Ginger Nuts of Horror
Somewhat of a curiosity this, on the one hand it is a supposedly factual and horrific tale of two body snatchers in the Edinburgh of 1827, on the other hand it's a bawdy romp making light of the legend of murderous resurrection-men Burke and Hare.
In what was director Vernon Sewell's (The Blood Beast Terror, Curse of the Crimson Altar) last of his 36 movies there's something of a deviation of style, I'm not sure what was going through his mind when he directed this but it was surely a brave endeavor in 1971 to create what at the most basic is certainly a horror film with a style more in tune with the 'Confessions' movies or indeed the 'Carry On' film franchise. The Horrors of Burke and Hare (Original title) could quite easily have fitted into either of those franchises as it does contain strong elements of humour and titillation; however it lacked the gloss and budget of 'Carry On Screaming' without suffering for the lack. Burke and Hare begins in a rather unusual fashion with opening credits which appear to be hand drawn scenes from the film, nothing unusual there you might think, but give the credits a rather jovial backing track courtesy of the appropriately named group 'The Scaffold' (Lily the Pink, Thank U Very Much) and you're good to go with some idea of what you'll be in for over the next hour and a half. Here's a sample of the lyrics:
"Burke and Hare… Beware of 'em, Burke and Hare… The pair of 'em… Out to snatch… Your body from you."
My first thought was "Okay, that's quirky", but that's fine as I love quirky, and this film has plenty of it. It's somewhat historically inaccurate, but that's ok too as to get the full story into the film would have been a tad repetitious and so leaving out some of the 16 murders was a wise idea, especially as one murder in particular would almost certainly have been cut by the British Board of Film Censors. There's a huge inaccuracy in that 'William Hare' is called 'Tom Hare' in this version, which was perhaps a sensible decision as Burke was also called William which would have led to a lot of confusion.
The plot is simple: Irish immigrants Burke (Derren Nesbitt: Where Eagles Dare, Dr Who) and Hare (Glynn Edwards: Minder, Zulu, Get Carter) move to Edinburgh in 1827, Burke works as a Cobbler and Hare runs a boarding house, which is really just a single room which he lets out to the needy. One of those needy dies of natural causes owing Hare a lot of rent money, and so Hare hatches a plan to recoup his loss by selling the corpse to the local Hospital so it can be used for anatomy lessons. Dr Knox (Harry Andrews: Superman, Theatre of Blood) is only too willing to buy fresh bodies and duly pays Burke and Hare seven pounds ten shillings for the cadaver. In a time when illness was rife and medicine wasn't, it struck Burke and Hare that perhaps the rounding up of the impending dead would be a great way to earn a living, the only problem being that of the time wasted waiting for the ill to die and so they decided to bypass that and help them on a little with intoxication and suffocation.
Beyond that there's a sub-plot involving the yearnings of a young student Arbuthnot (Alan Tucker: Dr Who, I Claudius, UFO) who has fallen for the gorgeous 'lady of the night' Maria (Françoise Pascal: Mind Your Language, There's a Girl in My Soup, The Iron Rose). This is where the film escapes the harsh brutalities of Burke and Hare's murderous schemes and trips into the kind of bawdy antics usually seen in a Brian Rix farce. The house of ill repute is a rather opulent building with high-class clientele, the individual bedrooms have peep-holes so that those with the will and the money may watch what goes on inside, which is often rather comical soft-core S&M provided by Maria and Janet (Yutte Stensgaard: Scream and Scream Again, Lust For A Vampire). These instances are few, and are filmed with the director's tongue so firmly wedged in his cheek that it appeared he and his cast were genuinely having fun. Of special note is a scene for once not within the brothel in which several Doctors trade jokes about their patients: Laugh-out-loud funny.
I try where possible to avoid giving away too much of the plot, however on something which is based largely on historical events it's not as if knowing what happens in the end can be avoided. The ending is a foregone conclusion, but the journey there is to my mind at least a lot of fun.
The direction is clean; the acting is superb even if Glynn Edward's Irish accent leaves a lot to be desired. Derren Nesbitt, who carved a career as a nasty piece of work is actually quite believable as a killer with more of a conscience leaving Mr Edwards to be the nastier of the two which he does surprisingly well. The attention to detail with recreations of the medical establishment and practices is top-notch and the scenes of old Edinburgh, actually filmed in Twickenham are very atmospheric.
The recent release of this film from Redemption appears to have been transferred directly from 35mm originals and looks in need of a full and proper re-mastering, which is a shame as I believe the film to be definitely worth it. The poor quality of vision and sound in comparison to modern releases doesn't harm it too much though, if anything we could consider it 'extra atmospherics', all in all I would still recommend this for any horror fan, especially if you like horror with a good sense of humour.
Françoise Pascal, the actress who played Maria, has kindly agreed to give The Ginger Nuts of Horror an Interview. Please follow this link to read more about her life and career.
Interview with Françoise Pascal
The following link will take you to Françoise's personal website: