I Sell the Dead [Blu-ray] (2008)

Actors: Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden
Directors: Glenn McQuaid
Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Number of discs: 1
DVD Release Date: March 30, 2010
Run Time: 85 minutes



Horror 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 flashbacks" variety.

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.



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).