Fairly morbid comedy is something of a speciality for director John Landis, and in re-telling the true story of the Burke and Hare murders, he gets to indulge in exactly what he does best.
It might be almost thirty years since Landis’ iconic horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London, but with Simon Pegg playing William Burke alongside Andy Serkis as William Hare, his latest film, Burke and Hare, manages to mix murder and laughter just as perfectly as ever.
Pegg and Serkis provide a happy-go-lucky portrayal of the nineteenth-century serial murderers and, bless them, their Irish accents aren’t bad either. Whether they’re throwing drunkards down concrete steps or smothering the elderly with pillows, they’ll do it with such charm and a smile that you’ll be routing for them every step of the way.
Take Pegg, for example, he’s only behaving like a cold-blooded killer to win the fair hand of Ginny – a budding actress played by Isla Fisher, who has no idea that the production of her play is being funded through less-than-legitimate means. And besides, he is undoubtedly influenced by cheeky-chappy Serkis, who since he started knocking off poor unfortunates left, right and centre has seen his sex-life with wife (and accomplice) Jessica Hynes, improve quite dramatically.
There’s also the fact that they’re (sort of) killing their way round town to aid the science of anatomy. The pair sell their unusually abundant supply of corpses to one Tom Wilkinson, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical College, who is well-cast as Doctor Robert Knox.
Throw in some slightly slapstick humour involving Ronnie Corbett as the leader of the utterly useless Edinburgh militia, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the morgue. Ok, so it’s not an entirely plausible plot, and if it wasn’t loosely based on real life it might sound as ridiculous as Fisher’s attempt at a Scottish accent (not very good), but somehow Landis gets away with it.
This might be partially to do with his romantic depiction of early 19c Edinburgh, which is pretty much one big sing-along party, with ales served in tankards by pretty girls with ringlets and corsets, and where even the most down-and-out of folks are still having a jolly good time.
And if that doesn’t distract you from the moral downfalls of this film, then there’s an array of famous faces that might. From Bill Bailey‘s brief role as narrator Angus, to Stephen Merchant popping up as a footman and Tim Curry as Knox’s rival, Dr. Monroe. What Burke and Hare lacks in credibility, it certainly makes up for in comedic talent, and in typical Landis’ style, there’s gore a’plenty, too.