Thirty years after his horror comedy An American Werewolf in London put him on the genre map, director John Landis is back with his latest project, Burke & Hare, an incredibly dark comedy surrounding two down-on-their-luck 19th century graverobbers (played by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) who realize that a local medical school will pay handsomely for fresh cadavers. Being resourceful entrepreneurs, Burke and Hare start causing ‘accidents’ around Edinburgh in order to fulfill the need for bodies, which eventually spirals out of control in both hilarious and dramatic fashions.
Recently Dread Central had the opportunity to get on the phone with Master of Horror Landis about his return to the world of horror comedy, how closely the movie Burke & Hare mirrors the real-life events of the actual serial killers of the same name and what’s on the director’s plate next.
It was during a recent trip to the UK when Landis said Burke & Hare “serendipitously landed in my lap. I was in London two years ago to meet Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham director) for lunch at Ealing Studios, where a lot of my favorite classic films were made, like Dead of Night or the original The Ladykillers. So I was already having a great time just being in the place where some of my favorite film memories were made.”
“Then Gurinder introduced me to Barnaby Thompson, who asked me if I would read a script they had for an upcoming dark comedy they were looking to make. When I read it, I loved it. I was completely taken with its perverse notion of the story and how they took these real historical figures and managed to twist it into this kind of romantic and darkly funny story. I’m always looking for good movies to make so this seemed like the right project to do right now.”
When it came time to cast his two actors to play the titular characters in the film, Landis discussed why there had to be undeniable chemistry between both Pegg and Serkis or the film would have never worked.
“Part of what had to happen in order for Burke and Hare to work is that you had to like these guys because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be invested in this story at all,” explained Landis. “Andy is such a remarkable actor, and I think what he’s done for the art of performance capture is legendary. But even though he may be known best as Gollum or King Kong, I think I like his performances more when it’s actually him you’re seeing in the movie so while he may seem like an unusual choice, he really is a terrific actor. And Simon is … well, he’s Simon.”
“So when I put Simon and Andy together, it was magical. I knew I was going to have great chemistry between them almost instantly- it’s almost like watching a modern day Laurel and Hardy when you see their performances in the movie together,” added Landis.
Since Burke & Hare is a darkly comedic look at the dastardly crimes of true-life body-snatching serial killers that plagued the town of Edinburgh in 1828, we asked Landis just how closely the story in his film resembles the true events surrounding the infamous duo of William Burke and William Hare. “Even though we do take some comedic liberties with the story of the real-life Burke and Hare, in many ways our film is the most incredibly accurate telling of this story ever made. We created Isla’s (co-star Fisher) character, Ginny, for the movie, but otherwise, we worked incredibly hard to make everything about the movie mimic who these guys were and the heinous actions they took but present it in an entertaining and hopefully enjoyable manner. We even have the real-life Burke in the movie- or at least what’s left of him. I won’t tell you where he happens to pop up, but I promise it’s fun when you see it for yourself in the movie.”
With Burke & Hare‘s impending Stateside release looming in the near distance (look for it in limited theaters on September 9th), Landis reflected on his horror legacy and talked a bit about what the future holds for the director.
Landis said, “I am incredibly honored to have been given the title of Master of Horror by the fans out there. It’s flattering and amazing to see a movie like An American Werewolf (in London) still get talked about to this day and how it continues to impress new horror fans. That means a lot to me. Film directors get typed a lot, but I think I’ve been lucky because I’ve had so much success in both the comedy and horror genres so that gives me a bit of fluidity in my career choices. Either way, I’m just happy to direct when a really great story is involved, much like with Burke and Hare.”
“Hopefully my next project will be a monster movie I’m planning so that’s something my horror fans can look forward to. It’s something I’m working on with Alexandre Gavras, and our hope is to make it in Paris. I think fans of Werewolf will really enjoy what we do with this one, but we don’t have much to say on it yet, just that we are getting a great script in place right now,” added Landis.
Burke & Hare is currently available on VOD through SundanceNow (link below). Look for the movie to hit limited theaters on September 9th courtesy of IFC Films. Special thanks to John for taking the time to speak with Dread Central!
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