Another case of an awful title to a really good movie. Don’t miss this retelling of the story of 19th century mass murderers William Hare and William Burke. The 1945 movie “The Body Snatcher” with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi was also based on Burke and Hare but changed the names of the characters. Both movies were inspired by the 1884 Robert Louis Stevenson short story “The Body Snatcher.”
Edinburgh,Scotland:1828. Dr.Robert Knox runs a medical school and trains future doctors that nothing should stand in the way of science. He constantly battles the medical council. His niece Martha comes to stay with him and attracts Dr.Geoffrey Mitchell.
A cadaver is delivered and Chris Jackson goes to the rowdy tavern the Merry Duke and pays the men who delivered the body in front of everyone. Jackson just can’t make the grade as a doctor but Knox keeps encouraging him and he stays around. On the way out he objects to the rough treatment being given tavern girl Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw). The ringleader knocks him down and Mary ends up coming to Chris’ rescue by knocking the man over the head with a bottle. Outside Burke (George Rose) and Hare (Donald Pleasence) mug him and Mary once again comes to his rescue. Of course they have an affair.
Burke and his wife Helen take in lodgers. Burke and Hare decide there’s big bucks in delivering fresh corpses to Dr.Knox. One night in the tavern they’re the only ones left alone with a drunk. They take her home and then deliver her nice and fresh to Knox.
Mary is bored with Chris. He’s all work and no play. She says she can’t marry him because she’d make him miserable. One night she’s at a drunken party and he tries to get her out. She insults him and he takes off. Having regrets she tries to chase him down but ends up alone on the street. Burke and Hare come by.
Early the next morning Chris is working at the academy. A sheet covered body is wheeled in. He’s told Knox wants drawings before it’s tossed in a vat of brine. Chris turns the sheet down. Yes, it’s Mary and Chris goes nuts. He goes to Burke’s house and tries to kill him. Hare stabs in the back.
They go to dispose of the body rather than risk taking it to Knox. They’re spotted by Daft Jamie, so named because he’s….daft. The next day Jamie tells them he found the body and stole a ring from it. He says he confessed to the priest and was told to go to the police. Knox gets another delivery. Too bad for them there was a witness. Now a good movie gets even better.
Not to be missed are the performances by Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing.