Review: Burke and Hare

John Landis is back. In what seems like an eternity the An American Werewolf in London director returns to the genre he helped make so popular.

Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft
Starring: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson
Released: 2010 / Genre: Horror/Comedy / Country: UK / IMDB
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John Landis is back. Twelve years since his last film (Susan’s Plan in 1998) and eighteen years since his last good film (Innocent Blood in 1992), the director of the classic horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London returns to the genre he made so popular. Burke and Hare is loosely based on the West Port murders that took place in Edinburgh between 1827 and 1828. Because of an insufficient amount of cadavers available for medical education and research, Burke (Simon Pegg) and Hare (Andy Serkis), in much need of finances, hatch a plan to hand over their murdered victims to Dr. Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson) enabling the anatomy lecturer to advance his research way beyond rival Dr. Alexander Monro (Tim Curry).

burke and hard, john landis, simon pegg,

Shooting on location in Scotland and at Ealing Studios in London, Landis was able to return to the country where he had produced his best work, and the studio he held such admiration for. “Working at a revitalised Ealing Studios will be a great honour. Films like Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers have been guiding examples to me over the years, and I hope to honour that mix of darkness and comedy again with Burke and Hare,” said the director prior to shooting. Landis, who made An American Werewolf in London in, as the name suggests, the United Kingdom, is clearly overjoyed to be back. Burke and Hare is peppered throughout with the director’s darkly comic sense of humour that bridges the macabre with outlandish comedy.

The director has also welcomed back several members of the An American Werewolf in London cast with Jenny Agutter and David Woodvine appearing in cameos while David “You made me miss” Schofield is the mean-looking Fergus. Landis also drafts in a host of seasoned British pros from Ronnie Corbit to Sir Christopher Lee while younger comedy stars such as Bill Bailey, Paul Whitehouse, Stephen Merchant and Reese Shearsmith also appear in small roles. These actors complement an already exceptional main cast led by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis who manage an unusual feat – to be likable multiple murderers. Jessica Hynes links up with her Spaced co-star Pegg, playing Serkis’ wife, while Tom Wilkinson and Tim Curry are fiendishly good as the warring doctors.

horror comedy, american werewolf in london, burke and hare,

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Landis plays it all for laughs. There’s very little in the way of the scares once seen in his werewolf masterpiece. Here he sticks closer to slapstick comedy and witty lines of dialogue. He relies on the comedic talents of his lead actors but they generally deliver with Serkis’ inherent ability to make his face do much of the talking helping him to stand out. The film is also beautifully shot and is one of Landis’ most visually exciting films thanks to its brilliant period production design.

Where the film struggles is that it is hardly compelling viewing. The story is of fleeting interest and like the true events, the denouement leaves a lot to be desired. While the film is funny, and at times suitably gory, the plot meanders a little aimlessly and there’s little joy to be found in the sub-plot involving Burke’s courting of ex-prostitute Ginny (Isla Fisher). But this is still Landis’ best films for years, not because he hasn’t actually made a film in years, but because there is an obvious joy for genre cinema that permeates every shot.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Custard Reply

    You definitely liked this a wee bit more than I Dan. I was bored all the way through. I found it un funny and a bit up it”s own bottom!!

  2. Dan Reply

    @Custard: I actually wholeheartedly agree with you but I watched this one with rose-tinted glasses on because I’m such a huge fan of John Landis. I think some of his best attributes do come through hence my reasonably positive score/review – I liked the darkly comic humour and the performances (including some of the cameos).

    But the sheer amount of cameos, and the return of most of the still-living An American Werewolf cast, has a slight stench of pretension. The story failed to captivate either, but I think this is glossed over a bit by the witty dialogue.

  3. Claire Reply

    For some reason, I thought this came out years ago! I’m a fan of Pegg and Serkis so I may rent this just for them. I can just about gloss over the story if, like you say, the dialogue is witty.

  4. Fitz Reply

    I keep holding out hope this comes by an area near me, but it seems unlikely. Great review, Dan! Pegg and Serkis, what a great idea.

  5. Duncan Reply

    Being from Edinburgh i was quite excited when i heard this was coming out, but i read so many bad reviews (i think this is the best i’ve seen) that i never got around to seeing it. One day.

  6. Novroz Reply

    You clearly like this more than I did. I felt the same as Scott, the comedy is just flat.

    However, I have to admit that you make a great review out of this movie.

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