Preview: Burke & Hare

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By Tom O’Neill

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Set in Edinburgh during the 1820s, Burke & Hare is a black comedy starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis. Pegg, best known for his lead roles in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is at it again in this farce based on two of Scotland’s most infamous serial killers. Immigrants from Ireland, William Burke and William Hare find work in the corpse acquiring business. They sell cadavers needed for educational dissection to Dr Robert Knox, played by Tom Wilkinson. At first, the duo rob graves to acquire their specimens, but when they learn that the fresher the corpse, the better the payout, they begin murdering helpless people from the streets of Edinburgh.

Killing upwards of fifteen people is a far cry from zombies and dim-witted cops. Burke and Hare murdered men and women, some of whom were disabled; is it honestly proper to joke about this? Based on the trailer, the film seems to brush aside morals and paints the protagonists as funny and sympathetic, while cracking jokes about the misshapen corpses they sell to make a living. Black comedies can make excellent movies provided that it makes a point. Just look at Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H., for example. But is there a point to Burke & Hare’s violence?

One thing that Burke & Hare does have going for it is its director. John Landis, who also directed Animal House and The Blues Brothers, hasn’t made many movies since those classics and over the past ten years he’s been dabbling in television. Thankfully, he is finally returning to his comedic roots with Burke & Hare.

The film hits theatres on 29 October. The scenery is sure to be interesting and John Landis knows how to get the best out of his comedians. So judge for yourself: is the film too controversial or simply black comedy at its best.

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