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STUDIO: IFC Films
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 92 Minutes
- Behind the Scenes
- Deleted Scenes
William Burke and William Hare launch a profitable career in the corpse trading business when they discover they can sell a fresh cadaver to Dr. Knox at the medical college for dissection. But when word gets out about their success, the duo soon faces stiff competition for stiffs.
John Landis (director). Piers Ashworth & Nick Moorcroft (writers), Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Hynes, Bill Bailey, Tim Curry, and Sir Christopher Lee
The grisly true story of the two most famous grave robbers of all time played like a Laurel & Hardy routine with just enough romance and emotion to make you forget all the grisly bits.
In a perfect world, corpse humor would be a major factor in breaking down national borders and uniting us all as one people. I don’t think Burke & Hare is going to do that, nor is it aspiring to such lofty expectations. It’s perfectly content with being a small distraction, although one filled with solid performances, a quick wit and a masterfully focused eye behind the camera.
John Landis has sadly been missing from the multiplex ever since he unleashed the mindless automaton that was Blues Brothers 2000, but his subsequent work in television (particularly his second season episode of Masters of Horror) proved that age hadn’t begun to take its George Lucas-ian toll on him. Instead, Burke & Hare showcases that he still has a knack for balancing hilarity and heart, while injecting his old school moviemaking prowess into the proceedings to end up with a film that isn’t a classic, but is a refreshing reminder why he should rightly be labeled as one of the masters of genre cinema.
Simon Pegg (Burke) and Andy Serkis (Hare) are a charming duo, making two completely reprehensible characters seem relatable and sometimes even likable. Burke is the morally conflicted one while Hare is the amoral businessman, and their chemistry provides ample opportunities for bumbling slapstick and clever wordplay. The first act of the film keeps the focus on them and their burgeoning agreement with Dr. Knox (Tom Wilkinson) who, thanks to rival medical professor Dr. Monro (a plucked turkey-looking Tim Curry), can no longer get his hands on fresh cadavers for his classroom dissections. Once they start to discover some measure of success from their endeavors, the film takes a pause to build up a relationship between Burke and a former prostitute turned actress, Ginny (Isla Fisher), that feels a little forced, but not wholly unwelcome. She wants to put on an all female version of MacBeth (I’ve heard worse ideas) and sees the infatuated Burke as a potential investor, but over the course of the film, she comes to have real feelings for him. Isla Fisher may be a stunning beauty, but she’s at best sufficient for the role. The real juicy relationship is between Hare and his alcoholic wife Lucky (played with glee by the always welcome Jessica Hynes), who figures out what her husband and his companion are up to and wants in on the racket. They also have a very eclectic sex life, culminating in an astounding funny scene where they come up with the idea for funeral parlors in the middle of intense coitus, and get off on their brilliance! It’s delightfully twisted stuff, and that tone permeates the whole movie.
There’s also plenty of under-the-surface stuff going on with the flick. Ideas of class control are present and probably the best thing is that practically all of the characters, not just Burke and Hare, are morally corrupt and the movie presents that that is what any sort of business is based on. There’s Dr. Knox, who pretty much tells Hare to start killing more people so he can have enough corpses to complete his medical proposal to the king, a pair of local crimelords who want 50% of Burke and Hare‘s profits (this is a cute scene as they come up with the idea of protection rackets), and an executioner (Bill Bailey, who nobody tells nuffin’) who sells the bodies of hanged criminals right after they’ve dropped. It’s clever satire and helps elevate the movie beyond just a blackly comedic take on grave-robbing. However, the comedy does tend to take a back seat to the actual story by the time the third act rolls around, and while it’s satisfyingly done, I was having such a good time with the comedy that when things got a tad more serious, it was a tonal shift that threatened to take me out of the movie. But only threatened, it didn’t follow through. The emotional decisions and resolutions of the characters are believable and well-earned, and the movie never fully drops the ball in any area, it just fumbles about with it for a bit.
Overall, Burke & Hare is a gratifying addition to the John Landis canon, and hopefully a step towards at least one more masterwork. It certainly feels like one of his movies, and that’s a feeling I’ve been waiting to have again for a long time. He assembles an almost impeccable cast (he even gets Christopher Lee for one scene of a good old-fashioned pillow smothering done in hilarious fashion), a capable and humorous script, and strikingly realistic locals and costumes. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is a great bit of fun. If we got one of thse kinds of comedies every year instead of the usually humorless drivel that fills the silver screen, the movie theater would be a better place.
The movie is presented in 2:40:1 and has a nice transfer. There’s a good selection of deleted scenes, your standard trailer, a short blooper reel that is obviously real bloopers instead of the manufactured blooper reels I see so much of these days, a behind the scenes video that shows the filming of a few key scenes (it’s has no narration or inter-cut footage, so it does feel like your just on set), and a bevy of interviews with pretty much every key actor in the film, the writers, and Mr. Landis himself.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars