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I Sell the Dead
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I've anxiously awaited seeing I SELL THE DEAD, the latest film from Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix company, since I first saw its trailer. The film has been playing the film festival circuit all year, just completed a VOD run, and will be available on DVD soon. The initial trailer I saw reminded me of a Hammer horror, but after seeing the film, written, directed and edited by Glenn McQuaid, who has created special effects for past Glass Eye productions, I think a more accurate comparison would be Roger Corman's more humorous period piece, THE RAVEN. Despite the prevalent comedy, the film still serves up a fair amount of chills and is a welcome treat for horror fans.
At its heart, I SELL THE DEAD is a macabre comedy. The film gets off to a good start with a clever title that reminded of me of RE-ANIMATOR, and suggested THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (based, like this film, on the adventures of Burke and Hare). Next, graverobber Willie Grimes (Fessenden) loses his head to a guillotine, while partner in crime Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) describes their misadventures to an inquisitive priest (Ron Perlman). The narrative is deliberately episodic as Willie and Arthur encounter one fantastic situation after another during their nightly excursions (to detail these encounters would ruin the film's numerous surprises). Suffice it to say that Willie and Arthur live in a world where supernaural horrors exist at every turn. The film is essentially an anthology film with continuing characters, right down to the framing device and final twists. Scenes occasionally end in comic book frames, ala CREEPSHOW.
The heart of the film is the relationship between Willie and and Arthur. Fessenden has acted in numerous films, and with the exception of his breakthrough HABIT has generally been relegated to extended cameos in other director's films. Here he has a role he can really sink his teeth into, which he does with relish. Willie is from the cutthroat, likeable rogue school, at once good natured, cowardly and able to turn on a dime. Monaghan turns in his most affectionate performance since his stay on LOST. Arthur isn't exactly the conscience of the piece, but he is the more sympathetic of the two characters. The dynamic between these performers makes the possibility of a sequel something to look forward to.
I had my doubts about Perlman as the priest (all of the actors are required to speak with British and Irish accents), but he drops enough menacing hints throughout his scenes that the payoff for his character works nicely. Angus Scrimm, now a Glass Eye regular, is effective as the doctor who needs a constant supply of cadavers, and I liked Brenda Cooney as a woman who mixes it up with the boys. There are also several comic bookish villains, a family of rival graverobbers, that fans will enjoy.
McQuaid's direction is assured and occasionally stylish; he is adept at both comedy and horror, with the graverobbers' first supernatural escapade especially chilling and almost poetic. Midway through the film it occurred to me that McQuaid's film is really about story telling - stories within stories within stories - and he uses comic book frames and split screens to good effect to achieve this. The film clocks in at a tight 85 minutes, a welcome relief in an era when ridiculously bloated productions like 2012 run nearly three hours.
While still low budget, I would hazard a guess that this is the most expensive of the horror films Fessenden has helped produce.
Special mention must be made of Beck Underwood's art direction, Devin Febbroriello's set direction, David Tabbert's costumes, and Jeff Grace's score, which combine to convincingly sell the film's Victorian England setting. Richard Lopez's evocative cinematography aims for a 1960s Technicolor look during many of the grave robberies, and a daytime visit to an island provides a welcome change of scenery late in the film. I can't really describe the special make-up effects without spoiling the film, but they are very well realized.
Grave robber Arthur Blake has "five hours to kill" (his words) before he becomes a headless body, courtesy of the guillotine. (His partner in crime, Willie Grimes, has already lost his head.) So Blake and a Father Duffy share a bottle of booze in Blake's cell as the condemned man tells how he got into that ghoulish line of work.
Thus begins the lively "I Sell the Dead," written, directed and edited by Dublin-born Glenn McQuaid.
Blake's tale, set in 19th-century Ireland, involves stolen bodies, zombies, vampires, wanton women, cutthroat rivals -- one is described by Blake as "one of the meanest bastards I've ever met, either alive or dead" -- and enough beer to float a coffin.
Downtown icon Larry Fessenden is the producer, and also appears as Grimes. (He's as loopy as ever.) Ron Perlman and Dominic Monaghan deliver appropriate performances as Duffy and Blake, respectively. And the production values are solid.
"I Sell the Dead" references the Edgar Allan Poe B-movies that Roger Corman cranked out in the 1960s. Britain's Hammer flicks also come to mind. (Christopher Lee would fit right in.)
Genre fans will definitely get off on "I Sell the Dead," but outsiders might be less enthusiastic.
It’s not often that I wish movies were longer, especially during a film festival. I get pretty dependent on cold pills during Fantasia’s gruelling schedule, so after 90 cinematic minutes I start twitching, and at two hours all I see on screen are spiders and the colour red. But I Sell the Dead is a film that could have benefit from an extra half-hour to explore more of the plot elements introduced- and then unfortunately ignored -for much of the film’s running time.
I Sell the Dead has one of the most interesting and original premises of a horror film in recent memory. Dominic Monaghan andcult filmmaker/actor Larry Fessenden play resurrectionists, grave robbers who work for medical doctors in Georgian England. Since this is a horror film, or rather a comic-book version of a horror movie, they soon discover that not all corpses are alike. While most must smell like a maggot’s sewage, some like to drink blood, eat human flesh, or resemble a mid-nineties Alien Workshop skate-deck logo.
And therein lies the problem. I Sell the Dead has a great concept, and some interesting Tales from The Crypt-meets-Guy Ritchie visuals to accompany it, but doesn’t do much with it for the bulk of the film. It’s only in the last third that the plot really gets going, as we get to know the film’s villains, a freakish clan of rival body-snatchers that could be a leprous Injustice League. As pulp antagonists go, the Murphy clan are top-notch, but they’re not really around long enough to do much. Writer/director Glenn McQuaid keeps his film so full of energy throughout that one barely notices the deficit of story as it’s unfolding. And great performances by Angus Scrimm and Ron Perlman definitely make it a fun watch for genre fans. But by the end of the film, I Sell The Dead gives the impression that it could have been so much more.
I Sell the Dead arrives lovingly crafted for a small but loyal brand of moviegoers, the kind who best appreciate their comedy blackened to a crisp—with a few corpses thrown in for good measure. The charmingly no-budget feature debut of Glenn McQuaid, the movie follows a 19th-century grave robber (Lost’s Dominic Monaghan) as he awaits the guillotine and recounts his life story to a priest (played by Ron Perlman, in case there was any doubt what kind of movie this is). Mist-shrouded and whiskey-soaked tales of the dead and undead follow with cheerful gallows humor and estimable makeup effects by rising genre stars Pete Gerner and Brian Spears.
McQuaid recalls Terry Gilliam with his flights into the absurd and his penchant for choking dry humor, and he punctuates this mostly funny movie with bits of animation that mix in an off-kilter storybook element. His screenplay never reaches his visual heights, but I Sell the Dead is ultimately a testament to old-fashioned creative ingenuity, the sort of movie only hungry young talents with a very limited cash flow could cook up. Let it be the first of many.
Mercifully, I had a fun diversion to avoid Valentine’s nonsense last night. One of the first films to sell out in the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival was I Sell The Dead, a comic horror flick that is the debut feature from writer/director/editor Glenn McQuaid.
It’s not a genre I’m familiar with, at all, so I wouldn’t dream of claiming that this is an informed review. I’m just so impressed that a low-budget first feature could (a) look so darkly atmospheric and haunting (b) poke fun at itself with such gleeful mischievous charm and (c) lightly bring in elements of Gilliam-like surrealism and not flog them to death.
Some really playful performances abound, Eileen Colgan is a delight, Ron Perlman’s lugubrious presence dominates the screen, and the zany double-act of Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden (who also produced the film) is at its gory core. But what’s most evident is the confident playfulness of Dubliner McQuaid, who secured funding on the basis of his script alone, which is always an inspiration.
When I first heard that there is a movie called I Sell the Dead, I’d assumed it to be a metaphorical title. Perhaps it’s a psychological thriller about a dying man bargaining his last days; could be a sensitive drama about an EMT’s career guilt; or maybe it’s an allegorical fantasy that examines the link between modern consumerism and the death of the American dream!
But no, it’s just a movie about two guys who sell zombies to mad scientists. Feh.
Okay, so maybe it’s not the Bergmanesque examination on mortality one assume must be hiding behind such a simple explanatory titling, but what I Sell the Dead lacks in existential tableau, it makes up for in goofy fun. The film opens in Victorian England with the guillotine execution of grave robber Willie Grimes (a grimy Larry Fessenden). His partner Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan, typically callow) waits out his remaining hours in a dark cell, recounting his life as a grave robber to visiting priest Father Duffy (Ron Perlman using a spotty Irish accent). Through this framing device, the film conveniently jumps to Arthur and Willie’s greatest hits as corpse thieves—most involve lucrative encounters with supernatural beings, which rate higher on the market than inert cadavers.
Sometimes they find a sleeping vampire. One time they unearth an alien’s grave. Many times they have to go wrangle zombies. Ah, the glamorous life of a grave robber. More dangerous than any of those creatures, however, is a homicidal gang of rival tomb raiders who don’t appreciate competition. Our two heroes aren't exactly heroes, either. They value money over decency and have no problem ruining a wake just to get the freshest body possible.
I can see a series potential here—the eager anti-hero and his grumpy mentor catching a different monster to sell each week—made more apparent by the film’s episodic vignettes, though writer/director Glenn McQuaid cleverly inserts running ties in Arthur and Willie’s adventures so as to maintain a singular narrative that binds them.
I Sell the Dead isn’t consistently a hit with the humor, but it's still a solid horror-comedy that packs enough slapstick to push it past its second-act slump. It also has delightfully campy performances from its leads, including a less-active-than-usual Ron Perlman, whose character is not in the film much at all but plays an important part later on. The film also earns points for its lively period setting, giving extra novelty to the supernatural capers.
Film festivals can be pretty serious affairs, and the LAFF is no exception, so it’s nice to take a break now and then for something more lighthearted. Glenn McQuaid’s I Sell The Dead is a rollicking comedy about a pair of 18th-century grave-robbers, affectionately evoking the parochial camp of Hammer Horror, with a dash of Monty Python silliness.
The cartoonish tone extends from the extravagantly grotesque rival gang up against which Grimes and Blake (Larry Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan) repeatedly butt, via occasional dissolves to comic book graphics, to the central conceit, whereby selling the undead proves more lucrative than robbing regular corpses. It’s told in flashback from Blake’s execution cell, the episodes related to cheerfully hammy priest Ron Perlman over a bottle of whiskey.
Supported by fine production design and passable effects, Monaghan is not frightfully good, especially in these framing scenes (and why is he the only one without an Irish accent?) but wild-haired and gap-toothed Fessenden fares much better, with the gleam of lunacy in his eye. Similarly, the familiarity of genre tropes – bawdy tavern, strident strumpets, lots of fog – works comfortably to the film’s advantage, whilst the obviousness of a lot of the comedy notes feels disappointingly second-hand. But right down to the “surprise” ending and shameless sequel set-up, the whole film is carried off with enough reckless good humour to prove endearing, with a generous share of genuine chuckles.
I Sell The Dead is a horror/comedy that’s good enough to compete with anything in its class. It’s a well-made, high-quality period piece that harkens back to the heydays of horror.
I Sell The Dead is the story of a grave robber, his mentor, and their diabolically delightful discoveries as they follow the funerals with fumbles from their foibles.
There’s no lack of engagement in I Sell The Dead. From the very start the film pulls you in and holds your interest till the end. The acting is superb and the characters have a chemistry that keeps things bubbling along the way.
There’s a nice mix of laughter and fear in this flick that feels like a “moment” from start to finish. Visually catching and mysteriously fetching, I Sell The Dead is a walk through a weird and unrelenting world of the deep, dark side of humanity.
I enjoyed this movie and felt it was a fresh piece of the past, done better than one could imagine. I rated I Sell The Dead a 4 for its style and enactment and I would recommend this film to anyone who likes a bit of dark humor and light horror.
Worth the time and the money — kinda scary, kinda funny!
Grave robbing was big business in the 19th century, and desperate anatomists turned to body snatchers (also known as “resurrectionists”) to keep their laboratories stocked with fresh corpses. Dominic Monaghan (better known as Charlie on “LOST”) and Larry Fessenden are resurrectionists of a sort in “I Sell The Dead,” though their grave robbing quickly takes a turn that’s funny, bizarre, and pretty damn entertaining.
Monaghan and Fessenden are, respectively, Arthur Blake and Willie Grimes. They make their living digging up dead bodies, first at the behest of Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm), and, later, just because it pays decently. After a few years of digging up graves, they think they’ve seen it all—that is until one night when, digging up a grave at a crossroads, they find a corpse with a stake in its heart and a string of garlic around its neck. Arthur removes the stake, the vampire wakes up, and before long, the two cads are in the thick of some Victorian-era supernatural shenanigans. Zombies and other creatures are afoot and they’re a prized commodity. And luckily, Willie and Arthur are good at rounding up the undead.
“I Sell The Dead” is two parts Hammer to one part “Evil Dead II.” It’s cheap and low-budget, one of a string of new features coming out of indie production house Glass Eye Pix (of which Fessenden is the man in charge), but in the best sense possible. You can tell writer/director Glenn McQuaid, Fessenden and the rest of the crew stretched their budget to the limit, but the movie never feels shoddy. There are some moments when the cracks show—some not-so-great CGI fills in the backgrounds and substitutes for other effects—but when it counts (that is, when the zombies and vampires start attacking)–the movie looks great. The zombies and vampires that Arthur and Willie must face bear more than a passing resemblance to the Deadites in “Evil Dead II,” and “I Sell The Dead” uses some of the same kind of slapstick touches.
“I Sell The Dead” feels great, too—McQuaid shifts the movie from gruesome horror with a touch of adventure to period slapstick with ease. Occasionally, scenes will bleed into comic book panel-style transitions. The passing nods to horror comics (along with the heavy Hammer influence and a small role by Angus Scrimm as a deranged anatomist) are a nice touch and reinforce the movie’s blend of the gothic and the comedic.
As far as that comedy goes, Monaghan and Fessenden are a great pair. Fessenden looks kind of goofy—his forehead is too big and his hair’s a wild mess—and his bizarre appearance contrasts with Monaghan’s boyish looks. They have drinking contests, fight over who has to dig up the next body, and attempt to scam each other for sandwiches and booze. It’s a good dynamic, one that gets interrupted when, suddenly, Arthur’s new girlfriend/apprentice Fanny (Brenda Cooney) is introduced into the mix. Don’t get me wrong—Cooney’s a total fox and I don’t want to complain too much about her presence on screen—but Fanny’s sudden appearance in the final third of the movie feels artificial. That’s a minor gripe, though.
There are plenty of other awesome characters that don’t feel forced, and McQuaid excels at populating the film with killers, criminals, bartenders, and old ladies, all of who really stand out. The best of the bunch is the House of Murphy, a fearsome gang of murderous grave robbers that serve as Willie and Arthur’s only competition. In a clever, comic-book style sequence, each member of the House of Murphy gets a quick origin story, from the cold-hearted Cornelius (John Speredakos) to the horribly scarred Valentine Kelly (Heather Bullock). I hesitate to recommend unnecessary sequels or prequels, but a House of Murphy movie would be pretty awesome.
“I Sell The Dead” is McQuaid’s first feature, though he has worked previously on other Glass Eye Pix productions like the global-warming themed thriller “The Last Winter.” McQuaid has some good sensibilities and it will be interesting to see what he does next. Meanwhile, “I Sell The Dead” can be found on On Demand (if you’ve got cable), though it’ll be out on DVD in December, if you’re patient. It shouldn’t be a tough sell—“I Sell The Dead” is fun enough to rouse even the most soundly sleeping corpse.
On the eve of his execution for his ghoulish crimes, Arthur Blake (Monaghan), a successful grave-robber, decides to tell his story and confess his sins to local priest Father Duffy (Perlman). Recounting the dark tale of his fifteen years in the grave-robbing business, Blake recalls how he met and teamed up with veteran grave-robber Willie Grimes (Fessenden) and how they came to be the chief suppliers of fresh corpses to Dr. Vernon Quint (Scrimm). The duo’s adventures include a feud with a rival gang of grave-robbers and discovering that there’s a more lucrative business than selling the dead… selling the undead. But finding, capturing and delivering vampires, zombies and other ghoulish creatures proves more difficult than they imagined.
Structurally similar to an anthology, I Sell the Dead is a three act tale of the bumbling adventures of our grave-robbing protagonists, played with great aplomb by Monaghan and Fessenden – Monaghan in particular is a perfect fit for his role as both storyteller and hero, and he brings all of his charm and wit to the role. It’s his central performance that provides such a solid base for the movie, he holds your attention during the “interludes” with Perlman’s priest like any good commanding storyteller should, yet he also plays the everyman “hero” during the films more outrageous grave-robbing scenes – especially when the undead turn up!
Stylistically the film’s looks fantastic, despite a low budget writer/director Glenn McQuaid manages to make the most of what he has. It’s obvious money hasn’t been scrimped on the creature effects though – the zombies look more ghoulish than normal, and McQuaid seems proud of his monsters. letting the camera linger on them for longer. I especially liked the comic book elements used throughout the film – they’re reminiscent of those found in the Creepshow movies, and they work just as well here as they did in those films.
I Sell the Dead is a surprising movie. Sold as a take on Hammer-style horror, the film more than that, it’s a fun movie in the 80’s sense – similar to that era’s Night of the Creeps or Fright Night, with plenty of laughs to be had and a story that is a fresh take on the old ‘Burke and Hare’ style tale. A lot of the film’s success can be attributed to the actors, the entire cast seem to have loads of chemistry and it shows on screen, so much so that I’d be interested in seeing them again in a sequel. Altogether I Sell the Dead is a witty, fun and bloody good Halloween ghost story that I thoroughly recommend.
I Sell the Dead is out on DVD now, and is out on Blu-ray November 2nd.
Arthur and Willie are grave robbers (which was apparently a legitimate profession in 18th century Ireland... who knew?) who love to be drunk and traffic in graveyard goods. The goods however, turn out to be some very off the wall and creepy things... and I'm not sure how they make for a more lucrative trade, but they do. Who buys zombies? I mean really? Why?
They soon get tired of working for the meager pittance that The Tall Man deals out to them, and strike out on their own to get rich or die tryin'. The trouble is, they have to deal with a brutal and creepy rival grave robbing gang, vampires, zombies, and an assortment of other nefarious creatures, including the law which eventually catches up with them, and the guy that played Hellboy. The proverbial deck is stacked against them.
So facing execution for his crimes, Arthur recounts his adventures to Father Hellboy, and hopes that it's enough to earn him a stay of execution. Or not. I'm sure he doesn't want to die in any event. Will Arthur and Willie prevail? Will the Murphy gang creep them out to the point of just wanting to die? Will the whore apprentice screw everything up and land them in hot water? Well of course... but to which one? Dun, dun, dun...
The Good- This movie has a very light and fun feel to it, and plays almost like a love letter to horror fans. It almost has a cartoon-ish feel to it, though not in a goofy way, and I like how the humor was mostly subtle as opposed to over the top, because it made the movie work all the better.
I loved the use of flashbacks as well, which were very effective. And they stylish visuals just add to the fun atmosphere of this dark humor laced movie. It's always nice to see Ron Perlman, especially since Sons of Anarchy is such a great show and he's bad ass on it. Ditto for Dominic Monaghan, LOST's favorite son Charlie, who proves that he can be good outside of The Shire and off of the Island.
The Bad- The bird? Really?!? Poor little pappy... Oh crap, the rabbit too? Why do horror movies hate animals so much? I feel bad for all things cute an furry in this genre, because there is no hope for them!
The Downright Horrendous- Why does the slutty chick always go and spoil things for everyone in these movies? Maybe if Charlie Pace would have kept it in his pants, things wouldn't have gone from bad to worse as quickly as they did. Then again it's virtually impossible to resist a sexy tart wielding the British accent... I know I couldn't do it.
The Gory- There's some gore to be had here, including a really nice throat slashing, zombie violence, vampire violence, animal violence, a beheading... though not a gore-fest, it's still good times!
The Naked- No, we don't get to see Fanny's fanny. Tis' a shame.
What did we learn?- Grave Robbin' ain't easy. Also, never listen to the slutty chick, it can only lead to bad things.
The Master Says- B+ (8.5/10) This movie was all kinds of fun from the cool monsters, to the black humor, to the awesome cast of actors. I wish it had been a bit longer, as more of a good thing can't hurt, but overall the run time worked as it was supposed to. It's definitely a movie made for horror fans, by horror fans, and should definitely be on your list of things to see..
19th century justice has finally caught up to grave robbers Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan – Hetty Wainthrop Investigates) and Willie Grimes. With the specter of the guillotine looming over him, young Blake confides in visiting clergyman Father Duffy (Ron Perlman – Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, Fallout), recounting fifteen years of adventure in the resurrection trade. His tale leads from humble beginnings as a young boy stealing trinkets from corpses, to a partnership with seasoned ghoul Willie Grimes as they hunt creatures unwilling to accept their place in the ground. The colorful and peculiar history of Grimes and Blake is one filled with adventure, horror, and vicious rivalries that threaten to put all involved in the very graves they're trying to pilfer.
Do you know what my favourite part of my job is? It’s being pleasantly surprised by low-budget movies. And this is a corker. With the artistic sensibilities of a graphic novel crashing into Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari – it hurtles along like a great pulp novel, providing action, scares and chuckles along the way.
The effects are
hardly groundbreaking, but they are never restricted by their low-budget,
and the close sets and smoke adds to the atmosphere, if anything.
The vampire and zombie make-up is great. And it’s got Ron Perlman
Are you paying attention, Drag Me To Hell? This is how you do it.
I Sell the Dead is (so I'm told) a throwback to the old Hammer and Amicus horror films, serving up thick slabs of gothic, hammy horror without taking anything too seriously. Having barely watched any authentic Hammer horror films (a crime I'm sure in some circles), I'm probably not the right audience or critic to be watching and reviewing this. I'm not warning you that I'm going to lay into the film, I just think that others might appreciate it on a different level. In fact I quite enjoyed it, but anyway, let's get on with things...
The film is told mainly through flashback as grave-robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) tells his grisly story to a priest (Ron Perlman) during the final night before his execution. We learn of his exploits with friend and business partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) as they move from petty thieves to dealers in the undead. It's a daft and quite fractured narrative, but works well as a series of fun vignettes. Don't look for logic or character development, just go along for the ride and you won't be troubled.
It's a lightly entertaining romp despite the grim subject matter, with most of the film played for laughs. It's never hilarious, just consistently likeable, which makes for a film that is easy to watch but difficult to really love. The cast all seem to be having a great time, and provide enjoyable performances. Some of the accents are a bit laughable for the wrong reasons (Ron Perlman especially), but it's all part of the hammy charm I guess.
Visually the film looks great, with the attractive period setting making a welcome change to the grimy or overly slick looks of modern horror films. A lot of work has clearly gone into making it look like a classic gothic horror, and the special effects match it by never looking overly realistic, adding to the dated Hammer feel.
At the end of it all though, as fun and pretty as it is, I Sell the Dead never has enough impact to really be all that memorable. It's entertaining while it lasts, but I don't think I'll be rushing to see it again.
I Here was a film
that I had been looking forward to for quite a while. Glenn McQuaid's
full feature-film debut, the horror/comedy I Sell The Dead has already
dug itself out of the grave and shuffled onto largely indifferent
UK Blu-ray, but now comes the chance to have a butcher's at this Canadian
region A-locked release from Anchor Bay. The film, a low-budget, high-hopes
gothic splendour about the scrapes that two 19th Century grave-robbers,
played by Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden (who also co-produced
the film for his mate, Glenn), find themselves in before fate and
the law finally catch up with them, literally came and went without
any fanfare. Which is a distinct shame. I first heard about the project
when advance word about its wacky soundtrack score, from Jeff Grace,
piqued my interest, but such were the misfortunes of the movie's distribution
that it could well have been buried before it even saw the light of
day. Thankfully, home video, like the prying hands of the two miscreants
at the dark heart of the story, ransacked its gloomy vault and has
given it a new lease of life in spruced-up 1080p.
Written by native Irishman McQuaid who, like many of us ghouls, was weaned on Saturday night horror double-bills that flashed incendiary images and monstrous possibilities inside his skull, I Sell The Dead's plot is regaled by Monaghan's imprisoned Arthur Blake to a strangely rapt monk (Ron Perlman) just after his mentor and business partner, Willie Grimes (Fessenden) has been beheaded. Arthur awaits the same treatment in the morning. The image, lit by candlelight, of Dominic Monaghan sitting across a table in the cell of the damned from Ron Perlman in monastic robes who is visibly relishing all manner of grave-robbing, occult encounters and supernatural shenanigans that the condemned man is recounting for his scribbling quill and evident delectation, is supremely evocative. He tells of his indoctrination into the “business”, and the tricks he quickly learned from the more seasoned Grimes. We hear of the nefarious Dr. Vernon Quint (the fabulous Tall Man, himself, from Phantasm, Angus Scrimm making a wonderful cameo appearance) and his sordid practices for which a regular delivery of fresh meat is all-important. We learn of the rival gang of ghouls, known as the House of Murphy. Ferocious and as mad as they come, this is one clan that you don't want to get on the wrong side of. Even the dead are afraid of them. And then there are the, ahem, odd cases that crop up in the course of their nocturnal toil, the ones that aren't covered by the Grave-robbers' Guild. These are the graves that aren't exactly populated with the … um … shall we say conventional corpses. The ones who don't seem to be resting in peace. Thus it transpires that Arthur Blake ends up recounting the tricky nature of dealing with the undead – the vampires and the zombies that fast become an occupational hazard for the hapless duo.
But no matter how adept they become at wrangling the reluctant dead, circumstances of a fateful nature are conspiring against them. The involvement of a woman – ain't it always the way? - is sure to put the cat amongst the pigeons. Fiery red-head, Fanny Bryer (a gusty Brenda Cooney), is seeking a career-shift from ship-wrecker to stiff-seller and she wants “in” with the boys. But her first job is going to prove a dangerous one, and an opportunity that will be literally make or break for Grimes and Blake.
I Sell The Dead may be McQuaid's first full-length feature, but it is not his first foray into fantasy film-making. In fact, it is not even his first occasion of dealing with Messrs Grimes and Blake, for he had actually created the characters for a short experimental film, wonderfully entitled The Resurrection Apprentice in 2005, with Larry Fessenden beginning his tenure as Willie Grimes and Brenda Cooney appearing in a different role to the one she would grab by the horns in this fully developed version. But the nice thing is that the earlier attempt to bring the grave-robbing opus to the screen has actually been integrated into this film, albeit a truncated version that now plays as a flashback to the start of the duo's career together. Remarkably, barring a slightly different look, the sequence fits in well with the rest of the movie and, without me, or either of the two commentary tracks telling you, you probably wouldn't be any the wiser of the splicing.
The influences are readily apparent. Burke and Hare, Terry and Arthur, Father Ted and Dougal, amongst many other ragtag, chancing couplets from across the genres, are all wrapped-up into this ghoulish pair of earth-botherers. Their relationship is a mixed-bag of amiable companionship, like-minded opportunism, devout cowardice and erstwhile dreaming. The genesis of the double-act, as well as its eventual outcome, is all too obvious, but the execution of their banter, charm, wit and innate un-savouriness is pure TV sitcom. And this is no bad thing. Of the two, it is clearly Monaghan's film. Then Lost star and former Hobbit has a wayward guile that makes his odd little face quite magnetic. It is true that even in a film that is already rife with rural accents and mangled, face-gurning vowels from all and sundry (although “Oirish” seems to be the dominant lingo), Monaghan's voice skitters about all over the place. His rustic patois from playing Merry in LOTR cuddles its way out of his mouth, but so, too, does a strange trans-Atlantic drawl that comes from his recent years spent Stateside with JJ Abrams and then Hugh Jackman on Wolverine. Perlman, however, maintains a glorious Irish brogue that sounds almost saintly-sweet dancing out from his lantern-jaw. Monaghan is still too diminutive in personality to carry off full leading-man status, although he is terrifically likeable as the jug-eared scallywag for whom luck, both good and bad, are practically interchangeable commodities.
is no slouch, either. He takes to the role with an amiable grunge
and a sly twinkle in his eye. It is tempting to imagine Andy Serkis
in the part, but he would probably allow Grimes a harder image than
that which the scratty little runt of a coffin-grabber actually warrants.
There is a very familiar and almost cosy quality to Fessenden's portrayal.
Rough 'n' ready and quick to seize the moment, he is still immediately
much less intimidating than a church mouse … and probably twice
as flea-bitten. Perlman is, as always, excellent. The anvil-faced
actor must have suffered a shiver or two of deja vu when he donned
his monk's cassock and began to wander through the dank, shadow-engulfed
gaol location, with memories of his haunting performance as the ill-treated
simpleton Salvatore in Jean-Jacques Annaud's medieval whodunnit, The
Name Of The Rose swarming back to him. Only drafted-in for three days
of filming, he nevertheless looms large over the proceedings, and
it is fascinating to watch the animation that that immense face is
capable of producing as he ponders the tale that is told to him in
the flickering candlelight.
McQuaid employs a lot of visual gimmicks, from split-screen dissolves and metaphorical editing to live-action suddenly frozen-fast into a lurid comic-book image, and this reminds a little bit of an impish Tarantino at work, or even an early Guy Ritchie. Indeed, the film is set in some bawdy, early 19th century period, but its slang, verbal sparring and contemporary style is thoroughly removed from any real or authentic historical milieu, much like the “out-of-whack” crime dramas that both Tarantino and Ritchie made their names with. And, to this end, I Sell The Dead is a fable of deed and consequence that just happens to have such a setting draped around it, the theme merely one of comical corruption, amorality, rogue characters meeting even more roguish characters and a series of highly implausible scenarios that career around our two protagonists with ever-wilder unpredictability … and ever-worsening repercussions. There are tales within tales, McQuaid taking traditional exposition into fresher, more off-kilter realms, and some terrific character introductions that are delivered via verbal hearsay, rumour and graphic imagery. The potential for a much larger, more complex universe is apparent, the screenplay tantalising in its evocation of some weird alternate reality.
We cross the threshold into fantasy quite early on but the transition is smooth. And whilst it could so easily have become tedious to just watch corpse after corpse being dug up, we are treated to some diverse locations and one or two very unexpected unearthings. There is even a little hint of Repo Man at one stage. Shot in New York City, a lot of it upon Staten Island, itself, and then up on Long Island, the film looks amazing … for its rather obvious shoestring budget. There are some wonderful, very fantastical-looking country lanes that are profuse with foliage, canopied with trailing mist and shadows, and decorated with some gloriously gothic old street-lamps that, somehow, bring a touch of Middle Earth's quaintly sinister Bree to the quasi Victorian netherworld that the story inhabits. We may have the mighty Perlman sans that demonic red skin and shorn of his ground-down horns, but there is definitely an element of the Hellboy comic-books at play here. Not only in the fairytale glens, spectral graveyards and mischievous Oirish enclaves of dreaded islets, but in the tone of almost “anything goes”. Our boys' local tavern, The Fortune Of War, is a typically ale-sozzled den of inequity, where deals are done, plots are hatched and drinking games can lead to carve-ups with cadavers. The simply huge innkeeper, Ronnie (Joel Garland), lends a marvellous sweat 'n' beer authenticity with his bloated form and pink visage and the scenes in the ale-house have an infectious sense of real conviviality. I'm always infatuated by insane creativity on a low-budget, and McQuaid's excellent use of genre-staples and fan-boy riffs almost effortlessly won me over. Somewhere in here are the seeds of a blacker-than-black series of misadventures, the film neatly assuming the very guise of an episodic extravagance, and falling covertly into the limbo-land between Supernatural and Pushing Up Daisies, but with a lot more swearing.
“I looked into its eyes and all I saw was me own mouth screaming back at me!!!”
And, as I mentioned
earlier, it gets that great little score from Jeff Grace, too. Full-blooded,
left-field and often knowingly manic, the music perfectly accompanies
the tongue-in-cheek antics. The opening titles – which house
the main theme for our two dubious heroes – are deliberately
reminiscent of Stuart Gordon’s seminal Re-Animator (which, in
turn, was centred around a riff on Bernard Herrmann’s classic
Psycho score), but McQuaid adds the animated anatomical dissection
that Gordon made so eminently cool with his own lurid title sequence.
Grace’s score is very hugely humorous, but it wraps the film
up in a deliciously dark and playful blanket, switching on the horror
when called for but always twisting insidiously around the increasingly
more bizarre incidents like a mischievous court jester.
The mist-enshrouded approach to Langel’s Island is so obviously three cast members just sitting in a pond and rowing absolutely nowhere, but the effect, on-screen, is justifiably moody and heavy with dread, although McQuaid cannot resist the long, Skull Island approach-style shot that places the unwise travellers at the forefront of a vast CG rolling sea, with the mysterious rocky outcropping looming up an almost impossible distance away. He manages to make his threadbare sets and locations seem much bigger, more populated and even more real than they should be. CG city rooftops reaching up behind the physical locations, embraced with that perennial mist, look surprisingly good. We aren’t talking the all-round, three-dimensional aspect of the Olde London streets of Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd, but these little spires, rises and shadow-mired dwelling-places that provide unsettling backdrops for the tavern and the little trails are much more subtle and well-integrated than any of the overly-stretched landscapes or buildings seen in Stephen Sommers’ flaccid yawnathon, Van Helsing. McQuaid’s background in visual effects (The Roost, Trigger Man) means that the movie always has an interesting, well composed appearance and he certainly evidences the ability to make even the simplest of set-ups look enchanting. For instance, there is a shot from The Resurrection Apprentice sequence of Grimes and the young Arthur Blake (played by Daniel Manche) in the middle ground, far left of the image, with a CG-blended statue in the immediate right. The influence of Sam Raimi also appears with the comical, yet aggressive attacks of the undead. Whether vampire-babe or ravenous zombie, the set-pieces tend to include a monster’s speeding POV shot of the intended victim, and their terrified facial contortions. For a film as small as this, these little embellishments are tremendous ambient decorations that add a lot to the mood. A patently CG knife thudding into a skull sticks out like a sore thumb, though. Still, this sort of thing shows a real eye for scope and grandeur and opens up the movie quite considerably.
To be honest, folks, out of all the films that I’ve seen this past week – and there’s been a few – it was this that I felt the urge to re-watch the most. You can’t beat that low-level, but farsighted approach of ambitious new filmmakers who are, first and foremost, knowledgeable fans of the genre they are working in. When someone writes, directs and edits a movie and maintains such an obvious camaraderie that it even manages to bleed from the screen, it is a rare delight. I Sell The Dead has a few indie and festival awards to its name and the sure-fire makings of a cult item provided, of course, that you accept its simple and leering virtues.
I enjoyed it immensely and would love to see more of Grimes and Blake plying their ghastly trade. Like Sam Raimi expanded a low-key student short called Into The Woods into The Evil Dead, and then practically re-made it all over again as Evil Dead II, I can see this grave-robbing odyssey getting tweaked and fine-tuned and transformed from what, here, feels vaguely incomplete, into something appropriately richer and more satisfying.
Movie score : 7
In the aftermath of a summer of colossally expensive, yet routinely vapid and entirely unamusing blockbusters, I Sell The Dead is a breath of fresh air. It marks, by my count, the second noteworthy horror movie of the year (the first being Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell). I say that with a bit of hesitance, because honestly, I Sell The Dead isn’t particularly horrifying. It’s fun, however; a brisk, 90 minutes of sly nods to the classics, clever wordsmithing, sharp dialogue, and excellent costume design, despite a budget that’s probably less than Michael Bay spends on detonator cord.
The film starts with Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), imprisoned and waiting to be beheaded the next morning. As he contemplates his grim fate, he’s visited by an imposing Irish priest named Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) to whom, in exchange for sharing a bottle of whiskey, he tells the tale of his life.
That tale begins
with Arthur as an impoverished young lad who comes under the tutelage
of the crass and sometimes-well-intentioned graverobber Willie Grimes.
(Larry Fessenden) As time progresses, Arthur and Willie become two
of the premier corpse snatchers of their time, working predominately
for the eminently creepy and cadaverous Dr. Vernon Quint (Phantasm’s
Angus Scrimm), a harsh master who pays them little for their substantial
risks. Everything changes the day that they realize there’s
more to the world of the dead than they’d thought, the day they
stop being graverobbers and, as Blake tells Father Duffy, became ghouls.
Ghouls because they no longer work exclusively with the dead, but
instead have branched out into the realm of the un-dead.
I Sell The Dead plays less like a whole film, and more like a series of short vignettes about Arthur and Willie’s adventures with the dead, the undead, and other entities of a strange and bizarre nature. It’s a speedily paced little adventure, clocking in at under 90 minutes, and if it has a weakness, it’s that there’s a certain lack of cohesion to it. It seems like you’re watching a series of short films about recurring characters — which makes sense, since it comes on the heels of writer/director Glenn McQuaid’s 2005 short film The Resurrection Apprentice, which featured Fessenden reprising his role of Willie Grimes. It’s clearly limited by its budget, but McQuaid cleverly makes up for that by focusing intently on the players, rather than worrying about nonexistent cinematography.
Regardless of those minor flaws, I Sell The Dead is all good fun. It’s not a game-changing entry into the genre — it’s a zombie movie… only it’s not. One of the things that made I Sell The Dead refreshing was McQuaid’s refusal to use many of the conventional horror movie tropes. It’s a throwback to the heyday of Hammer films, a tasty treat of spooky atmospheres and clever startling moments. It’s not terribly gory (although there’s definitely some enjoyable, satire-filled bloodletting), or even all that scary, but it’s got a lot of heart and the players are clearly enjoying themselves. Given the shoestring budget that it was clearly funded on, it’s a remarkable accomplishment. That’s not to say that it’s good in spite of its budget — it’s good regardless of it. It’s an enjoyable little picture that speaks to the viewer with its deft writing, cheeky nods to the classics. It’s a modern horror movie that doesn’t pander itself with cheap gags, torture porny gross-outs, or rote, annoying characterizations — in fact, its plot and characters are strikingly original. I highly recommend that you join them as they merrily wade through a strange little world of minor-league undead carnage.
If you loved Hammer, you'll 'dig' this unlikely grave-robbing comedy romp.
For his debut feature, writer-director Glenn McQuaid has gone for a pitch-perfect Hammer Horror parody in which almost the first thing you witness is Ron Perlman - as an oirish priest, no less - adopting the most ludicrous accent since Sean Connery sporadically jigged and bejesus-ed his way through The Untouchables. McQuaid is clearly not one to court a mainstream audience, or indeed anyone who doesn't intimately recall the likes of Zoltan: Hound of Dracula or Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.
In an unnamed 19th-century city, toothless grave robber Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) and young helper Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) spend their foggy nights digging up corpses to sell to the local mad scientist. But when this Dickensian duo discovers a more lucrative trade in the undead, they come into contact with the fearsome House of Murphy, a family of body-thieving psychopaths who'll stop at nothing to protect their lucrative zombie import business.
All this is an excuse to revel in nostalgia for the Hammer years. Every limited and cheaply assembled set is a familiar favourite, from misty cemeteries and dank, cobbled streets to the wood-beamed tavern filled with grubby peasants and busty wenches. The ludicrous, shapeless plot will also ring true to British horror acolytes, though the fun, jousting banter between Monaghan and Fessenden is very much of the modern buddy-comedy era.
I Sell the Dead has gone down well on the horror festival circuit, and it's not hard to see why. This is real midnight movie stuff - a reverent, lovingly-produced oddity that offers daft shocks, a few surprises and the occasional wide grin. The fact that throughout the picture Lost escapee Monaghan looks as though he's here to grudgingly fulfil a community service order just adds to the charm.
A cheeky, campy grave-robbing adventure isn't a concept much visited in cinema. Kudos are due to director Glenn McQuaid for pulling off this madcap horror caper. In many hands, this premise could have turned into a lame schlock-fest, but McQuaid and his jaunty crew never loose sight of the fun they're supposed to be having. Dominic "I'm not really a hobbit" Monaghan stars as Arthur Blake, a young grave robber whose mentor, Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), has just lost his head to the guillotine. Arthur has only a few hours to relay his life story to Father Francis Duffy (Ron Perlman, trying on robes and a Scottish brogue) before his head is scheduled to similarly depart from his neck. The story thus unfolds via a series of tales about Arthur's upbringing as a grave robber. McQuaid does an excellent job evoking the look and feel of Hammer period horror, down to the costuming, sinister sets and banks of fog hugging every graveyard. His real trick though, is slipping that carefully constructed environment into a blender and hitting a big gory button marked "Evil Dead." Sam Raimi's classic horror comedy series is an obvious touchstone for the tone I Sell the Dead feeds on for laughs. There are a few jumps, to be sure, but they're also played as tension comedy. McQuaid even goes so far as to make the grave robbing duo's first encounter with the supernatural clearly a Deadite (if you have to google it, why are you watching this movie?). Even the editing of the sequence screams Evil Dead tribute. Monaghan's natural whimsy works well while he's trying to play it straight against ridiculous supernatural occurrences. The plot isn't as clever as it thinks it is, but it's plenty of fun without getting too heavy nonetheless. That's a sentiment echoed in the "making of." It's the lone feature, but it's an extensive, mostly unguided, fully behind-the-scenes view of what looks like a film as fun to make as to watch.
Now if you've been following my movie reviews of what Anchor Bay has been sending me the last little while you know it's been a mixed bag at best. Loved the Hellraiser dvds. Imurder...not so much.
So when I Sell The Dead arrived at my door, I tried not to get my hopes up.
Sure it co-starred Ron Pearlman who can bring quality to any part he plays despite a film being a big floating turd. But this was a period piece on a very low budget. So with some trepidation I put the disc in the dvd player.
And thankfully I was rewarded with a nice little comedic horror flick.
I Sell the Dead stars Dominic Monaghan (from Lost and former hobbit), Larry Fessenden (who also serves as a producer on the film but still brings the noise as an actor in it) and Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, lord among character actors) with an appearance by Angus Scrimm (the Tall Man from the Phantasm series).
Set in the 17 or 1800's (it never gives a clear date...not like it's needed), Arthur Blake (Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Fessenden) steal bodies and sell them to medical science. It works out alright for them but when business really picks up is when they start dealing with the undead and selling them to medical science. Eventually the two are accused of murder and the story is told in flashback as Blake speaks to Father Duffy (Pearlman) about his past adventures.
While I was watching the movie it reminded me a lot of the old Roger Corman drive-in movies that I used to watch on late night tv. Decent script, decent actors, no budget but yet had a charm to it that over came the fact that the set in the Pit and the Pendulum was then transferred and dressed up with plants for Little Shop of Horrors.
I instantly fell in love with Blake and Grimes and their ridiculous adventures. Stealing bodies, waking vampires, finding aliens, the characters, while we don't find out a heck of a lot about them, they seem to be completely there from the moment they hit the screen. Fessenden in particular really grabbed me as Grimes, the grave robber with a heart of gold.
The film itself I would describe as a comedy with strong horror overtones. And well written. Unlike a lot of other indy horror flicks I've sat through, at the end of the movie, I did not feel like I wasted over an hour of my life and I didn't feel like a moron for giving this movie a chance.
In fact my only complaint about the movie is I want more! At 85 minutes it ends just as the story is getting good. It would make a great pilot for a tv series which I would watch religiously every week. But hey, if they want to make full length sequels, I'd be more then happy with that.
As for the tech specs, the picture quality is great, the sound mix is alright in 5.1 surround and it even comes with a few extras including a one hour making of, commentary by the director and the two stars and a full small graphic novel adaptation in the dvd case.
The film is being distributed by Anchor Bay here in Canada and made by Glass Eye Pix's Scareflix division.
So good was this film that I will gladly sit through any other movies they will come out with even if they are only half as good as this one.
In short, this is a buy or at the very least a rent. Please do one or the other cause I want a sequel!
I usually loathe the term “Horror-Comedy”, as - apart from a few Roger Corman and John Landis films, it’s largely a misnomer and most films described as being such are usually more dependent on one medium than the other, neglecting comedy for horror and vice versa, using the “genre” as vessel to increase audience share whilst hoping no-one sees through their thinly disguised veneer until cold hard cash has changed hands and the audience are left to see the film for what it really is. A by-the-numbers horror flick or a seen-it-all before comedy. So, when I read the press sheet and came across that unfortunate term, well, things weren’t looking too rosy for “I Sell The Dead”, and if hadn’t been for the fact that both Ron Perlman and Larry ‘Last Winter’ Fessenden were (and are) part of the main cast, I’d probably have passed the film on to one of the other MM writers. Having spent the last two hours with ‘I Sell The Dead’ though, I’m damn glad that I didn’t pass it on, as it’s part of that all to rare breed, a genuine Horror-Comedy, that’s as funny as it is horrific. Taking the form of a flash-back confessional, it opens with the execution of Willie Blake (Larry Fessenden), turning swiftly to Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) as he recounts his tales of grave robbing to Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) before he too meets the same fate as his partner in crime. It’s an unusual tale for a pair of Victorian grave robbersand body snatchers, as Blake and Grimes discovered, by accident, on their nefarious journey that there was a lot more money to be made in catching and selling the undead than there was, and is, in selling the rotting meat husks of the freshly departed. Unfortunately, it’s a more competitive field, and the increased financial rewards walk hand in hand with sadistic, psychotic “business rivals”, making hunting the living dead a gruesome, risky enterprise. It’s beautifully filmed, reminding me of the Portmanteau Amicus releases of the early seventies, and has the same claustrophobic atmosphere as the cream of the sixties Hammer classics, and it’s testament to Glenn McQuaid that his film feels like it’s a joint venture between both (Amicus and Hammer) that’s been written and directed by Roger Corman. The cast (and Angus ‘Phantasm’ Scrimm’s performance is a joy to watch) are perfect, all bringing their characters to vivid life, and even if the dialogue feels a little trite in places, its easy to forgive as the story rattles along at a frantic pace. It’s a wonderful slice of old fashioned film making, an honest to goodness horror story, that has a couple of twists in it’s tale and a well rounded sting of an ending, that’s easily worth a tenner and a couple of hours of everyone’s time. If you only get to see one “Horror-Comedy” this year, make sure it’s this one.