Friday Night Flix: Burke and Hare

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Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

I feel like I’ve seen a million British dark comedy period piece buddy movies recently. That’s obviously a ridiculous exaggeration but in addition to this week’s Burke and Hare (Netflix) I’ve definitely seen at least two other films recently that feel remarkably similar. There was I Sell the Dead, which was pretty decent, and then there was Plunkett & Macleane, which was so off-the-wall weird and, worse, terrible, I couldn’t even fake my way through a recommendation. (Much though my lazy ass wanted to)

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Burke and Hare is better than either of those. It doesn’t delve into supernatural camp like I Sell the Dead, or do anything outrageously bizarre like use testicle explosives to cure V.D. the way Plunkett & Macleane did. (The fuck?) It is, however, loosely based on a fascinating true chapter of English history: the Burke and Hare murders of the early nineteenth century.

What’s great about this movie is the surprising journey of the two down-on-their-luck rapscallions played by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, both of whom are literally always awesome. With next to no hesitation they go from lovable scamps with questionable moral compasses to stone cold KILLERS. I didn’t know the backstory but apparently it’s super famous in England. These two guys made a mint selling corpses to medical schools for dissections. When they ran out of naturally occurring dead folk, they increased their supply with extreme fucking prejudice.

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Yet for all their murderous greed and murderous murdering of people, they remain quite likable. Perhaps it’s their loyalty to one another, or John Landis’ expert direction, but you find yourself rooting for them to get away with it. I have to say, the ending genuinely surprised me. (Judging from the Wikipedia page for the real murders, it might surprise history buffs, too.)

Added Bonus: All these period comedies love to salt their historical settings with anachronistic innovations that just so happen to be newly created in the vicinity of the central characters. You can call this the Wild Wild West phenomenon. In Burke and Hare we get the first appearances of both photography and funeral parlors, not to mention gender swapped productions of Shakespeare plays. Edinburgh in 1828 was apparently a hotbed of innovation.

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