Film Review: Burke and Hare

John Landis helms a cinematic release for the first time in over a decade and he returns to his familiar and previously successful hunting ground of the macabre comedy.  It’s almost 30 years since Landis scared us and entertained us in equal measure in An American Werewolf in London and he returns once more to the UK with this period piece based upon the real-life murderers (perhaps the world’s first serial killers) Burke and Hare.

Simon Pegg (Burke) and Andy Serkis (Hare) are the eponymous duo stalking 19th century Edinburgh for cadavers to sell to the city’s medical school.  All they have to do to keep the money rolling in is to keep the bodies coming.

With the team behind the two recent St. Trinians movies writing the screenplay, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be more farce than frights and that the film would not strike a fine balance between the two in the way that An American Werewolf in London did so brilliantly.  And so it was; although to even elevate this dross to farce would be too much.

Landis keeps well away from providing scares and instead directs a film that reminded me of the awful 1992 attempt to revive Carry On films: Carry on Columbus.  Burke and Hare is littered with obvious jokes and they all miss rather than hit their marks.  It also seems to rely heavily on having famous faces pop up for cameos: Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbett, Stephan Merchant, Reece Shearsmith, Bill Bailey, Paul Whitehouse, Ray Harryhausen; the list goes on.  Landis even has the gall to include Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine (of An American Werewolf in London) in a film that simply does not deserve to pay tribute to that previous collaboration.  It’s not so bad to have plenty of cameos (Landis had already done so with much success in The Blues Brothers), but only if the material they are involved in is worthy and this certainly is not.  It almost seemed as though they hoped that the audience would pay more attention to cameo spotting than the weak script.

Based upon these performances Andy Serkis should stick to wearing an all in one gimp suit and being filmed for a CGI character a la King Kong and Gollum.  Simon Pegg comes out of this no better and he must surely be hopeful that his stock as the fanboys’ fanboy will not be dented by such a dreadful turn.  Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry scrape by purely because their characters are neither interesting nor have much screen time.  Isla Fisher and Jessica Hynes even overplay their parts as the love interests of Burke and Hare.

It’s easy to blame the script.  It must have read like a bad pantomime and so was performed like one.  There seems to have been no quality control present and any joke thought of was included.  Otherwise, I would hate to see what did not make it into the final version.   

The only redeeming features I can think of is that the Edinburgh locations looked good and that it only last for 90 minutes.  Landis’ best work is over 20 years ago and any chance of a return to that form looks as dead as the cadavers Burke and Hare provided.

Go and see Burke and Hare?  Over my dead body!

My Rating: 0/5

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