Autodidact: self-taught


Resurrection Men on the Big Screen

by V. L. Craven

Resurrection men dug up corpses  to sell to doctors who wanted to dissect them (taking apart God’s most beloved creatures–humans–was frowned upon at the time) or for use in medical lectures. They were also called body snatchers, but, as this occurred during the 19th century, ‘Resurrection Men’ is more poetic and fitting, I think.

It was such a problem that people would opt to be buried in mortsafes to ensure their final resting place was indeed their final resting place.

Between this and the pains taken to avoid being interred alive, being buried was a complicated business in the 1800s.

This is a practise I find interesting, but, for some reason, isn’t covered in film very often.

So imagine my surprise and delight to discover there was not only a film about Burke and Hare* –two very famous resurrection men who sort of … hurried things along if the usual crops weren’t ripening fast enough, if you get my drift–but it starred Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, as well. It was released in 2010 and must have received very little press, because I would have remembered hearing about it. Because, you know, body snatchers and Simon Pegg.

Mr Pegg wonders, ‘Did someone forget to send out a press release or ten?’

And it’s not as though Pegg and Serkis were alone on some indy picture. They were accompanied by Tom Wilkinson, Isla Fischer and Jessica Hynes. It was directed by John Landis. He directed American Werewolf in London and the long-form music video to Thriller amongst others. AND every other male British comedian seemed to have a cameo. Short list: Tim Curry, Bill Bailey (without a beard! weird), Michael Smiley, Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbett, Reece Shearsmith, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter (not a man, admittedly)… there are more. It was a constant, ‘Oh my god! It’s [insert name here] .’

So why didn’t I hear about this?

It must have been something to do with not knowing how to market the thing. Here is the film poster:

‘Look, Simon, there are the people who’d like to see our film but won’t because they didn’t hear about it for two years.’

It looks like some mindless goofball comedy from the ’80s, and it definitely has its goofy moments, but it’s worth more than that. I give it 8/10. Go watch it.

Another film about body-snatchers with a clueless marketing team was I Sell the Dead, which is about a pair of resurrection men who discover that some of their charges aren’t as dead as they should be. We have zombies and vampires and … other things. It’s a highly enjoyable, slightly above B-movie, with several laugh-out-loud moments. This one had an even bigger problem with marketing. Here are the movie posters available for it:

‘Did this film come out in the 50s? I thought it was very recent?’


‘So… it’s a TV movie about a serial killer with split-personalities that are a zombie, a posh doctor and Jack Nicholson in The Shining?’


‘Wait…wait…I see. It’s a long-form rock video. “I Sell the Dead”… right, right, by the doom metal band with the oddly clean-cut front man.’


‘…you didn’t even watch the movie, did you?’


This one most accurately conveys the feel of the movie, though it’s still not quite right.

‘It’s about a hapless boob having to do icky things and there are…monsters… on an island?’ Close enough.

I give this one 7/10. It is what it is, but I must address the ‘surpasses Shaun of the Dead’ comment on the rock video poster: No. Not even close. It will appeal to fans of Shaun of the Dead, but doesn’t surpass it by a long chalk.

*If you’re interested in reading more about Burke and Hare, has both The History of Burke and Hare and of the Resurrectionist Times  by George Mac Gregor (it’s free on Amazon ) and The Court of Cacus or the Story of Burke and Hare by Alexander Leighton ( Amazon link ).

2 Responses to “Resurrection Men on the Big Screen”

  1. Drew Says:

    Aha! The guy in ‘I Sell the Dead’ was Charlie Pace in ‘Lost’. I knew I recognized those jug ears from somewhere.

  2. Autodidact Says:

    I didn’t notice the jug ears. … Until now.

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