IS there anything funnier than the unfortunate rigor mortis of someone’s loved one? Obviously not if you’re John Landis.
The murderous exploits of Burke & Hare, two Irish immigrants who terrorised the streets of 1820s Edinburgh, provide the inspiration for this black ‘comedy’.
Opening with the disclaimer “this is a true story... except for the parts that are not”, it wraps the grisly facts in a shroud of slapstick, sickly romance and anachronistic sight gags.
History takes a back seat to Hollywood antics – when the body snatchers unearth their first coffin, loyal Skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby sits watching them from his owner’s grave, more than 30 years before the real John Gray died in 1858.
Dr Lister, who was barely out of his mother’s womb when the real murders began, is a figure of fun because of his halitosis, while Charles Darwin, who was at least in the Scottish capital at the time, warrants an aside.
The screenwriters struggle to strike the right tone, meaning the mix of black comedy and tragedy isn’t so much bad taste as simply tasteless.
Irish scallywags William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) return home to learn one of their elderly lodgers has died.
A conversation with grave robber Fergus (David Schofield) reveals medical professor Dr Knox (Tom Wilkinson) will pay £3 for a fresh cadaver to use in his anatomical demonstrations.
“I thought that life here was supposed to be cheap,” asks Hare.