In 19th-century Edinburgh, Irish rogues Burke (Derren Nesbitt) and Hare (Glynn Edwards), discover there’s money to be made supplying fresh corpses to noted College of Surgeons anatomist Dr Robert Knox (Harry Andrews). But when demand starts outstripping supply, they decide to take matters into their own hands and prey on drunken prostitutes and vagabonds…
Gallows humour and saucy British sitcom-styled shenanigans make strange bedfellows in this 1972 British period horror yarn. In retelling the story of the infamous Burke and Hare murders that took place in Edinburgh in 1828, director Vernon Sewell chose – unwisely, as it turned out – to take the sexploitation route for his final feature. Littered with penis jokes and gratuitous nipple flashing (even in the morgue – how disrepectful), it should have been called Confessions of a Body Snatcher.
Although Harry Andrews gives a terrifically hammy performance as medical pioneer Knox, Burke and Hare are played strictly for laughs. Thick in mentality and in their ‘Oirish’ accents, the gruesome twosome reminded me of Stan and Jack from On The Buses. The theme tune is by the legendary Liverpudlian band, The Scaffold – who are best known for Lily the Pink. But the song which opens the film here sits uncomfortably alongside the rest of the film’s music score, while the bawdy lyrics verge on the politically-incorrect.