Weekend at Bernie’s Jacket
The idea of dressing up a dead body to pretend that it’s still alive was a popular one among slapstick and early horror movies, but Weekend at Bernie’s jacket is perhaps the first film that managed to take this technique to a level that was both funny and scary. This was not only because it was the only movie to ever do so, but also because of the way that director Robert Kotcheff smashed the boundaries between comedy and body horror.
In a lot of ways, the story of Weekend at Bernie’s is a perfect illustration of this idea: Richard and Larry get invited to their boss’s beach house for Labor Day, and they arrive thinking that they have died. They’ve both got their own reasons for going, but a large part of the reason is that it’s a chance to make it in the big time.
Once they’re there, they begin to realize that their chances are slim at best. But they keep pushing, and eventually a clumsy ruse is started where everyone is able to talk with Bernie without realizing that he’s a corpse. As a result, they’re able to do all sorts of things that would normally be prohibited if people had realised that their friend was actually a corpse.
This leads to a lot of crazy shenanigans that no one really notices as they’re all too busy enjoying themselves. It’s a shame, as the whole thing could have been very funny if it had been handled with more care and subtlety.
It also helps to have a really good performance by Terry Kiser as Bernie, who is sleazy and callous but is so inherently sympathetic that he becomes the most memorable character in the film. The fact that he’s the only one that dies in the film makes his death even more tragic, as it gives him a final moment of sympathy for the audience that’s impossible to avoid.
There’s no doubt that Weekend at Bernie’s isn’t the most resonant film of 1989, but it’s a great example of how slapstick and body horror can be mashed up to create something that’s as unsettling and interesting as any other genre. As such, Weekend at Bernie’s is a classic that deserves to be looked at in a different light from the one it’s currently receiving.
Slapstick is often described as a form of “death comedy”: something that’s as pure and lovely as comedy but with a dead body. The film, like many of the films in the yuppie nightmare cycle, contrasts the opulence and safety of the upper class with the desperation and ugliness of the underclass. It’s no coincidence that this cycle is so closely tied to the Reagan era: it seems to suggest that the old guard was as ruthless as they were rich, and that it would only take a few cuts here or there to turn them into a monster.
This is a premise that isn’t necessarily the most resonant, but it does serve to hammer home the point that capitalism is a brutal and bloody system. It’s also an extremely clever way of exploring a number of themes that are at the heart of modern society, from wealth inequality to the idea of monopoly.