Home Video Hovel- Burke & Hare, by Scott Nye
Indeed, Vernon Sewell’s 1971 feature kicks off with a rousing tune that sounds like it floated out an anonymous pub in the Scottish town in which their story takes place. It will also get stuck in your head for weeks, so there’s that. The meat of the story, as it were, is equally thin, going through the basic routine of introducing our protagonists to a corpse they are charged to dispose, before realizing they can probably get a few coins for it from some doctors. After all, the dead guy isn’t using the body anymore! After that, it becomes a matter of degrees – asked to take a man to the hospital, they deem him not long for this world, and take matters into their own hands. And really, who would miss a couple of healthier hobos anyway? And on and on it goes, weirdly taking on the structure of a gangster picture, in which an innocent is seduced into a life of crime before the whole operation goes belly-up.
Rounding out the story (it is rather thin, after all) is a bizarre side trip to a whorehouse, where a promising young medical student is seduced in a whole different manner by a very becoming young prostitute. And it will all make sense by the end!
That doesn’t mean it will be all that good by the end. Burke & Hare is one of those film that really seemed to be everywhere in the late 1960s through the 70s, wherein they had all this money for sets and costumes, but none left over for a barber. So everyone walks around with these totally groovy curls and chops, resembling something that might have moved about in the 1800s, only…not quite. On the less superficial side, the characters are poorly developed, and the whorehouse subplot is mainly there to make sure the film meets its minimum quota of boobs. Produced by a fly-by-night production company and distributed Stateside by the kind of outfit that really no longer exists (the following year, they put out not only Night of the Cobra Woman, but also, um…Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers), this was clearly made as everyone’s idea of a good time, and it does have its share of inept amusements. But I’d be hard-pressed to urge anyone to hang their hat on it.
The good news is, if this is your idea of a good time, Kino’s new Blu-ray (courtesy of their genrerific Redemption line) is a pretty sweet deal. Not only do you get a splendid transfer – strong on colors, grain, etc., even when the print is a little damaged or soft – but a pretty decent set of special features as well. Dr. Patricia MacCormack (she’s a doctor!) gives a rundown of grave-robbing and corpses in the movies (because everybody needs a specialty, I assume), and Francoise Pascal, who plays the prostitute.
Burke & Hare is some fine campy fun – not as lively as one might hope, but just weird enough to make you sit up and go “eh?” I mean, the theme song over the credits is one thing, but when they change the lyrics and apply it to a montage, you know you’re in a whole other world here. It can be got for cheap, too, so if this is your bag, I say why not.