comedies need to work even harder than straight horror
to make an impression . . .
Sam Raimi (Evil Dead 2,
Army of Darkness) casts a pretty long shadow in
that department, and without some real imagination on
your side, you're bound to end up aping him.
Alternately, you might follow the Scream model
and try to be too hip for the room rather than
investing anything in the story.
Which is why I Sell The Dead deserves special
mention, though in and of itself it's merely reliable
entertainment. It goes about its task with inspiration
and heart, helping to bridge the gaps between its
ambitions and its budget. With an original concept and
a deep affection for the roots of the horror genre,
the resulting package becomes awfully hard to resist.
And let's be honest: we don't see nearly enough movies
about grave robbers these days!
The pair here make a fine couple of rogues, engaged in
their dirty business back in the days when men were
men and teeth were rotten. Grimes (Larry Fessenden) is
the senior half of the duo, showing the ropes to his
young partner Blake (Dominic Monaghan of
Lost fame) as they skulk
through the graveyards of Victorian England.
They unearth fresh corpses for unscrupulous doctors,
selling them for a pretty penny before various irate
relatives catch up to them. The problem is that the
doctor they work for (Angus Scrimm) would rather
blackmail them than pay them - if they balk, he'll
just call the cops -- which puts a crimp in their
already less-than-glamorous lifestyle. Things change
when they unearth a body that refuses to stay dead,
which both solves their immediate difficulties and
creates some nasty new ones.
The bulk of the film takes place in flashback, as
Blake sits in prison for his crimes and a cantankerous
old monk (Ron Perlman,
Hellboy) records his last confession. The tactic
sets up a fair number of twists, which are quite fun
despite the fact that you can see most of them coming.
So it goes with most of I Sell the Dead.
Writer/director Glenn McQuaid buries himself deep in
standard tropes, then elevates them by providing new
wrinkles and clever variations at every turn. Some of
the surprises are visual; others come via a funny bit
of dialogue or an interesting narrative development.
In each case, however, they take a turn from the
expected into moderately fresh territory, making
gleeful smiles very easy to come by.
Similarly, the film's Gothic atmosphere remains a
textbook case of how to do more with less. This
production clearly has very little money, and I
imagine a fair chunk of it went to high-profile actors
like Monaghan and Perlman. But for all their
shoestring qualities, the art direction and visual
effects have an air of delightful whimsy to them:
matte paintings of darkened moors, zombie make-up that
implies what it can't overtly show us, and a strong
sense of wit to push the green screen further than it
might go otherwise.
More importantly, I Sell The Dead enjoys the
characters as much as it enjoys the shocks and the
jokes. Grimes and Blake make a thoroughly entertaining
duo, as do their various rivals in the grave-robbing
trade. Monaghan and Perlman establish a keen repartee
in the framing device which powers the film past a few
mild stumbling points of the "flashbacks within
While the plot embraces an unduly episodic format -
feeling more like a collection of incidents than a
proper story - that's in keeping with the E.C. Comics
vibe which McQuaid carefully cultivates through
occasional fades to four-color artwork. The technique
helps it strike the right balance between originality
and reverence, between honoring the films which came
before it and establishing its own identity. The comic
book which accompanies it promises more adventures of
these characters in the future; watching I Sell The
Dead, it's hard not to be pleased at the prospect.
THE DISCS: The Blu-Ray offers a typical
cocktail of special features: an hour-long
behind-the-scenes documentary, a short special effects
doc (which proves very insightful) and audio
commentary from the filmmakers and cast. The image
quality doesn't benefit from the Blu-Ray treatment,
however; it's decent, but rather grainy as one might
expect from a film with a less-than-bottomless budget.
Casual viewers can probably go with the DVD and not
miss a thing.
WORTH IT? Absolutely. Its funny and energetic
story reminds us yet again that you don't need money
if you have real creativity in your corner.
RECOMMENDATION: Hard-core horror fans might be
a little put off at the lack of real shocks - this is
really more comedy than horror - but the copious
bloodshed and cock-eyed sense of humor make it
terrific viewing for genre fans and newcomers alike.