"Burke & Hare" has made its way to our shores at last. After being stuck in the morass of international distribution, John Landis' latest film is finally available for viewing in the US, courtesy of IFC and MPI Media. I had been waiting for this movie for the longest time and was truly excited when the DVD finally appeared on my desk. Detailing the gruesome exploits of history's most infamous body snatchers, as told by the ever-amusing Landis, this movie was right down my alley.
William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) are two confidence men in the Scottish city of Edinburgh, constantly trying to find new ways to cheat people out of their money with with snake oil and other remedies. But business could be better. A lot better, as the two have barely the money to quench their thirst for ales. When one of the lodgers in the lodging house they also operate, passes away - and with it the lodger's regular rent payments - the two begin to get desperate. They need to produce money, and fast.
Having a dead man on their hands, they decide get into selling corpses to science. With the legal supply of bodies for dissection controlled by one man, the city's other doctors are starving for bodies to study. Doctor Knox in particular, is willing to pay a pretty penny for bodies delivered to him. And the fresher, the better.
That gives Burke and Hare an idea. No longer content with waiting for someone in their vicinity to die, they decide to help fate along a little. They begin murdering people and sell each body to Dr. Know for a handsome price. Life couldn't be better, especially wen Burke falls in love with Ginny (Isla Fischer), a young woman with dreams of becoming an actress.
What could have been a dark, brooding, macabre and grim story, actually turns out to be an enjoyable romp in the capable hands of John Landis. Never one to shy away from a laugh, Landis once again adds some tongue-in-cheek humor along the lines. As a result, "Burke & Hare" occasionally has the feel of an old "Carry On" movie - particularly the opening and closing scenes that bookend the film. But even throughout, the movie never takes itself too seriously, and one can't help but notice that even the cast had a salivatingly fun time making this film. It shines through in the portrayal of virtually every character, from Tim Curry's jealousy ridden Doctor Monro to Tom Wilkinson's Doctor Knox.
Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis carry the movie with their likable charm, being funny at the right time and serious when the scene requires. Without a doubt, these two actors were the perfect choice for the kind of film Landis wanted to make.
The film also has a wonderful atmosphere, reveling in torch- and candle lit interiors, charming exteriors full of gothic dread and grim, dirty peasantry that love to drink and party hard in their filth.
Sadly, "Burke & Hare" arrives only on DVD - not Blu-Ray version has been announced. Nonetheless, the transfer on this release is wonderfully clean and detailed, making sure the movie looks as good as it possibly can. With its solid black levels, the image renders shadows dark and looming, while also giving the image visual depth. Very nice.
The audio comes courtesy of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It is a solid track, though don't expect overly aggressive surround usage. It is held back a little, which makes sense, given the nature of the film itself.
Among the extras on the dic you will find a good selection of deleted scenes and outtakes. In addition, there is an interview featurette, along with a featurette taking you behind the scenes and on set during the film's production. As a result you get a very candid, close-up look at Landis at work with the cast, along with some wonderfully funny moments.
The disc is rounded out by the movie's theatrical trailer.
It is a shame the film took so long to arrive in the US, and it is certainly surprising that no high definition version has been scheduled, but I take "Burke & Hare" the way it is for now, glad that I have had the chance to see it at all. While the film may not satisfy everyone - particularly those expecting either a very serious, or a very funny movie, for that matter - I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cast, the setting and production design, the story and Landis' capable direction, all make this a movie well worth seeing.