For the uninitiated, William Burke and William Hare were a pair of Irish men in Edinburgh, Scotland, who made a living selling dead bodies to a prominent physician. When the source of bodies dried up, they began a killing spree. Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) and Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) play the gruesome twosome as a 19th century version of Abbott & Costello, or Stan & Ollie.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Burke and Hare is a bit tasteless, and obvious, but it’s a wickedly hilarious recreation of one of history’s most ghoulish chapters. Director John Landis’s specialty has always been macabre humor, and while Burke and Hare is not as good as American Werewolf in London, Into the Night or Innocent Blood, it is a fine example of the director’s ability to combine diametrically opposite genres.
Blessed with charming smarminess, Landis manages to create a film that works at various levels. He has fun with the cyclical nature of life. The dead feeds the living, and the living makes the most of the dead. In other words, people are nothing but horse manure. Landis also explores the curious relationship between visionaries and profiteers. I would have loved to see a bit more horror, and less comedy, but it is an enjoyable film.
As it is customary with Landis, the film has a great cast of character actors, and many unexpected cameos. Pegg and Serkis are hilarious. Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) look like they are having fun as two competitive physicians. Jessica Hynes (Shaun of the Dead) has some of the funniest moments. I don’t want to spoil any of the “special guest appearances.”
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Burke and Hare is not a laugh-out-loud comedy ala Young Frankenstein, but it is a delight from beginning to end, especially if you know a little bit about the real-life crimes, or if you’ve seen The Body Snatcher (1945), The Flesh and the Fiends (1960) or The Doctor and the Devils (1985), straight reenactments of the events that occurred in 1828. Color, 91 minutes, Rated R.