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Bernie Lomax just won’t die. His grinning corpse made its debut in “Weekend at Bernie’s,” the unlikely buddy comedy released 25 years ago on Saturday.
Like its titular character, “Weekend at Bernie’s” somehow managed to keep moving long after it should have been proclaimed deceased. In 2010, the song/dance craze “Move it Like Bernie” became a YouTube hit, garnering more than 12.2 million views. Two years later, a pair of dudes drove around Denver with their friend’s corpse in the car and used his debit card to fund a night at a strip club. Good luck finding a headline in America that failed to reference “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
In the movie, two wild-eyed New Yorkers escort the dead body of their boss, Bernie, around Hampton Island during a wild Labor Day weekend. Just how absurd is this scenario? We asked Daniel Wescott, a forensic anthropologist at Texas State University, to explain the science (or lack thereof) behind “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
The first problem with the movie: Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman have a pretty easy time moving Bernie’s body around. Sure, they look kind of strained while hoisting him up, but according to Wescott, without the dead person’s assistance, it would feel like “trying to carry a 150-pound bag of loose potatoes.”
Not to mention that Bernie would be stiff as a board for most of the movie. At a raucous party in his mansion, thanks to a few head nods and loose limbs, everyone keeps right on sipping champagne with no idea that their host has entered the great beyond.
But only two to four hours after his death — pretty much when the party breaks out — rigor mortis (muscle stiffness) would become a factor.
“Once rigor set in it would be very difficult for them to move Bernie’s joints,” Wescott said. “It will usually start to dissipate by 24 hours. So, for much of the movie he would have been in rigor.”
The next day after his death, Bernie is propped up in a golf cart, his arms waved at the locals. He even spends some time sunbathing by the pool. The whole time he looks good — healthy even!
In real life, this is what would happen: Soon after death, autolysis would begin. That is the process in which cells break down, and bacteria, fungi and protozoa start the putrefaction process, which produces several gases. Side effects include bloating, discoloration of the skin and a bad smell.
“By the end of the weekend, he would probably be turning green or black in the face and abdomen and his face and belly would be starting to show signs of bloat,” Wescott said.
Oh, and the proteins in his eyes would start to denature, not to mention Bernie would become a fly magnet.
“Once flies locate the body they tend to lay eggs during daylight in natural orifices of the body and open wounds,” Wescott said. “Flies are attracted to dead bodies almost immediately. Therefore, Bernie would have had flies buzzing around during most of the movie.”
Not exactly a guy you would want to party with. At one point in the movie, Bernie is dragged out to sea, washing back ashore just as Jonathan Silverman’s character is kissing Catherine Mary Stewart (of “The Last Starfighter” fame!) on the beach. Even more awkward than seeing a corpse float by during a make-out session: smelling one that probably would have been feasted on by “crabs and other small animals.”
Oddly enough, one of the more realistic scenarios involves the two main characters using Bernie’s body as a flotation device.
“The body would float if it was in bloat stage,” Wescott said. “However, by this point the body would be starting to marble and change color and smell really bad.”
When the movie ends, Bernie is in good enough shape to dance in a conga line in the inevitable sequel, “Weekend at Bernie’s II.” He would not fare so well in the real world.
To answer Andrew McCarthy’s question, “What kind of host invites you over for the weekend and dies on you?” A stiff, bloated, insect-covered, smelly one.