Movie Review: Burke and Hare (2010)

This is a horror-comedy directed by John Landis (no one does this genre better) and starring Simon Pegg (who has found his forte in horror comedy, as well). It’s set in Victorian London, a setting that has found recent popularity again in the genre with NBC’s “Dracula”, Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” …but this is more reminiscent of Sweeney Todd than any classic monster mash.

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Burke (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, Fantastic Fear of Everything) and Hare (Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) are two Irish immigrants living in London who can not find suitable work. They stumble on a profitable venture after trying to dispose of the corpse of another resident at their rooming house and they find that selling cadavers to a medical school could be quite profitable. Only, a good corpse is hard to find, and they become increasingly more desperate and ridiculous in their venture. Burke, for his part, isn’t that gung-ho about their scheme until he meets Ginny Hawkins (Isla Fisher) -a former sex worker looking for financial backing for an all women production of Macbeth.

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Burke becomes taken with her and their increasingly bizarre killing spree ramps up.

The find themselves in danger when the corpses become recognizable and the medical professor is confronted.

Some of this is based on a 16 victim killing spree in West Port in the 19th century, that much is true. The real story is much more macabre, Burke and Hare were found out and turned in by Burke’s lover, the duo found lure people in, get them drunk and suffocate them.

Slapstick murder, increasingly wild schemes and cover ups, naive lovers and neighbors, and a soundtrack and costuming that doesn’t try too hard at realism and atmosphere. It’s nearly perfect and I’m not sure why this film isn’t more popular.

That being said: all the women are side characters or motivation for the men. Not that they are quite 2-D… but they are not much more and there are virtually no PoC characters even in the background.

4/5

31 Horrifying Days- Day 14: The Sacrament (2014)

Filmed “mockumentary” style much in the same way as recent fave Lucky Bastard. The Sacrament follows VICE magazine journalist and photogs on a trip to a commune to see Eden Parish a commune/cult previously guarded in secrecy that quickly finds them in a fight for their lives.

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As the Mummy said “a good cast is worth repeating”

Amy Seimetz is Caroline. True believer who encourages her brother and VICE mag to visit. She played Aimee in You’re Next. AJ Bowen (who has lost considerable weight) who played Crispian and Joe Swanberg who played Drake from You’re Next play the interviewer and photographer.

Ti West directed the Sacrament and starred as Tariq in You’re Next. Kentucky Audley (who starred in Amy’s directorial debut Sun Don’t Shine) plays her fashion photog brother. Eli Roth (Hostel) “presents” this.

It’s all connected. Giving work to your talented friends is always a good choice.

Visually this movie is impressive. It’s shot in perfectly to be very quintessential “hipster/journalist/highbrow/trendy swagger. AJ Bowen nails it. Gene Jones gives me the creeps as the well spoken and exceedingly charismatic cult leader. Bowen’s Sam becomes concerned about the well being of the commune’s members even though most of them are happy. He’s granted an interview with The Father, who gets defensive about the story that Sam is trying to spin. Sam has found out that the followers have given their life’s savings (which is a little silly, since many interviewed said that the Father saved them from a life of crime, addiction and poverty) and after the face to face, Sam receives a note saying “Please Help Us” from a young girl.

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The trio of journalists are set to leave the next morning, but Sam tries to bring the young girl with them. The Father sees that he and his cult will be negatively exposed and police will be involved so he shoots the helicopter pilot (who implausibly waits for the VICE crew while bleeding out. nonsense) and then Jake and Sam end up in a fight to save their asses while the Father encourages his followers the take “the last sacrament” and sends gunmen to finish the job.

The set up is long. LONG.

But worth it.

The film is based on 1978’s real life Jonestown Massacre and cult The People’s Temple. Jim Jones, upon figurig out that he was going to be exposed called followers to his settlement in Guyana. People were set working long hours in crowded living conditions. While some wished to be there and living off the land, there was no changing your mind. Jones wouldn’t allow anyone to leave and was an egomaniac. Instead of edgy reporters visiting, it was congressman Leo Ryan, NBC crew and concerned family members. One of the NBC crew was handed a note with names of people who wanted to leave and were prisoner. They tried to leave, Ryan staying behind (as Sam did) to make sure that members weren’t hurt. But then they were attacked at the airport. Jones convinced them that the US government would come in and punish them.. the only way out would be poison punch.

based on a true story with excellent modern touches and a recognizable but not obnoxiously famous cast? I dig.

4.25/5

31 Horrifying Days- Day 8: Devil’s Pass (2013)

This film follows a group of American students who set out to Russia’s Ural mountains as they film a documentary trying to uncover what happened to 9 skiers who died under mysterious circumstances on a trip to Siberia in 1959. The project is lead by psychology student Holly who has always had nightmares that she later recognized to be Dyatlov’s Pass.

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This incident with the 9 skiers? That really happened. For reasons unknown (but heavily theorized) the group went mad all of a sudden, some fleeing camp without shoes or outerwear in temperatures ranging from -17 to -24 degrees, when they were found many had inexplicable internal injuries, and one was missing her tongue and eyes. Most had no sign of defensive wounds, not even abrasions or scratches on the skin but suffering cracked skulls or broken ribs. A current theory is that a repetitive wind even caused infrasound that caused unease and panic in the travellers and drove them mad. You can read more about that here.

When a viable possibility of the real events is that the wind itself caused the skiers to become paranoid and suicidal/homicidal the movie pretty much writes itself. The current bunch of students become increasingly afraid that they are being followed, then they become suspicious that Holly is planting foot prints to make her film more interesting, Holly and film crew travel mate Jensen find a door, locked from the outside to a snow covered bunker but before they can explore they are hit by an avalanche that claims one party member and seriously wounds another. They agree to set off a flare, but help arrives what Andy deems to be “too soon” and he fires at them with the flare gun while the others make a run, the other men fire back and the audience is left wondering whether they only began firing because Andy aimed the flare gun.

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Are the frigid temperatures, isolation, dwindling resources, unreliable technology and possibly infrasound getting to them all?

It seems reasonable. And the film is suitably tense and gripping.

Which is why it’s so bizarre that the last 30 minutes is a completely different film.

Instead of a psychological thriller set far off from civilization where a Scooby Gang of artists and academics rile each other up and freak themselves out: we end up with weird creatures, teleportation and the Philadelphia Project. 

Devil’s Pass was written by Vikram Weet, who’s been a coordinator on many popular reality shows, his experiences really enhance the realism of the interactions between characters and the developing malaise and hysteria. Finnish director Renny Harlin, known for Die Hard 2, Exorcist: the Beginning and several episodes of “Burn Notice” lends his eye on this one. I’m just baffled at the final twist.

Was it scary? Yeah… It was a bit scary. The thought of temperatures between -17 and -24 degrees is actually terrifying enough for me on it’s own.

3/5