Burke and Hare

10 Oct

Title: Burke and Hare
John Landis
Writers: Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft
Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
91 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


Seeing John Ladis’ name listed as the director in a film used to mean people would expect comedic greatness from that movie. And those expectations were grounded in solid evidence, this is the guy that gave us Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Three Amigos and Coming to America between the late seventies and the eighties, all of them classic comedy films that are revered by a good number of people. The nineties saw the decline of Mr. Landis’ work though, through a number of original films that failed both commercially and critically, and through him taking on directing duties on Beverly Hills Cop III, by far the worst entry in the franchise and the one that essentially killed off any chances of the series going any further, as well as doing a sequel to The Blues Brothers that seriously failed to live up to the level of the original. And it seems that Mr. Landis was aware that he had lost his golden touch as he hasn’t directed a single film since Susan’s Plan, which went straight to video back in 1998.

So when I saw that there was a new film out, Burke and Hare, directed by Mr. Landis after more than a dozen years without giving us a feature-length film, you can be sure I was plenty intrigued. And look, this film isn’t great by any means, and the director still has a long ways to go if he ever wants to go back to his glory days, but while I won’t really go around recommending Burke and Hare to my friends or to you readers, there was definitely a part of me that saw in it a few glimpses of the John Landis of old, even if only for a few moments. On paper though, it really seemed like this was going to be the true amazing comeback a man like John Ladis deserves, because he, who had given us the aforementioned An American Werewolf in London, was now teaming up with Simon Pegg, who gave us Shaun of the Dead in 2004. By which I mean, these are two guys who have done exceptional films that manage to balance horror and comedy in the best of ways, and they now were coming together to present a comedic take on the most notorious team of murderers in early nineteenth century Scotland, it just seemed to good to be true.

And it kind of was too good to be true, it seems, as Burke and Hare comes nowhere close to matching the heights achieved by Shaun of the Dead or An American Werewolf in London. What made those two films stand out as the perfect mixes of comedy and horror was that they were smart enough to know how to take the horror elements seriously and not become a farce, while also knowing where to put in funny bits that become all the more amazing because they serve as an escape from the horror. Now, I guess it’s pretty obvious why this one wasn’t as amazing as the other films Mr. Landis and Mr. Pegg have done that marry the genres, and that’s because this time neither of them had a hand on the script. And it obviously all boils down to the script in a film like this and considering that Piers Ashowrth and Nick Moorcroft, the duo in charge of this one, haven’t really done anything particularly good in their careers so far, I guess it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Burke and Hare missed the target.

The other guy on whom this film relies on is also a favorite of mine, and that’s Andy Serkis, who of course I raved to the heavens for the stop-motion work he did as Caesar in this summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which currently stands as the 11th best film of the year to date for me), and here he plays the other half of the murderous duo Mr. Pegg is a part of. Mr. Pegg is Burke and Mr. Serkis is Hare, two guys who live during the grim poverty-stricken time of Scotland during the 1820’s and found out that selling corpses to anatomy lecturers was quite the way to get a bit more cash and decided that instead of waiting for people to die of natural causes, like their first sell did, they might as well take matters into their own hands.

And the thing is that Burke and Hare is a film that while trying its best to play out as a comedy with straight-up horror bits in it, it never really ends up being neither funny nor mildly scary, and considering that was its main objective you can’t really consider this one a success. And it’s truly a pity because the talent here is amazing, other than Mr. Landis, Mr. Pegg and Mr. Serkis you have Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Bailey and a slew of other prime British talent that goes to waste because the script just didn’t warrant something great. Because this really is all the fault of Mr. Ashworth and Mr. Moorcroft, as they tried to make the macabre funny, but by doing so they severely toned down their characters and they end up not being much at all, and as such they’re in a horrible limbo, not being able to provide a good scare nor much more than a mild-mannered chuckle. Burke and Hare will leave you thinking a lot about what could have been, and really hoping Mr. Landis doesn’t take another dozen years to try again.

Grade: C+


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