Serial murders are often a thing of interest from the general public (and Hollywood), especially when there’s an interesting twist or motive involved. In the case of the 'West Port Murders," a series of murders that occurred in Scotland during the winter of 1827-1828, the general public is still interested in the tale as movie studios have chimed in time and time again with the story of Burke and Hare.
William Burke (Derren Nesbitt) and William Hare (Glynn Edwards) are a couple of poor guys just looking to make a living. When a dead body falls into their possession they decide to see if the rumors are true; can we sell the corpse for some cash? So, after visiting Dr. Knox’s (Harry Andrews) medical facilities they learn that not only is it possible, but it’s for more than just some cash. Contemplating how to continue to make this money, and live a little more luxuriously, the two decide to find bodies and sell them. It's not the easiest thing to find dead bodies laying around, and so Burke and Hare take matters into their own hands and start killing off the really sick, the homeless, and a few others they feel no one will miss. In the end they take the life of a young prostitute someone was in love with and bring about their downfall.
Based loosely on true events, Burke & Hare is one of many films that centers around the famous West Port Murders. Never having seen the other films, and really knowing about the entire mystery from what I’ve read on the internet, the story was kind of new(ish) to me. My initial impression was that this will be a good one. After all, Burke & Hare was Vernon Sewell’s (Wrong Number, Ghost Ship, amongst many others) last film in the Director’s seat. Sadly, the movie doesn’t take charge, and my streak of praising Kino’s classic releases has somewhat fallen flat on its face.
The movie itself falls flat on its face very early on. Burke & Hare doesn’t do a good job of keeping a consistent pace. The movie starts dreadfully slow then picks up to a solid pace once the first “transaction” occurs, but then eventually winds back down to a pitiful putter. No reason is explained for much of the side story, and even the second main plot point, which eventually combines with the following of our two killers is so disjointed- that when it does finally tie-in -it feels somewhat painful.
The acting isn’t that bad, as the two main actors – Nesbitt and Edwards – deliver some worthy performances. Harry Andrews does a lackluster job as Dr. Knox, but the movie doesn’t really rely on his character as much as the idea of his character and what he does. Francoise Pascal’s portrayal of Marie is worthy as well, really stealing the show with her beauty. I have to wonder what Sewell’s direction was for these actors though, as even though the acting seemed to be more than satisfactory there just was something about the chemistry of certain characters that never came together. On top of that, their performances couldn’t save the confusion of which character is which and how long they were even in the movie for.
Burke & Hare is possibly in Kino’s Redemption series for the fact that Vernon Sewell was once a man that had a good amount of talent and offered quite a bit to the early horror genre. Sadly, his last piece of work wasn’t as strong as some of his others as it couldn’t even be saved by the abundance of nudity and the fact that this murder mystery was based on actual events.
Kino’s releases are difficult to gauge and sometimes; extremely difficult. The studio does a fantastic job of restoring the print and making sure it's worthy of a high definition release. At the same time, Kino makes sure to preserve the movie and the director’s intentions by not enhancing, digitally reducing, or manipulating any parts of the print. This has definitely set us up with an interesting look at Burke & Hare with an Mpeg-4 encode that delivers a clear three-dimensional look that has plenty of issues.
The bad on Burke & Hare really starts about twenty minutes in. The first twenty minutes or so looks clear and consistent even with signs of age. However, around that mark there's huge issue with the print as each scene brightens and darkens at a level that is extremely noticeable. For about another twenty to thirty minutes you are left with an affect that looks like somebody keeps turning a light switch on and off, easily taking your attention from the movie itself. Negatives besides this, the clear low budget issues of an older print are evident but not enough to annoy. There are scratches, dust and dirt, as well as inconsistent amounts of grain throughout.
Burke & Hare does have some positives going for it too. As stated earlier, the print is clear and consistent. There’s also a good three-dimensional look to the movie that gives it an updated high definition look. It’s very clear that this image has been upgraded and that the movie has never looked so good, I just wish they could have done something with that print issue.
Oh well, there’s always the audio for Burke & Hare; a soundtrack that includes one of the most interesting (to put it politely) theme songs for a couple of murderers. The monaural LPCM audio track is rather impressive, with plenty of range. The track does show its age but the music is loud and clear without ever interrupting the rest of the film. Dialogue is always audible, whether it be a scream or even a conversation being whispered during one of Dr. Knox’s lectures. Sound effects are exaggerated and comical, but they sound correct and don’t cause any issues with the rest of the track. Overall, the audio for Burke & Hare isn’t great but it isn’t bad either.
Burke & Hare hits Blu-ray with minimal extra features, possibly because there just isn’t much content for the movie available. There are a couple of interviews (one with a special name) and the original theatrical trailer is on board.
Burke & Hare would not be considered one of Vernon Sewell’s best works, at least not in my house. The movie is slow and painfully weak in the plot, so much so that the solid acting couldn’t even save it. The Bu-ray video is plagued with problems with the audio being good, but not good enough to steer this into recommended territory. Overall, Burke & Hare might be a Redemption spine you horror fans should hold out for until the price is right.