2008, Dir. by Glenn McQuaid.
After a couple of years on the festival circuit and a limited theatrical run, writer/director Glenn McQuaid's Victorian horror comedy I Sell the Dead has finally hit shelves this week. After an intriguing trailer (scroll down for that one) and the promise of Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix and Scareflix companies being involved in it, I knew this was the type of new horror I could not miss.
I Sell the Dead begins by introducing us to Arthur Blake and Willie Grimes (Dominic Monaghan of Lost/Lord of the Rings and Fessenden, respectively) who're about to be beheaded for the crimes of grave robbing and murder. As a priest (RON FREAKING PERLMAN!) attempts to get Blake's last words, Arthur insists he's not responsible for any murder. He is, however, more than willing to recount his history as a grave robber - and those flashbacks are where the meat and potatoes of this film lies.
Through Arthur's flashbacks, the film is allowed to tell tales of various horrors. It starts simple with grave robbing, but with time things get weirder. Without spoiling any details, I can let you know that you should expect I Sell the Dead to offer many different types of horror and sci-fi characters throughout. Many of the monsters at foot will be evident from the start of each encounter, but the fun of the film lies in how McQuaid handles these oddly macabre situations.
Visually, I Sell the Dead is a treat, despite being very low budget. The influence of Hammer Films is evident (during the special features the cinematographer speaks of being influenced by Freddie Francis' overlooked Paranoiac!) in the framing of cemetery scenes, with fog blowing across the screen constantly and blue-tinted night skies for effect at times. Costumes also fit the Hammer bill, as does most of the excellent musical score.
But this is most definitely not the only influence on McQuaid's film, which is full of dark comedic moments. Fessenden is the key to this tone with his performance as Willie, a vile character who could be the "Old English" answer to the redneck. Monaghan plays the straight role most of the time opposite Fessenden's haggard mannerisms, and the banter between the duo provides many strong laughs. Aside from Perlman's relatively small serious role, the film also features a supporting performance from Phantasm's Angus Scrimm, who makes the most out of a brief mad scientist role, and Scareflix veteran John Speredakos as a villainous rival dead-seller.
Trouble comes when I Sell the Dead tries to balance its comedic and atmospheric moments, and this leads to a slightly disjointed feeling through the first hour of the film. The final reels seem to even out and lead to an enjoyable climax that's filled with some darkly humorous moments of blood splatter. The film ends rather abruptly though, which surprised and disappointed me.
The copy of the film I picked up came with a free comic book version of the story, and it seems to me like that medium might fit I Sell the Dead's intentions better than the film did. I found myself genuinely interested in the exploits of Arthur and Willie, and the film showed the ability to add and subtract rich supporting characters as needed. The film definitely could benefit from more actual time being devoted to its characters - at 85 minutes the film barely manages to introduce the characters and the situations they deal with before the end credits roll.
I enjoyed being introduced into the supernatural world I Sell the Dead has created, and I'm sure it's a film I'll want to rewatch a few times based solely on its originality - but I definitely was left wanting more. I hope we'll see more of Arthur and Willie again down the road, whether it's through the rumored sequel or comics (or an animated movie would also fit this world well), because there's a lot of greatness in the ideas McQuaid and company present in I Sell the Dead. In fact, there's enough good moments that I definitely recommend that any fan of independent horror give this one a chance - it might not win you over entirely, but I can't imagine you won't find some joy in its madness.
And, for good measure, here's a cool retro poster and the trailer. Enjoy!
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