, that I finally got around to reading "The Body Snatcher" but it was well worth the wait.
Stevenson, who also gave us Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, was always very good at what we would now call historical fiction. In this case he gives us a thinly veiled reconstruction of the Burke and Hare grave robbing scandals.
The story is told in flashback from the perspective of Fettes, once a young medical student in Edinburgh. The classes are taught by a society doctor clearly meant to be Dr Knox, who purchased corpses from Burke and Hare. He went unpunished while Hare turned states evidence and Burke was hanged. At that time anatomy could only be studied by disection and and bodies for diessection could only be obtained illegally, by grave robbing.
Fettes comes under the influence of a young doctor named McFarlane, who's the doctor's right hand man, paying for exhumed corpses for the anatomy class and turning a blind eye when the corpses are familiar or too fresh. Fettes soon realizes that he is already in too deep, and can't leave. Up turns a man named Gray who knows way too much about the getting of corpses. It all comes to a climax in a rainy graveyard with an ending that still chills after more than 125 years.