Since the last film John Landis made that anyone took notice of was Blues Brothers 2000 (confusingly made in 1998 despite the title), a film so obviously ill-advised that no one bothered to see it, it was natural to think that he would probably never make another film again. But he has made one of his best since An American Werewolf in London in 1981, and another which is set in Britain.
There have already been at least four fictionalized films based on the real-life murders Burke and Hare, who killed Edinburgh’s poor in the 1820s to sell the bodies to surgeons for use in anatomy classes. One of the earlier films stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The new film by Landis is the first to have the budget to accurately recreate Edinburgh of the era, but also takes a lot of liberties with the historical case in order to turn it into a black comedy.
Landis works well with British actors, and he was able to assemble a cast of some of the best British actors from various generations. Sir Christopher Lee makes a small appearance as a victim, Tim Curry and Tom Wilkinson are both excellent as rival surgeon-professors, and Landis got a good dramatic performance from Simon Pegg, who is usually known for comedy, as William Burke who kills his victims for the love of a (fictional) former prostitute who dreams of becoming a Shakespearean actor. Andy Serkis, who is best known for putting on a motion capture suit and playing apes and other creatures for Peter Jackson, is actually a hell of a good actor without any special effects, and really carries the film as the conniving confidence man who see the opportunity created by the Edinburgh surgeons need for corpses. Half-pint British comedian Ronnie Corbett is terribly funny as the leader of the Edinburgh Militia, who arrests the title characters, and Reece Shearsmith from some of my favorite British TV comedies makes an small appearance. Despite a few intentionally grisly gross-out scene, it all adds up to some bloody good fun.