The Tomb of Terror – Burke & Hare (2010) – SIFF Film Review

The actors all appear to be having a great time with their parts. This is one of those films where over-the-top is the norm. This makes it so we don’t get much depth in characterization, but always have fun watching the actors at work. Pegg is one of my favorite comedic actors working right now, after his great turns in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and his solid supporting work in Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek. Like in those other roles, he brings a sense of reality to Burke. Even though the actor is a gifted comedian, he never turns his characters into punch line machines. Serkis is a very gifted actor whose face isn’t well known even though his parts are. He gave the motion capture performances as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and as the great ape in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Serkis brought a lot of humanity to those roles and upped the ante when it came to performances by computer effects. Hare doesn’t offer him as much to do, but he plays the roles with a growing bloodlust. As the warring doctors, Wilkinson and Curry keep it classy all the way. Hynes plays the most over-the-top character in the film. As Lucky Hare, she transforms from a sloppy drunk to a sex fiend suddenly attracted to her newly successful husband. Fisher is a very talented comedienne, but she is stuck playing the straight man in the film. There are also fun cameos; horror icon Christopher Lee appears as an unlucky boarder and many cast members from An American Werewolf in London make quick appearances.

Although the actors all do a good job with what they are given, the script for Burke & Hare holds it back from being a completely successful film. In the first half of the film there are a barrage of jokes, some of which work very well (as a drunk is thrown out of a bar, the barkeep yells “There’s no swearing in here you fucking son of a bitch bastard!”) and others that fall flat (Burke and Hare have a bucket of poo dumped on their heads as they stand in the street). One problem with most dark comedies is that things get so dark that the filmmakers have a hard time making it funny again. The same problem happens in the second half of Burke & Hare. There is nary a joke in sight for some time before the finale, and the way the story has been told up until that point keeps the drama Landis is going for from being effective. There is also a strange prologue and epilogue featuring a hangman (Bill Bailey, also from Spaced) that add nothing to the proceedings.

Burke & Hare has been released theatrically and on DVD/Blu-ray in the UK. The film does not yet have U.S. distribution, and that’s too bad. Although it doesn’t stand toe-to-toe with the classics in Landis’s filmography, it is an interesting film that is worth a watch for fans of the director and actors. It appears to have given Landis the shot in the arm that he needed. He’s now in pre-production on his next feature project, with talks of more afterward. If this film is any indication, he still has some tricks up his sleeve to make audiences laugh.

Burke & Hare screens Saturday, June 4th at 9:15 PM at Seattle’s Egyptian Theater, Monday, June 6th at 9:30 PM at Seattle’s Neptune Theater, and Saturday, June 11th at 8:30 PM at Seattle’s Admiral Theater as part of SIFF.

Final Grade: B-

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John is the co-host of The Macguffin Podcast, lover of 80s teen and horror films, and an independent filmmaker.

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