Tuesday, 14 September 2010



I didn't really get Pan's Labyrinth on first viewing. I liked it, certainly, but the sudden switches from childlike fantasy to the brutality of the Spanish Civil War left me a little baffled, and it took a second viewing for me to fully appreciate it. Sometimes you do need two runs at a film to recognise its genius - I thought Aliens was very poor first time out, but now it's one of my three favourites of all time. On the other hand, I seriously doubt Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow is going to look anything other than atrocious when rewatched at a historical distance. And I really don't think a second viewing is going to help with this one.

This version of the oft-filmed tale dates from 1971 and relates how Irish immigants Burke and Hare (British character stalwarts Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards) sold corpses to respected Edinburgh anatomist Dr Knox (the mighty Harry Andrews) at a time when demand for fresh bodies for medical research outweighed the available supply. When there weren't enough cadavers to go around, Burke and Hare simply created more, at ten pounds a time. Sixteen murders later, they were apprehended. And this is good ghoulish meat for a British horror movie. But Burke & Hare is a mess: for every scene of the Resurrection Men mucking about with corpses, there's a sequence of Benny Hill-style knockabout with scantily clad ladies in a brothel. Murder upon murder, followed by Yutte Stensgaard taking her clothes off. It's as if they'd got two wildly different 45-minute films made by two completely different directors, and spliced them together into one feature with dizzying changes in tone - far more dizzying than Guillermo Del Toro's in Pan's Labyrinth.

The serious stuff looks terrific, with the poverty-stricken slums looking like something by Hogarth, while the kinky scenes in the whorehouse just look like the average British smut flick of the time, with period costumes. Saucy, but they go on for ages and are massively out of place in what's supposed to be a ghoulish horror movie. With a rock song over the credits and familiar sitcom stars dotted throughout (Yootha Joyce, Bob Todd), it's a movie that doesn't really know what it wants to be, tries to be everything, and ends up as a botch. Let's hope the upcoming John Landis version is more consistent in tone.


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