It’s been 12 years since John Landis directed a movie and about two decades since he directed a good one. But now he’s back with BURKE AND HARE, a black comedy about two real-life serial killers from Ireland who operated in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1800s, selling their victims’ bodies to the local medical college for dissection. So how does Landis do? Pretty friggin’ bad. Lets check out the “hilarious” trailer, which is almost as bad as the movie. Almost.
The crimes of William Burke and William Hare have already been adapted for the big screen about five times, from The Body Snatcher (1945) to The Doctor and the Devils (1985), all to varying degrees of success. And why wouldn’t someone want to adapt this nasty bit of history? It’s a morbidly fascinating tale that doesn’t need to be embellished or altered to make a compelling film. That’s why I have no clue why Landis decided to make a black comedy in which Burke (Simon Pegg) and Hare (Andy Serkis) are made out to be two aloof scoundrels who simply stumbled into their ghoulish profession and continued committing their heinous crimes for justifiable reasons.
In reality, these two assholes committed atrocious crimes against some of the weakest people at their disposal. The sick, the elderly, children, and even the mentally handicapped. Landis doesn’t delve too far into that dark territory, but he does show the pair murdering a few people. Laugh your ass off as they suffocate an elderly homeless woman! To make sure she’s dead, Hare jams a nearby fork into her leg! “Yup, she’s snuffed it,” reports Hare. “I sure hope so!” replies Burke. Har! Har! End scene, and at the 45-minute mark, I’d checked my watch for the fourth time.
And dear readers, please don’t get me wrong. These scenes are not bad because I found them offensive or distasteful — I love those two adjectives like cheap whores. The scenes just aren’t funny. In fact, the entire movie is as comical as a dead baby spewing maggots into your banana pudding.
But God, does Landis try. Turning Burke and Hare into likeable characters is a daunting task that he attempts by making their individual ends justify their means. In the film, Hare is murdering for money to be used for his next legitimate business venture: a funeral parlor. Burke is simply murdering for the love of a prostitute-turned-actress whose all-lady production of Macbeth he’s funding. Neither of these two subplots make up for the fact that these men are despicable, nor does turning their murders into “antics.” If that wasn’t Landis’s intentions, then he failed on that level, too.
If I had anything good to say about the film at all, it would be that the set design was amazing, and the endless parade of cameos from British actors popping in throughout the movie was pretty cool — even though I felt bad for all of them being in this movie. Had it not been for this and the fact that I like both Pegg and Serkis, I swear to Christ it probably would’ve taken me four days to sit through this crap instead of two.
Everything is just off with this film. The timing, the terrible Scottish accents (Lucky Charms commercials sound more authentic), and the scenes that abruptly stop or lead up to punchlines that don’t work. This is easily the worst film I’ve had the displeasure of sitting through this year. If you want to watch a good movie about Burke and Hare that stays fairly accurate historically and features the top-notch acting of Donald Pleasance as Hare and Peter Cushing as Dr. Knox, go check out THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960), a superior film in every way.
Oh yeah, take a look at that poster. If you want a list of reviewers whose advice you should never take, jot down the names of the people whose blurbs are on it.Tags: cracked spine, Crime, Horror, movie, review