Loosely based on bizarre but very real events from the 1820s, Burke and Hare is a black comedy with an English twist. And no one makes black comedies like the English. They’re classy but still very down-to-Earth. Here, we will be following two guys looking to make a quick buck in some pretty unusual ways. I’m talking, of course, about grave robbing. Oddly enough, just two years prior we had the opportunity to check out I Sell The Dead  featuring a very similar story.
Burke and Hare is definitely not a masterpiece but it will keep you entertained for eighty minutes. It’s the first movie John Landis directed after a twelve-year break so he might have been a bit rusty. His idea was to tell the story of an evil Laurel and Hardy. And while our gruesome twosome sure is inept, they’re not as funny as you thought they would be. Especially since they’re played by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis. The movie had trouble balancing comedy and drama, coming off as pretty uneven. The story needed to be more outrageous and over-the-top to make us forget what it is we’re watching here.
So, you might wanna lower your expectations a bit for this one. Still, there are two aspects that elevate Burke and Hare from your usual black comedies. The first one is the true story about William Burke and William Hare who really did these things. And since the movie is taking place almost two centuries ago, you can look at the cultural differences and how people lived back then. The second one is the whole corpse thing but we will talk about it more after a short summary of the movie.
It is the year 1820 in the town of Edinburgh, and two best friends and hustlers Burke and Hare are doing everything they can to get their bushiness up and running but each one fails. Faced with some grave (pun intended) problems they start thinking outside the box, trying to come up with some enterprise that will guarantee them a profit. They notice that the demand for fresh human corpses is ever rising as medical science is also advancing. So, Burke and Hare decide to open their fresh-corpse-supply business. However, they will soon run into some pretty weird problems…
So, death, the death that awaits us all. It’s something that’s always in the back of our heads even when don’t think it is. We’re really not that well equipped to comprehend what it means and how to accept it. But we sure do feel that existential dread. This is a very serious matter and precisely because of this, it works so well in black comedies. We’ve all seen Weekend at Bernie’s or another great British comedy Death at a Funeral. Burke and Hare go a step further and not because it’s funny but because that’s what really happened.
Director: John Landis
Writers: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft
Cast: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Tim Curry, Jessica Hynes, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Bailey
Fun Facts: In the West Port area of Edinburgh, the murderers’ legacy lives on in a strip club named Burke & Hare.