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I Sell the Dead
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never lets go of the deadpan Gaelic wit that makes the film so effortlessly
Night, With Thrills From Six Feet Under"
perfs, diverting f/x and handsome B-pic atmospherics ensure a good
time for horror fans with a memory past last weekend’s slasher
devious piece of icky fun"
a real wit, ingenuity and energy on display in I SELL THE DEAD"
can say with complete conviction that “I Sell the Dead”
is the best body-snatcher film of the year."
refreshingly original slice of indie quirk"
great script, great acting, great set design and fantastic makeup
make this a must see film."
McQuaid shows he clearly knows his way around the camera and has a
massive love for gothic horror. He's also one hell of a comedic writer..."
aren't the oddest thing revealed in the body snatchers' search –
one finding is something that only the Python team or Alex Cox would
try to pull off. And even those hooligans would do it slightly."
laugh out loud moments"
Sell the Dead's approach is so infectious that you can't help but
relish every last, silly, episodic minute of it."
welcome treat for horror fans"
gruesome and inventive enough to more than please niche genre fans
who are likely to spread the word to fellow admirers of gallows humor."
fans will definitely get off on I Sell the Dead"
fun watch for genre fans"
fresh, darkly funny blend of crime and supernatural hijinks"
grubby and gleeful, but with a nice sense of style"
fans will dig it up"
movie is just pure brilliance."
testament to old-fashioned creative ingenuity"
miss this movie!!!"
damned good-natured and with just enough inventive black humour and
batty gags to earn it a warm place in the heart of any true horror
and awfully entertaining"
throws in the odd alien, zombie and vampire to keep the gruesome guffaws
grisly exploits of Blake and Grimes are chilling and funny in equal
thoroughly enjoyable, dark slice of comedic fantasy horror
fans will have a grand old time with this raucous little romp... has
to be put to the top of your must-see list."
cast exude a confidence that carries I Sell The Dead a long way."
Delightful Dread Diversion"
heap of fun"
knockabout repartee between Monaghan and Fessenden makes this gleefully
gruesome romp so enjoyable."
together by the filmmaker’s true love of these genres,
cult hit in the making."
see something this distinctive, this full of personality, wit and
enjoyable picture with a fitting end"
a special little film with a big, slightly mad heart, and is definitely
one you won’t want to miss."
best of both worlds descent into goofy post-modern mischief."
whimsically macabre film that will delight and entertain all horror
that the horror genre isn’t dead or dying."
about re-inventing and re-animating the horror flick: This movie does
film should rocket to the top of your must-see list"
well done and quite funny"
film has got cult classic written all over it."
performances, good storytelling and solid production design"
one of the great movies at the LA Film Festival"
little bit of everything to keep the audience cheering"
was thoroughly enjoying this unique fable"
this is easily the best cast film I have seen this year."
those of you who like your humor a bit dark, I highly recommend this
you like horror comedies, this movie is definately for you."
"a fun, humorous and loving homage to the schlocky horror films
"thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable"
has the makings of a true cult classic."
fun...a solid horror-comedy "
the time and the money — kinda scary, kinda funny!"
enough to rouse even the most soundly sleeping corpse"
witty, fun and bloody good Halloween ghost story that I thoroughly
kinds of fun from the cool monsters, to the black humor, to the awesome
cast of actors"
horror/black-comedy fare that is never hampered by its budget. Great
fun all round."
welcome change to the grimy or overly slick looks of modern horror
Sell The Dead is a breath of fresh air."
you loved Hammer, you'll 'dig' this unlikely grave-robbing comedy
want a sequel!"
you only get to see one horror-comedy this year, make sure it’s
Bottom Line: Glenn McQuaid's microbudgeted debut is a jauntily gothic period spook story.
One would think that being a grave robber was a hard enough career. But in writer-director Glenn McQuaid's bumptious horror comedy, "I Sell the Dead," it's a one-way ticket to indentured servitude and terrifying encounters with the undead.
Set in a particularly fog-shrouded corner of 19th century Ireland, the film is a buddy story about a pair of no-luck grave robbers, crusty old drunk Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden in fully whiskered, slovenly oaf mode) and impish joker Arthur Blake (a particularly puckish Dominic Monaghan), who discover that successfully stealing corpses is the least of their concerns.
The result is smart, gruesome and inventive enough to more than please niche genre fans who are likely to spread the word to fellow admirers of gallows humor.
The story is told mostly in flashback, starting with Grimes getting guillotined and Blake -- in his cell awaiting similar treatment -- being interrogated by Father Duffy (Ron Perlman). The priest shows up late at night with a bottle of hooch, a notebook and a great interest in the occult. Grimes and Blake had been stealing corpses by any means necessary, going so far as to purloin fresh ones right out of a wake, to sate the ghoulish greed of Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm, of "Phantasm" infamy), who blackmails them into doing their work for free.
After one particularly chilling late-night encounter with a pseudo-corpse (it was wearing a necklace of garlic for a reason), Grimes and Blake discover there's better money to be made in trafficking the not-quite dead. Fortunately for these two, their part of Ireland is positively lousy with such creatures. But as their fortunes improve, Grimes and Blake run afoul of a rival grave-robbing gang, the House of Murphy, who takes the business much more seriously than the whiskey-sodden, happy-go-lucky protagonists.
As the stakes ramp up in the increasingly surreal story he's telling, so does the mood in Grimes' candlelit cell darken. But though the tone occasionally inches toward the serious, McQuaid never lets go of the deadpan Gaelic wit that makes the film so effortlessly enjoyable.
Produced under Fessenden's indie horror flick imprint Scareflix, "I Sell the Dead" makes the most of its microsized budget, with various New York area settings filling in for Eire nicely enough. The film's lack of money becomes more apparent in the sometimes chintzy monster makeup, but the filmmakers turn that to their advantage by playing up the comedic aspect of these shambolic creatures of the night.
Jeff Grace, a former assistant to composer Howard Shore, provides the circus-styled music, which adds an extra layer of good-natured bounce to the already goofy proceedings..
Fright Night, With Thrills From Six Feet Under
A pastiche of old-fashioned horror flicks and an homage to the same, “I Sell the Dead” recalls the kind of frightful diversions that were a staple on the television show “Chiller Theater.” That program, broadcast in New York on Channel 11 once upon a time, showcased disreputable pleasures and classics, including those produced by Hammer, the British studio that, with Christopher Lee brandishing a cape and fangs, transformed Dracula into one hot corpse. In the 1970s the show opened with the image of a six-fingered hand emerging through soil, the knobby digits twisting, as if beckoning us in unsettling welcome.
The writer and director of “I Sell the Dead,” Glenn McQuaid, hails from Dublin, so he probably has at least a passing acquaintance with Hammer. His producer, Larry Fessenden, who has directed tight, smart, micro-budgeted horror flicks like “The Last Winter,” grew up in New York, where, he has said, he made a habit of tuning in to “Chiller Theater” and the similar “Creature Feature.” All this probably helps explain why everyone in “I Sell the Dead,” a horror cheapie set in the early 1800s about two grave robbers, speaks with British (or close enough) accents, often while pawing through thick fog. Never mind that the entire movie was shot in New York, including in someone’s apartment and an East Village bar.
The loosely strung-together story turns on the ghoulish adventures of Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan from “Lost”), trained at the crooked knee of Willie Grimes (Mr. Fessenden). Having been sentenced to death for murder, Arthur confesses his sins to a priest (Ron Perlman) in piecemeal flashback. Arthur’s troubles began, he explains, when he and Willie started disinterring troublesome corpses, like the one with the stake in her heart. Deciding she would fetch a better price if she didn’t look like an appetizer, Willie tugs out the stake. She attacks. He thrusts it back in. She quiets down. He pulls it out, and so it goes, as the Hammeresque shivers give way to Abbott and Costello-style slapstick.
A fine pair of grave robbers, Mr. McQuaid and Mr. Fessenden plunder freely from the movie crypt, unearthing other chomping, glowing mysteries and monstrosities. Taking cues from B to Z masters of yore, they crank up the fog machine (or bring out the dry ice), dribble the blood (or the red syrup) and flash the trick knives and other sleights of cinematic hand. The serviceable, joking performances do the job just fine, with Mr. Fessenden, wearing his familiar snarl of hair and gap-toothed smile, clearly having a jolly old time. The jokes do wear thin, and the setup does too, but it’s nonetheless worth noting what a couple of crafty thieves can do with elbow grease, some spare change and the kind of deep movie love that never dies.
Antic horror comedy "I Sell the Dead" nods to the '60s Hammer heyday of fog-swirling Victorian chillers, as well as that period's penchant for teaming genre favorites (Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, etc.) in genial sendups. Fondly crafted, amusing if slight item has toured fests since last fall, selling rights in several territories. IFC will give the pic simultaneous U.S. theatrical and on-demand rollouts starting Aug. 14, with partner Blockbuster handling rental/download distribution.
In addition to producing, contemporary horror helmer Larry Fessenden ("The Last Winter") steps before the camera here as rascally Willy Grimes, who apprentices Arthur (Dominic Monaghan) in the fine art of grave-robbing, their primary client being sinister Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm, "Phantasm"). As if this illegal trade weren't trouble enough, the duo's exhumed corpses have an exasperating habit of coming back to hostile life. Stringing together several macabre episodes, framed by Arthur's pre-guillotine confession to blase Father Duffy ("Hellboy's" Ron Perlman), Glenn McQuaid's feature writing-directing debut doesn't build much narrative steam. Still, droll perfs, diverting f/x and handsome B-pic atmospherics ensure a good time for horror fans with a memory past last weekend's slasher remake.
When I was contacted recently by IFC Films about a film they had coming out in limited release last weekend and on IFC On Demand today, I was skeptical. My brain still functions in a way that tells me that anything that doesn't make it to theaters or something that premieres On Demand or straight to DVD usually isn't worth checking out. But my theory has been proven wrong enough times in the past few years to know that's simply not the case. There are just too many movies being made in the world for theaters to keep up, and many excellent movies that may only get a few screenings on the festival circuit are now getting a real chance at being seen thanks to a distribution model like the one IFC has been offering for years. So instead of assuming that a screener of a film like I SELL THE DEAD is going to be third-rate junk, I find myself more often than not pleasantly surprised by the quality of these smaller works and the caliber of acting talent that lands up in many of these films.
I SELL THE DEAD is a devious piece of icky fun from former visual effects supervisor Glenn McQuaid, making his debut here as writer-director. It's the first film in recent memory at least that has taken a really detailed look at the practice of Victorian-age grave robbing. The film opens with the decapitation (always a good sign) of one such robber, Willie Grimes (played by HABIT and WENDIGO star Larry Fessenden), who is being executed for supposedly murdering someone during the commission of a robbery. Grimes' young partner, Arthur Blake (LORD OF THE RINGS and "Lost’s" Dominic Monaghan), is still in jail, soon to be visited by a man of the cloth, Father Duffy (Ron Perlman, you know, HELLBOY). After a few swigs of whisky, Arthur begins to tell his tale of being a young lad being taught the grave-robbing ropes by Grimes, including their discovery that occasionally they'd dig up members of the undead, namely zombie and vampires, corpses of which were actually worth more to certain doctor conducting unseemly medical experiments, especially one Dr. Vernon Quint (PHANTASM's Angus Scrimm, and yes, it is very interesting that the nastiest character in the film has both Vern and Quint in his name).
I SELL THE DEAD relishes in its squishy, vile details of corpse robbing. Young Arthur is forced to shovel recently dug graves, break open the cheap wooden caskets, and reach into the coffins to tie a rope around the corpse so it can be yanked out of its earthly home. Grimes and his apprentice get involved in a bit of a turf war with other robbers, they are threatened in various ways by Dr. Quint who needs more corpses at an alarming rate, and eventually events turn to the point where it pits robber against undead against rival in a bizarre showdown on a small, freaky island. You can't watch this movie and not be transported back to the pure joy of watching the Gothic Hammer Films horror movies for the first time. There's a cheeseball element to the whole production, from the forced accents to the low-budget look of the whole production, but director McQuaid doesn't call attention to the film's financial shortcomings by shining the irony spotlight on his low-budge accomplishment or by allowing his actors to ham it up to the point of parody; he's genuinely making the best movie he knows how to make.
There's a level of fun, spirit, and energy to the entire work that is infectious, and I got so caught up in wondering where the hell this insane movie was going that I didn't care about the sub-par effects or the schlocky nature of the whole production. The film is meant to be a "throw-caution-to-the-wind" romp. My only complaint is that I wish it had gone more gory and ridiculous at times. Still, I SELL THE DEAD makes for a pleasantly unexpected way for any self-respecting horror fan to spend an evening. Consider me curious to see what McQuaid comes up with next. As I mentioned, the film premieres on IFC On Demand beginning today, and I think it's well worth checking out.
Though the marquee has now gone dim on the third annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the eight-day cult cinema celebration managed to close out its run with one final slice of silly, gory, low-budget, high-concept gold. Though not the fest’s best offering—that honor goes to Tomas Alfredson’s brilliant LET THE RIGHT ONE IN—Irish-American writer/director Glenn McQuaid’s joyously ghoulish I SELL THE DEAD (which had its North American premiere there) was perhaps the fan favorite—a deliberately wonky throwback to AIP’s modestly produced yet opulent Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe pictures of the 1960s, with more than a dash of broad, Monty Python-esque absurdity.
Expanded from THE RESURRECTION APPRENTICE, a classy—and considerably more somber—Hammeresque short McQuaid made in 2005 (and which I enjoyed very much), I SELL THE DEAD adopts a flashback framework, beginning at the end with notorious Victorian-era graverobber Willie Grimes (played by producer Larry Fessenden) getting his noggin removed by the guillotine for his crimes. His longtime accomplice Arthur Blake (LORD OF THE RINGS’ Dominic Monaghan) is in his cell awaiting a similar fate when he’s visited by a jittery monk (the great Ron Perlman), who pulls out a bottle of whiskey and pleads with Blake to relate his troubled tale. As he does, that’s when I SELL THE DEAD’s twisted fun really begins.
Seems Blake began his grave-digging days in desperation as a youth, apprenticing with the older, meaner Grimes (this first flashback consists of portions of THE RESURRECTION APPRENTICE with new music and a few edits), stealing the dead from their deeply planted crates and selling them to a creepy, violin-playing doctor (PHANTASM’s Angus Scrimm, who’s fantastic). Their dubious association is a happy one for many years, until one night, they come across a freshly interred corpse with a garlic clove necklace and a stake protruding from her chest. In the hilarious ensuing sequence, the turn-of-the-century tomb raiders foolishly remove the wooden spike and the toothy stiff screams to life, clawing at their throats and trying to literally tear the duo apart before they put her back to bed for keeps. They soon discover that this incident was not an isolated one, and before you can say Burke and Hare, an entire market of macabre moneymaking opens up to them: revealing and stealing from the undead—an enterprise that will unfortunately prove to be their eventual undoing.
I can’t properly articulate how wonderful it is to see an ultra-low-budget modern horror film that aspires to be a richly detailed, Gothic period piece. I SELL THE DEAD belies its limited scratch by emphasizing atmosphere (shockingly, the film was lensed in New York…could have fooled me), costumes and quality performances (Fessenden is wonderful, physically channeling Jack Nicholson from THE SHINING while acting like Ron Moody from OLIVER!) over cheap, overzealous torture, nickel-and-dime sex and warmed-over TEXAS CHAINSAW plot contrivances. There’s a real wit, ingenuity and energy on display in I SELL THE DEAD, a love of the medium and a deep respect for the subgenre of British grave-thieving movies it so aptly spoofs; think THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS or THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS by way of the CARRY ON films.
If there are a few flaws here and there (Jeff Grace’s handsome score is perhaps a bit too busy, there are some spotty Irish and British accents amidst the American cast and an odd comic-book-panel visual device is seemingly forgotten halfway through), they’re more than forgivable and never derail any of the ghoulish good will. That said, the print screened at Toronto After Dark wasn’t the final cut and a few FX hadn’t yet been polished, so perfection might still be forthcoming.
If you pine for that delectable golden era of melodramatic, ghoulish, bodice-ripping big-screen terror, and wonder what it would be like if you crossed that unique Hammer aesthetic with the supernatural splatter-toon outrageousness of THE EVIL DEAD, then Sir/Madame, look no further. I SELL THE DEAD is the fright flick for you.
Indie-movie hyphenate Larry Fessenden specializes in low-budget eeriness and bargain-basement gore, and whether he's directing his own projects (The Last Winter) or helping to realize the disturbed visions of others (Trigger Man, The Roost), the prolific Fessenden leaves identifiable fingerprints. Every penny of his (often micro-) budgets is visible on screen, his trademark energy and economy never manifesting as slapdash visuals or awkwardly cut corners. He would rather give us one perfect zombie than a horde of half-baked ghouls.
In Glenn McQuaid's irreverent horror-comedy debut, I Sell the Dead, Fessenden works both behind the scenes (he's a producer) and in front of the cameras: Playing Willie Grimes, a journeyman grave robber in 19th-century Ireland, he channels the Shining-era Jack Nicholson in more than just looks.
As the movie opens, Willie is having an unfortunate encounter with a guillotine while his apprentice turned partner, Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), is preparing for a similar fate. Sharing Arthur's prison vigil, meanwhile, is chunky Father Duffy (Hellboy's Ron Perlman), a creepy cleric armed with whiskey and the promise of absolution — but only if Arthur confesses his sins.
Unfolding from there in increasingly bizarre flashbacks, I Sell the Dead is an obstreperous jaunt through Arthur and Willie's bungled career. For them, the once-noble (and lucrative) profession of bodysnatching has become an unrewarding chore. Blackmailed by squinting Dr. Quint (Phantasm legend Angus Scrimm), a greedy anatomist who likes to play the fiddle before dicing the dead, our heroes fill his cadaver orders for little more than the price of a pint. Until one night, when they excavate a grave situated at a crossroads (Clue No. 1) and uncover a female corpse sporting a garlic necklace (Clue No. 2). Thank goodness for those shovels.
Smart and swift (it's a lean 85 minutes), McQuaid's script is essentially a series of distinct vignettes, most with a single location: a cemetery, a pub, a mysterious island.
But it's not unimaginative: As Arthur and Willie learn that there's more money to be made from the chronically undead than from the certifiably deceased, the treats in the coffins become ever more outlandish and exponentially more dangerous. The duo's success also attracts the attention of the House of Murphy, a rival crew of body thieves more scary than any stiff and more territorial than any unneutered tomcat.
Filled with grisly sound effects and Gaelic wit, I Sell the Dead may be more slapstick than horror, but McQuaid leaves the film's genuinely chilling moments — like a shrouded corpse slowly unfurling behind Willie's back — room to breathe.
The director grew up in Ireland, watching Hammer horror movies and idolizing Peter Cushing, and Dead's fondness for dry ice and spooky graveyards smoothly evokes an earlier, more innocent era of gruesome entertainments.
Its wit and style, however, are thoroughly modern, as is a hilarious ending that leaves the sequel door wide open. And why not? Whether downing pints or unearthing aliens, Arthur and Willie are a buddy act we could stand to see again.
From its widescreen atmospherics and “Hammer Horror”-meets-“The X-Files” milieu to its Kurt Weill-like score, “I Sell the Dead” is the “Inglourious Basterds” of grave-robber movies.
Written and directed by Dublin-born Glenn McQuaid, an extension of his 2005 short “The Resurrection Apprentice,” the film begins with a James Whale-inspired creditsequence and regurgitates and transplants the tale of the Edinburgh-based body snatchers Burke and Hare and updates it with such delectable touches as zombies, aliens and ultra-widescreen visuals.
Holy “Bride of Frankenstein,” I think I’m going to like this, says your average die-hard horror film buff.Dominic Monaghan, Merry hobbit himself, is Arthur Blake, apprentice “Resurrection Man” to veteran Willie Grimes (actor-director Larry Fessenden). The plot unfolds in lush sepia tones with acomical beheading and revolves around a lengthy confession Arthur gives to a giant Jesuit priest inquisitor.
The priest is Father Francis Duffy (“Hellboy” himself Ron Perlman sporting an Irish accent). The villains of the piece are the Murphy clan, whose leader Cornelius (John Speredakos) is a very unpleasant fellow. Among the other characters are Fanny Bryers (Brenda Cooney), a “wrecker” (i.e., one who lures ships to the rocks in a storm to pillage the broken remains) who aspires to be a “snatcher.” A sequence depicting Cornelius’ appalling Gothic childhood makes Tim Burton’s recent work pale.
From its tasty
collections of false skies to its “classic age of horror”
collection of cemetery backdrops and extras, “I Sell the Dead”
is a lushly detailed throwback as well as a zombie-tongue-in-cheek
tribute to horror films past.
Before you know
it, a small island has become inhabited, if that is the word, with
zombies that were packed in boxes aboard a sunken freighter. Now,
there’s an “unusual corpse”-seeking body snatcher’s
dream come true.
In this age of Xerox filmmaking, it's a bit of a miracle to see a film like I Sell The Dead - a refreshingly original slice of indie quirk that manages to pull off the kitchen sink approach on a very meager budget. Sure, we’ve seen other indie filmmakers try their hand at “on-a-dime” period films, but this is the first time where the end result feels genuinely authentic thanks to a superb cast, stylish direction, and some amazing production design.
Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden play professional grave-robbing team Arthur & Willie, who make their living stealing corpses in 18th Century Ireland. The duo start off working for peanuts under a nefarious doctor (played by Angus Scrimm in all his scowling glory) but soon catch on to the huge money-making opportunities behind corpse snatching. Arthur recounts these events from a prison cell to a priest (a very offbeat Ron Perlman) on the eve of his beheading, so the story largely unfolds through a series of flashback vignettes as he and Willie run afoul of rival grave-robbers, vampires, zombies, and several other oddities that would be criminal to spoil.
Debut writer/director Glenn McQuaid clearly loves old Hammer films and EC Comics, and he fills his cinematic canvas with plenty of foggy moonlight and Creepshow-esque comic book transitions. Even more amazing is how this New York-lensed production effortlessly looks and feels like it was shot on the set of an old Jean Rollins movie. Terrific costumes, set dressing, make-up FX, music, and cinematography create what feels like a multi-million dollar international picture.
McQuaid’s script is incredibly witty and played for laughs, and while there are a few moments where the comedy overreaches, the ensemble cast consistently knock it out of the park. All that said, it’s the chemistry between Monaghan and Fessenden that is the heart of this film. They’re not only hysterical to watch, they successfully echo some of the all-time great comedy teams.
While I Sell The Dead is a literal gallows comedy, the tone is surprisingly lighthearted and broad (many at the screening described it as “cute”), but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. Like Shaun of the Dead and Trick 'r Treat, this is a film made by horror fans for horror fans with enough fun to please almost any crowd. With any luck, we’ll get to see further adventures from Arthur and Willy.
4 out of 5
The Toronto After Dark Film festival did right by closing its fantastic unparalleled festival with a treat for its fans - Glenn McQuaid's I Sell The Dead, in its second North American screening.
19th century England harbors two infamous grave robbers, Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) and Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and both had turned their last shovel of dirt. Awaiting the gallows and following his partner's fate, Arthur narrates his tale of corpse snatching to Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) there to administer his last rites. Taken under Grimes' wing, Blake learns the tricks of the trade, inventive ways to steal a body and who you should and shouldn't work for. A hard and unrewarding line of work made harder when they both discover that not all corpses are of the dead variety.
Through Arthur's story we learn that they worked for the industrious Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm) and though they are repeatedly cheated by Quint, they are left with no choice but to work for him, at least for now. As the tales go continue to be told (and get more bizarre), Blake and Grimes get nearer to their final corpse and are introduced to Cornelius Murphy and his gang of grave robbers. Posing an obvious threat and obstacle to their lucrative business Grimes warns Blake to stay away but as the apprentice tries to surpass the teacher things get out of hand pretty fast.
One thing you will notice is that I Sell The Dead boasts fantastic set design. Filmed entirely in New York you would never guess that this film was anything but filmed in 19th century England. An enormous feat in itself for a film certainly didn't have the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The broken up "acts" in the film are all entertaining but what fails to deliver is a clear sense of mystery as to how our bumbling heroes will end up after each robbery. The structure of the film already tells us that Blake lives through each encounter (and Grimes) and so no real urgency or fear of them dying or getting busted exists. Although this is not a fault in execution it is a fault in the nature of these types of narratives.
The real treat in the film is the incredible on-screen compatibility between Monaghan and Fessenden. I haven't seen this much gelling of comedic prowess and camaraderie since the original dynamic duo. McQuaid has written these characters in a way that feels very natural and despite being in a fantastical world you can really have no trouble suspending belief. Perlman is good in his role and although he plays the vessel of Blake's story he doesn't have much of a role in the film at all. The same can be said for Scrimm.
Although not a perfect film, there is much to love about I Sell The Dead. A great script, great acting, great set design and fantastic makeup make this a must see film.
I Sell The Dead stars Dominic Monaghan as Arthur Blake, an 18th Century British graverobber. He's been arrested for his crimes and is now locked up in prison awaiting his judgement, but before he faces the guillotine a priest (played by Ron Perlman) comes to talk to him. In the guise of confessing his sins Arthur brings us all back to when he was taught all about his morbid vocation by his cockney mentor/partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) with whom he provided bodies for the local mad doctor, played by one Angus Scrimm.
I really don't have to go on, do I? All the genre fans have already
just run and bought tickets after reading that.
I Sell The Dead is the kind of film you go to film fests for, the kind you can brag about to your friends and anticipate seeing again with them when it's finally released. It's laugh-out-loud funny and quite a change-up from most humorous horror flicks nowadays. It has very much of a comic book feel at parts, which is funny because it's being adapted into one. First time writer/director Glenn McQuaid shows he clearly knows his way around the camera and has a massive love for gothic horror. He's also one hell of a comedic writer.
There's really not much in the way of gore or scares here since this is played almost completely for laughs. It's helped by a fantastic and almost whimsical soundtrack whose violins call back to scores from other classically dark-humored films, like Re-Animator. The movie also oozes atmosphere, and I mean that in the most literal sense. It's clear that there were some Hammer fans in this crew, because there's a whole lotta fog here that gives it a nice, moody look. Even more amazing considering this whole film was shot in friggin' Staten Island! You would never, ever believe it... a credit to some stunning matte paintings.
But what really makes this film work is the lead duo. I'm a huge fan of Larry Fessenden (I believe his film Habit is one of the few that accurately portrays NYC nightlife) and he's really a delight here. While he of course looks like a 18th century graverobber- just give him a top hat and dirty him up a bit, and he lets his crazy eyes and broken tooth do the rest- you can tell that he's loving his accent and completely gets into his character. Just wait till you see when he tests out how a vampire works. He's responsible for most of the humor in the film, although Monaghan's straight man is no slouch in that regard as well. They work so well off each other and are completely natural as two great buddies who love and hate each other at the same time.
Angus Scrimm unfortunately doesn't have much of a role here but every word he utters or angered glance he makes is great, as usual. Ron Perlman's accent slips a couple of times but who cares- he's having a lot of fun and so are you.
To be fair, the film does feel like it's missing something. That might be because apart from the leads the other characters are hardly fleshed out- no pun intended- and the story doesn't really feel complete. Since you're only being told a few tales from these characters' dozens of exploits there's really no big finale or story arc here. But there is the feeling that there's so much more. In fact, while trying to get back together all of these fantastic actors may prove to be impossible, I'd love to see the continuing adventures of this duo. They're just so innately watchable together and it'd be easy to think up new supernatural problems to throw their way.
Is I Sell the Dead a cult classic in the making? Possibly. A movie you'll have a blast with? Absolutely.
8.5 out of 10
The joy behind this film is right there in the old-time, exploitation-tinged title. The grim undertakings of the storyline – about a pair of grave robbers whose trade turns more and more curious – is undercut by a devious irreverence. Irish writer-director Glenn McQuaid is out to make a horror comedy, in which the main players soon turn into bumbling bits of irony. Yet “I Sell the Dead” sports playful genre inventiveness, in which fans can delight and even outsiders can enjoy.
McQuaid fashions a flashback narrative structure, in which Father Duffy, played by Ron Perlman – that character actor who will inhabit offbeat historical roles forever – visits an imprisoned Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), who awaits the guillotine for body snatching. While this confessional approach suggests the fatalism of something like “Double Indemnity,” the tone remains slight, thanks to light performances and a kitschy soundtrack.
Arthur narrates his endeavors with Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden,
also having a great time), his apprentice-turned-accomplice who has
already lost his head to justice. While taking up right from the Body
Snatcher tradition – launched almost solely by Robert Lewis
Stevenson's gothic short story and retold by Val Lewton with Karloff
in 1945 – the film soon takes a helping of the zombie film,
with a re-animated femme corpse who uncannily glides right off her
tippy toes. When the snatching duo starts finding zombies, this could
put a dent in their plans to sell the deceased. Yet, they seem to
have stumbled across a more profitable market (never explained, yet
hardly a MacGuffin worth noting in the tongue-in-cheek proceedings).
Just when the horror film's cabinets have been raided, it appears that “I Sell” heads to the gangster film when we meet the Murphy family, fierce competition to Arthur and Willie. Then again, this ghoulish clan, with a gnarl-toothed brother and a white-masked sister, owe more to the family Leatherface, and is about just as nice.
The production values are slim, but just right, as “I Sell” employs B-movie aesthetics in support of its genre-playfulness. Some intercut animation cards add a comic-book touch that is more juice for the storytelling emphasis of the framing tale.
As a highlight in this year's Danger After Dark series at the Philadelphia Film Festival/Cinefest, we get a nice dose of jests among considerable darkness.
Thank you, Glenn McQuaid, for letting us laugh at the desecration of holy ground again.
Shot on a tight budget, with New York City -- mostly Staten Island -- standing in for the British Isles in the nineteenth century, I Sell the Dead has pretty much nothing going for it except a neat cast, plus the visual inventiveness and sheer, audacious wit of its director, Mr. McQuaid. Fortunately, that's more than enough.
Essentially a depiction of what would happen if Laurel and Hardy had to stoop to a less-savory profession to make their living, the film tells the tale of Arthur Blake (Lost's Dominic Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden, better known as the director of such films as Wendigo), two legendary grave robbers who specialize in the acquisition and redistribution of, shall we say, product that is very dead yet also quite animated.
Yup, not satisfied merely with portraying the finer points of digging up cadavers, McQuaid rallies zombies, vampires, and a few other creatures brought in from way left field to his cause, and throws in Ron Perlman as an inquisitive priest and Angus Scrimm as, what else, a big, scary guy. Granted, there's not much in the way of a strong, narrative through-line here -- watching the film, you'll well understand how, at one point in its voyage to the screen, the script became a comic book -- but I Sell the Dead's approach is so infectious that you can't help but relish every last, silly, episodic minute of it..
Back in the 1960s, a small independent film production house called Hammer created a hugely popular formula—heaving bosoms, strangely familiar castles, foggy nights— that evolved into an instantly identifiable style that exerted a huge influence on the horror genre. Ever since Hammer disappeared in the 1970s, there have been throwbacks and homages to the classic Hammer style, the most well-known probably being Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. It’s been a while since a really good Hammer homage came along, though, and Glenn McQuaid’s I Sell the Dead is a refreshing hit of Hammer in the modern landscape of horror.
Dominic Monaghan plays Arthur Blake, waiting for his turn at the guillotine following the beheading of his partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). While he waits out his last few hours, he is visited by Father Blake (Ron Perlman), a kindly priest whose motives may not be entirely holy. Father Blake takes down the stories of Arthur’s career in grave-robbing, from his first job as a young boy to last job before the pair was arrested after a trail of body parts led the police directly to their respective doors. At first, the stories are the standard-issue misery, but soon they take a turn for the supernatural— as it turns out, there’s a reason that grave-robbing used to be called “the resurrection trade.”
Father Blake keeps the whiskey flowing as Arthur spins tales of run-ins with vampires, zombies, cruel doctors, and even more cruel competition. The money is better trading in the undead than the regular dead, but as Arthur explains, it’s also a lot more dangerous. The film is basically a series of adventures following Arthur and Willie as they get involved in increasingly bizarre supernatural hijinks, and with a series of increasingly colorful characters, the most notable of which are the evil Morgan clan, a team of ruthless undead traffickers with whom no one interferes. Well, no one but Arthur and Willie, anyway, with typically disastrous results.
McQuaid keeps the pace quick and the tone pitch-perfect, placing his characters in mortal danger that is often as comical as it is gruesome. It’s very funny, and the cast is great. Larry Fessenden in particular is great in his first major starring role. The film takes place almost exclusively at night, in fog-shrouded moors, moonlit graveyards, and dirty taverns, and the sets are all convincingly dingy. The film also makes use of some comic-book art transitions that transform its characters into even more literal cartoon versions of themselves, and horror fans will have fun spotting references not just to Hammer, but to other classic horror films.
Most of the time
references like that just make you want to watch the other films being
referenced, but that’s definitely not the case with I Sell the
Dead. It’s a fast, fun, and very funny tribute to a classic
style that’s refreshingly free of irony and pretension. It’s
pure entertainment, a capital-M Movie, and a convincing argument for
the virtues of the classic Hammer style.
In a genre that continues to look to Leatherface for its gory inspiration -- here come the power tools, there go the frightened blondes -- filmmaker Larry Fessenden prefers to focus on Val Lewton.
That 1940s producer preferred adult shocks, and he supervised a series of movies -- including "The Curse of the Cat People" and "I Walked With a Zombie" -- whose literate shudders belied their B-movie titles. Fessenden has been quietly doing the same.
As a director, his pictures "Wendigo" and "The Last Winter" got more spooky mileage out of what you didn't see than what you did. As a producer, his micro-budgeted ScareFlix company encourages the production of similarly artful (but never artsy) horrors.
" I Sell the Dead" is the latest, and it's gruesomely good.
A fond tip of the hat to the old Hammer gothics of the 1860s -- you keep expecting to see Michael Ripper pop up as an undertaker -- it tells the story of Blake and Grimes, two 19th century grave robbers. They've been caught at last, and a peculiar priest gives the younger Blake a chance to confess. His story takes us on a flashback fright show.
It's a colorful trip. In director Glenn McQuaid's smart and anecdotal script, it's not the grave robbers who provide the horrors, but what they accidentally steal. One dearly beloved turns out to be a vampire, happy to be freed -- and hungry. Other resting places shelter zombies.
Fessenden himself plays Grimes (and occasionally nibbles the scenery). Dominic Monaghan of "Lost" is his young assistant, Blake, and Ron Perlman and Angus Scrimm -- a spooky presence in so many "Phantasm" movies -- add some fearsome familiarity.
The real star of the film, though, may be the art and production team. "I Sell the Dead" was shot in bits and pieces around New York and for about the price of the catering budget on "A Perfect Getaway," also out this week. But thanks to a bit of CGI (and a lot of helpful shadows) it all looks like 1850.
Sometimes, the approach is a little inconsistent. The occasional use of graphic art seems out of character with the movie's mood; so, too, does one unsatisfying sequence involving an alien who seems to have beamed down from the planet Papier Mache.
But horror fans will enjoy the references to films both high (one scarred villain wears a mask out of "Eyes Without a Face") and low (the final credits bear the old Universal Studios line, "A good cast is worth repeating!"). And movie fans of all kinds will appreciate a film that knows the differences among "terror," "terrible" and "terribly good fun.".
A horror comedy that wants to tap the vein of the ’60s Hammer Studios classics, director Glenn McQuaid’s movie, filled with lilting Cockney accents, lantern-lit crypts and ghouls gone wild, appreciates how creepy a graveyard is but doesn’t have enough plot to fill itself up. Still, Dominic Monaghan (“Lost”) is a puckish 18th-century body snatcher confessing he and his mentor’s (Larry Fessenden) deeds to a priest (Ron Perlman). Low-budget, grubby and gleeful, but with a nice sense of style and apparently an endless supply of dry ice. Points deducted, though, for a too-easy alien-corpse joke.
Macabre horror-comedy about a pair of Irish grave robbers balances its goofier elements with a sense of genre fun. The offbeat plotting and devil-may-care acting aren’t for all tastes, but midnight-movie fans will dig it up.
In an age where movies rely on faulty digital monsters, predictable plots, realism and marketing it's refreshing for something so unique, evocative and nostalgic like 'I Sell The Dead' to come along. Though this movie isn't gore heavy, it does have this certain spooky charm that we just don't get in modern horror films. I'm not even certain as if one would lable this a horror movie in it's strictest sense but it does have the elements. A macabre tale of two graverobbers and their fortunes and misfortunes during their entaining adventures.
In the mid 1700s (estimated), Arthur Blake sits in his cell and awaits the gallow. He has been commited of murder, and the despicle act of graverobbing. Father Duffy visits him to record his final words and stories. Although he was innocent of murder, he was infact, guilty of the despicle act of graverobbing. So he tells the tales of how he started his trade, met his mentor and partner, Willie Grimes, a savy grisly fellow who is loyal to the craft of robbing bodies of their graves, and the many ventures he had. Such include the relationship with his client Dr. Vernon Quint, a discontent doctor who demands fresh corpses on his slab so he could solve the mysteries of life. Spooky outages across the countryside of Ireland (assuming, perhaps Scotland) where they encounter various forms of the undead and supernatural. Then there's their feud with a rival gang of ghouls, The House Of Murphy. Sick and twisted theives of cemetaries, they are ruthless and merciless. Led by the leader Corneillius Murphy, a corpse grinder who can smell the dead miles away.
This movie is just pure brilliance. It's full of dark humor and film noir type atmosphere (such that reminds me of 'The Black Cat' and 'Nosferatu'). I loved the chilly graveyard scenes and the monsters where crafted in excellence. There aren't too many special effects (mainly because none where needed). However there was suberb acting, great plot twists and never lacked in creativity or imagation. It also stars Larry Fessenden (director of Wendigo) as Willie Grimes.
All in all a real fun spookshow that has great review value and memorable moments. If this had a little more exposure I would gurantee you it would be an instant cult classic. Check it out!
“I Sell the Dead” is the latest film from Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix and Scareflix production companies and, like most films from Larry, “I Sell the Dead” REALLY delivers!! Starring Dominic “Lost” Monaghan, Ron “Hellboy” Perlman, Angus “Phantasm” Scrimm and Fessenden himself, the film revolves around a pair of 18th-century graverobbers, Arthur Blake (Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Fessenden), as they TRY to make a (dis) honest living but are constantly running a-foul of sinister doctors, murderous competitors and, of course, the law.
The film has a wonderful vintage look to it, lots of fog and leafless trees, and I was really impressed when I realized that “I Sell the Dead” was shot entirely in New York State. The production design really captured 18th-century Ireland and the actors had their Irish/Cockney/British accents down. There were also some great humorous set pieces, mostly between Monaghan and Fessenden – with their chemistry, they could well be the 21st-century’s answer to Abbott and Costello – and even Perlman and Scrimm had their moments. And not always necessarily on-screen.
The story unfolds as young Arthur Blake is recounting his years of graverobbing to a priest, Father Duffy (Perlman), before he goes to the guillotine as Grimes has just (hilariously) done. Starting young, Blake (Daniel Manche plays the young Blake) is introduced to the dead in all their gruesomeness and beauty. But when the sinister Dr. Vernon Quint (Scrimm) starts applying some serious pressure on our protagonists to bring him “FRESHER!!” bodies so that he might “work”on them, the two graverobbers start digging up…things…even they can’t quite explain. When they come across a female vampire, one of my favorite “corpses”, hilarity ensues as well as revenge.
Besides Dr. Quint and the law, our boys must also deal with a sinister rival grave robbing clan, the House of Murphy, run by the menacing Cornelius Murphy (John Speredakos), the masked-because-her-face-is-so-disfigured-that-she-kills-with-it Valentine Murphy (Heather Bullock), Bulger (Alisdair Stewart) who has a mouth of razor sharp teeth and the never-seen-except-in-silhouette head of the clan, Murphy Senior.
This movie is just SO much FUN!! Zombies, vampires, body parts, Blake and Grimes themselves and their peculiar adventures as well as the Hammer Film look to the movie all add up to another great movie for Halloween (add “Trick ‘r Treat” to this for a great double feature on All Hallow’s Eve).
The DVD, which comes out in the UK on November 2 from Anchor Bay on both DVD (£15.99) and Blu-ray (£24.99) has extras which include two commentaries: one with producer/actor Larry Fessenden and actor Dominic Monaghan and the other with writer/director Glenn McQuaid. There is also an hour-long “Making of” featurette and a 10-minute visual effects Behind the Scenes. The DVD should also come with a full-color comic book (we think!!!).
DON’T MISS THIS MOVIE!!!
I Sell the Dead is a good title. It neatly labels the film it's attached to as a horror-comedy without overstating its case, something you can't really say for a title like Dracula, Dead and Loving It. It also suggests a first person viewpoint, the nefarious profession of the character, and even gives a hint of the confessional nature of the storytelling. Not a bad start.
The character in question is Arthur Blake, who the night before his execution for grave robbing and murder is paid a visit by Father Francis Duffy, a holy man charged with recording his last words and the truth about his crimes. Arthur denies murder but admits to the grave robbing and provides Duffy with a detailed chronicle of his childhood involvement with professional body snatcher Willie Grimes and their subsequent adventures, including their work for the unpleasant Dr. Vernon Quint, their conflict with dangerous rivals The House of Murphy, and Arthur's brief but fateful relationship with the over-enthusiastic Fanny Bryers.The film's tone and even a couple of its influences are established in the opening few minutes via some nicely designed retro credits, Jeff Grace's sprightly main theme and a opening scene in which a loudly uncooperative Grimes is dragged to the guillotine and beheaded, a sequence that could have been lifted straight from classic Hammer and that terminates in a switch to drawn graphics styled on Creepshow's story links. The meeting of Alex and Father Murphy is an unforced comedy treat, as the two share a bottle of whiskey (yes I'm aware of the spelling – this is Ireland after all) and Alex recalls his misadventures in light-hearted and increasingly improbable flashback.
I Sell the Dead has a lot going for it and an awful lot to like, visually and thematically referencing the golden days of Hammer and Amicus and melding a number of horror sub-genres without slipping into full-blown parody. That doesn't mean fun is not had with the cross-genre concept – after coming under repeated attack from a vampire they've dug up and set loose, Willie amuses himself by removing and re-inserting the stake in her heart to momentarily re-animate her, switching her on and off like a newly discovered clockwork toy. Even more outrageous is when the unearth up a small alien, whose strangeness and eventual disappearance into the heavens becomes incidental background detail to the pair's first encounter with the House of Murphy.
The cast are a
joy, led by Dominic Monaghan's chirpy Arthur and Larry Fessenden's
snarling Willie, but it's the supporting players that give the film
its cult potential, with Quint played with dignified relish by Phantasm's
Angus Scrimm, and the always lovely Ron Perlman having the time of
his life as Father Duffy, employing a similar Irish lilt to that used
by Colin Farrell in Martin McDonagh's In Bruges to turn even sentence
pronunciation into a series of small comic delights.
But it's still an immensely likeable film, not quite as sassy or funny as advance word has suggested, but so damned good-natured and with just enough inventive black humour and batty gags to earn it a warm place in the heart of any true horror devotee. And it's hard not to break into the widest of smiles when Myrtle Murphy removes her Eyes Without a Face mask to reveal a face so horrendously scarred that it can't be shown on screen and makes even the living dead scream in terror.
SOUND AND VISION
The soundtrack choice is between DTS-HD Master Audio and PCM stereo 2.0 – both are clear and decently mixed, but the DTS is definitely superior, having a crispness and range that the stereo track can't match. Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of the dialogue and sound effects sit front and centre, but the music and the odd sound effect (location atmospherics and particularly thunder – always a favourite) are spread nicely around the room.
Commentary by director Glenn McQuaid
A slightly staccato but still engaging commentary from first-time director McQuaid, who's a little in awe of the cast he managed to secure and pleasingly open about his borrowings and influences, as well as providing some revealing and even surprising background information, from the real New York bar redressed for pub scenes that I was convinced were studio sets, to the gorgeous Hammer-esque landscapes that are actually matte paintings animated in After Effects. The development of the project from his 2005 short film The Resurrection Apprentice is outlined, and the work of Freddie Francis and particularly his 1963 Paranoiac are quoted as key influences on the visual style. Nice to know, also, that I wasn't the only enthusiast for the music of Martyn Bates and his band Eyeless in Gaza.
Commentary with actors Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden
Having got so much on the filming from director McQuaid, you might be wondering what extra information on the production would be supplied by lead players Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden, especially given that Fessenden was also one of the film's producers. Precious little, as it happens, as where McQuaid approaches his commentary with a degree of serious intent, for these two it's a barrel of laughs, as they take the piss out of just about everything (including and especially each other), repeat lines from the film with exaggerated delivery, pass comments on Ron Perlman's hair and teeth, and recall some of their more enjoyable memories of the shoot itself. They also say "I love this..." an awful lot. How you react to all this will depend on your tolerance or even enjoyment of such commentaries – certainly if it were the only one here I'd feel it was an opportunity wasted, but given the detail provided by McQuaid's commentary and the featurette below, I enjoyed this tomfoolery a great deal – it's actually quite comforting to know that a successful and acclaimed actor like Monaghan can be as engagingly silly as the worst of us.
Making of I Sell the Dead featurette (64:11)
Featurette? At over an hour in length this would seem to qualify for reclassification, but the super-loose structure, extensive behind-the-scenes footage and impromptu interviews with cast and crew do tend to fit that format. Filming at several of the locations is observed, with a lot of time spent on the beach shoot and everything from make-up to effects and props given some attention, and there's an intriguing shot of Monaghan removing a set of prop shackles with bolt cutters – not for the first time, he assures us. The lighting used in the New York bar used for the pub scenes was of particular interest to this camera type, and Ron Perlman's views on working on independent films are well worth hearing. As a whole it rambles a little, but is still very worthwhile. Like the other featurette here, it's presented 1080i, but this one was shot on what looks like DV, so doesn't benefit greatly from the resolution increase.
I Sell the Dead – The Visual Effects (13:05)
A fascinating trip through the creation of some of the film's key effects, most of which was done in-house. The farmed-out effects (to reveal their nature would spoil a last-scene surprise) are explained in some detail by the good people responsible for their creation.
I Sell the Dead has already found a small but very appreciative audience and deserves to find a wider one on DVD and Blu-ray. I'm not sure it's the great film that some have claimed, but it's still one I've built a real affection for and have found myself encouraging others to see. Whether the Blu-ray is worth the extra cost over the DVD I can't say, having not seen the latter, but I've no complaints about the transfer and the extras are a nice mixture of the informative and the playful, and add to the sense that all involved had as much fun making it as audiences seem to have watching it.
I dream of a cinema
where accents of the past are little different from the ones you hear
in the present. In that place, no one has a "faaahrm een Ahhfreekah"
and Mary Poppins hears the word "God" when people thank
her. In my fictional place, just getting the continent right in an
actor's vocal performance is thought of less highly than acting your
part as best as you can. In this fictional place Keanu is forever
Ted, and no one will ever ask him to impersonate an English gent.
Can this be excused as comic intent? Does the novelty of a grave-robbing romp with two rapscallions caught amongst zombies, vampires and aliens mean that crimes against pronuniciation can be ignored? Well, yes and no. I am instinctively reluctant to forgive comedy horror films given my recent experience of Dead Snow as the comic is often used to cover up deficiencies in the terror department. Directors often opt for the route of parody to hide the fact that they can't do tension or suspense. This directorial road, I have christened it the Landis highway, boasts a comic hit ratio of about one in 10 and this is usually chosen because the same director's horror success rate is even lower.
Glenn McQuaid wrote and directed his feature debut with an eye on the legacy of Amicus and Hammer films that managed a bit of laughter with a lot of creepiness. Thankfully he chose an episodic approach to the narrative, a shortish uptempo running time, and a soundtrack that underlines the good-natured nonsense on show. Visually his film is exceptionally dark and minimal in order to manage the problems of using modern locations for a period piece, and in order to keep the audience concentrated on his fairly impressive cast.
And he relies a lot on this cast to make the whole project work. This is a cast with accents that do not belong to the fictional world I mentioned who ignore subtlety and replace it with broad comic effect. McQuaid indulges their individual performances, and as a result the ensemble acting is competitive rather than complementary. A lot of McQuaid's dialogue is played rather than said and chemistry often fails to be created in the tumult of events.
Still this is fun. It isn't brilliantly executed, it is limited by resources and schedules, derivative rather than wholly novel, but it is fun. Where Dead Snow kinda ate itself, I Sell the Dead at least entertains and has enough of its own persona to allow you to forgive its own shortcomings. Given how a lot more money is available to fund horror reboots, McQuaid has achieved a lot with his limited resources and it would have been interesting to see how this project would have turned out with better investment.
For the time being though this is funny and awfully entertaining, to be shurr
The transfer is encoded with the AVC/MPEG 4 codec and presented at 2.35:1. There is a light dusting of film grain, contrast is excellent, and detail in and out of shadow is very good where the film-maker intends to show it. The autumnal palate of the movie is reproduced well, edges are natural and this is a lovely presentation of such a modest production.
Two HD lossless options are offered up for your delectation. The master audio track does offer more in the way of atmosphere and the graveyard sequences complete with the likes of snapped twigs and rustling low frequencies benefits greatly from being mixed around the listener. There is excellent clarity to both options with the score sounding rather fine. There are no subtitles.
The film is accompanied by two commentaries. McQuaid's commentary is rather dry and straightforward and much more informative than his two star's double act. Larry Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan are talking on the day of the Los Angeles premiere with Fessenden's role as producer giving plenty of background to casting and shooting. Fessenden explains that his earlier film with McQuaid is included in truncated form within the film and that McQuaid is none too happy with it. The director explains scheduling issues, reshoots and his direction to keep it "broad" and "comedic", and he is unstinting in his praise of Fessenden for mucking in with the production.
The making of documentary follows the filming with intercut interviews from cast and crew, and is presented in HD. A very tired Ron Perlman talks about his joy at working on independent films and the camaraderie on set, Monaghan celebrates the script and McQuaid explains how he got it all done and kept to budget. The documentary meanders a bit but it is edited well and ends with the film being wrapped.
Producer Peter Phok explains that the director's background in visual effects was key to getting the film made in the FX documentary. The use of 3-D computer software to storyboard the film is illustrated, and McQuaid explains how the agency Spontaneous were approached to extra digital effects and how he created a graphic novel to accompany the screenplay.
An entertaining and ambitious low budget flick gets a nice blu-ray release. Recommended for fans of old British horror movies or anyone who likes a wacky idea well delivered.
Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden star as body-snatchers flogging the dead in 19th Century Blighty in this jauntily old-fashioned Brit horror.
First-time writer/director Glenn McQuaid throws in the odd alien, zombie and vampire to keep the gruesome guffaws flowing.
I Sell the Dead” marks the debut outing for writer director Glenn McQuaid, and boasts a great offbeat cast, including Dominic Monaghan of “Lord of the Rings” fame, cult director Larry Fessenden (“Habit”, “The Last Winter”), Angus Schrimm (“Phantasm”) and “Hellboy” himself, Ron Perlman. Although the term label ‘comedy horror’ is quite possibly enough to terrify most genre fans in the worst way, the film is one of the very few examples of the form to strike the tricky balance between laughs and scares, mainly since McQuaid puts a great deal of effort into lovingly recreating the atmosphere of the old Hammer Horror classics, tinged with modern touches. The results are highly entertaining, and the film has rightly been a hit at various events during a successful tour, winning Best Independent Feature at Toronto’s After Dark Film Festival. It now arrives on region 2 DVD via Anchor Bay, complete with commentary from McQaid, Monaghan and Fessenden, plus a short making of documentary, and special effects featurettes.
Set back in the 19th century and inspired by the deeds of the infamous Burke and Hare, the film begins with grave robber and alleged murderer Willie Grimes (Fessenden) being beheaded for his foul crimes. Meanwhile, his younger associate Arthur Blake (Monaghan) is visited in his cell by one Father Duffy (Perlman), who begs him to tell his story before meeting his fate, quite rightly suspecting that there is far more to it than the official version of events. His tongue loosened by the offer of a bottle, Blake relates the bizarre tale of their adventures, from their early days digging up corpses through to their encounters with the undead and battles with their vicious rivals The House of Murphy.
Right from the start, with its “Re-animator” style credits, it’s obvious that McQuaid has not only has a great deal of knowledge of the genre, but also a great deal of love for it. Certainly, the film is likely to stir up fond memories for any viewers who grew up watching Hammer Horror, with misty graveyards and moors, creaky inns and gothic squalor. Even for those unacquainted with such wonders, the film is visually evocative and highly atmospheric throughout, making great use of what was likely a fairly low budget with some great sets and authentically dirty costumes. Although not everything quite fits together, with a few gag set pieces and twists falling a touch flat, these never really detract from the overall mood.
More than anything, it’s the relationship between Blake and Grimes which really drives the film, with both Monaghan and Fessenden on top form. The dynamic between the two is winning and believable, and even slightly touching, with a genuine sense of camaraderie. The two are likeable rogues on just the wrong side of morality, and the fact that they spend most of their time drinking away their earnings and bickering with each other only makes them all the more endearing. The script itself is another strong point, both packing in plenty of historical detail, helping to ground the film despite its supernatural trappings, and showing an amusingly earthy wit. McQuaid’s direction is energetic and fun, and the film wisely doesn’t take itself too seriously. Although ghoulish and featuring a few bloody scenes, it is for the most part harmless enough, never aiming to really shock.
All of this serves to mark “I Sell the Dead” not only as one of the few horror comedies to really work, but also as a fittingly tongue in cheek Hammer tribute. McQuaid shows himself to be a genuine genre talent, and it is rewarding indeed to see a director really put effort into recreating, rather than simply referencing some of the classics of old.
If you love old Amicus and Hammer films like Tales from the Crypt and The Vampire Lovers, then you will get a blast out of I Sell the Dead.
Dominic Monaghan (yep, Charlie off Lost) plays Arthur Blake, a, 18th-century grave robber awaiting his death sentence, while Hellboy’s Ron Perlman plays Father Duffy, a priest who gets to hear Blake’s life story as he awaits his execution.
What follows is a horrific, but hilarious, account of Blake’s exploits with his mentor Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) as they procure dead bodies for the bonkers Dr Vernon Quint (Phantasm’s Angus Scrimm in brilliant form), and discover a lucrative new venture in digging up vampires and zombies.
But standing in their way of the big money is the notorious Murphy family, rival grave robberies who will stop at nothing to cash in on selling the undead to the highest bidder.
The grisly exploits of Blake and Grimes are chilling and funny in equal measure, though some scenes where they banter ala Hope and Crosby just don’t work. Still, I Sell the Dead is a hugely atmospheric romp that will go down well at any Halloween bash.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases feature an audio commentary by director Glenn McQuaid, audio commentary by Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden, a making of featurette, and visual effects.
How long has it been since you saw a good movie about resurrectionists? A while, I'll wager: There's the atmospheric Body Snatcher (1945) with Boris Karloff, one of the tiny gems turned out by Val Lewton's legendary RKO unit; the lurid Flesh and the Fiends (1960), based on the real-life exploits of Scottish resurrectionists Burke and Hare; and 1985's The Doctor and the Devils, inspired by the same case and based on a 1953 screenplay by poet Dylan Thomas.
Writer-director Glenn McQuaid's I Sell the Dead is as good as any of them, but he places the basic elements — 19th-century setting, grinding poverty, a doctor willing to pay well for fresh corpses and a city full of derelicts and drifters who won't be missed — at the service of a fresh, darkly funny blend of crime and supernatural hijinks.
In the movie's opening sequence, veteran body snatcher Willie Grimes (producer Fessenden) is guillotined for his crimes as his younger partner, Arthur Blake (Monaghan), receives a temporary reprieve. Hulking holy man Father Francis Duffy (Perlman), who worries for Blake's soul and wonders about Blake's state of mind, has paid the executioner for time to speak with the condemned man. Blake obliges with the story of his association with Grimes, who began teaching him the tricks of the trade when Blake was just a child.
For a long time they were just work-a-day resurrectionists, says Blake, always devising new ways to pilfer squishy corpses and turn them into hard cash. Everything changes the night they get a tip about a woman buried at a remote crossroads: Who would inter a pretty young woman in the middle of nowhere, bulbs of garlic strung around her neck and a stake through her chest? The resurrectionists are shocked to see a real resurrection when they remove the stake: They've dug up a vampire and she's hungry. Clever lads that they are, Blake and Grimes figure out a way to rid themselves of their most demanding client, a well-connected doctor (Scrimm) who always needs new corpses for his dissecting class and threatens to denounce Grimes and Blake if they don't keep the merchandise coming. Once he's out of their lives, Grimes, Blake and Blake's ambitious girlfriend, Fanny (Cooney), start serving the specialty market for weird corpses — aliens, zombies and sundry monsters.
That's a nifty premise and McQuaid has some fine fun with it, delivering an offbeat but carefully balanced mix of shocks, homages and uneasy chuckles. A lifelong fan of the Hammer studio's gothic horror, McQuaid manages to make Staten Island look like 19th-century England by way of the Universal backlot and populates his story with colorful characters, including a thug with a mouthful of dog's teeth and Valentine, a burn victim who hides her disfigurement behind an Eyes Without a Face-style mask.
I Sell the Dead is the kind of surprise that keeps trickling out of the House of Fessenden, a micro-budget production operation equally at home with art-house dramas like The Liberty Kid and gritty little horror movies, including The House of the Devil, The Roost and actor-producer-director Fessenden's own The Last Winter. Clever and resourcefully art-directed though though the film, the I Sell the Dead's success ultimately depends on the low-key chemistry between Grimes and Blake. Whether bickering like an old married couple or shrieking their way through an odd little tip of the hat to E.T., they're a scruffier Hope and Crosby, forever on the road to the next fresh hell and determined to make the best of it.
Heading into Westwood again (ugh), I was a bit weary of I Sell The Dead. Not that it sounded bad or anything, but because I took a quick look at director Glenn McQuaid’s filmography on IMDb, and discovered that it was almost guaranteed to be scarier than anything in the film itself: The Off Season, Trigger Man, etc. But he just worked effects on those films; I Sell The Dead is his directorial debut, based on his own script. I tried to keep that in mind as I sat down to watch the film, and to my happy surprise, my fears were mostly unwarranted: this movie's quite fun.
For starters, the tone is definitely that of old EC Comics (I just picked up "The 10 Cent Plague", which details the efforts to censor/outlaw EC's and other comics in the 50s, can’t wait to read it), something we don’t get often enough. Maybe folks are just too afraid to be compared to Creepshow, but this tale of a pair of graverobbers is a perfect fit for the stylized and "funny/scary" feel of Romero's film. McQuaid tackles the inevitable comparisons head on, though, with some animated transitions and combined “overlay” style shots. But there’s nothing wrong with evoking the style of a terrific movie, and there’s no reason why the EC style should be limited to one film (one from over 25 years ago at that). Let’s bring it back!
I also dug the engaging performances by Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden as Arthur and Willie, our heroes. Monaghan is in slightly familiar territory; some of his dialogue and character actions brings Charlie Pace to mind, but he’s having a lot of fun, and as long as he's starring in a film, he is not romancing my beloved Evangeline Lilly, so I am all for him starring in more films. Plus, his character explains sandwiches at one point, forever endearing the character to me. Fessenden is even better though. It’s rare to see him in such a large role (Habit I think is the only one he may have had more screen time, and that’s just because the movie’s longer), and he is a riot, owning most of the film’s best moments. His unconventional appearance limits the type of roles he can take, but it’s good to know that when the need arises, he can do more than pop up in minor roles.
It’s also impressive on a technical level. The budget surely wasn’t too high, but they really sell the “ye olden tymes” setting with the sets and exterior locations (graveyards, mostly). So I was amazed to discover that the entire film was shot in New York, including parts of Manhattan. It takes place in some unspecified time in the past (let’s say the late 1700s), so you’d suspect maybe some isolated European villa served as the primary shooting location, but nope. Everything’s within driving distance of the Empire State building. Excellent work. The opening credits are also incredible; it’s one of the best of its type I have seen in ages.
The only area that could have used some work is in the story’s structure. It feels too episodic at times, without any real driving force heading toward the film’s conclusion. For example, at one point they dig up the grave of what turns out to be an alien, and you think that the movie is suddenly going to kick it up a notch and open up this large conspiracy of grave robbing or something, but once the particular matter is dealt with, it’s never mentioned again. McQuaid admits that the film started off as an anthology (before he decided to focus on the Monaghan and Fessenden characters), but it often still feels that way. There are basically four stories in the film of about 20 minutes or so each, plus a wraparound with Monaghan telling the story (stories) to Ron Perlman. And each story works on its own, but when combined it feels a bit like watching four episodes of a TV show back to back, rather than a typical cinematic feature. And again, the film is still plenty entertaining, but I just wish that the story was as impressive as its cast and technical aspects.
Image Comics will be putting out a one-shot comic that tells the film’s story (with some changes; it was based on an earlier draft of the script, presumably one without budgetary limitations factored in) this August, and I can’t wait to get it. The art in the film (and on the film’s awesome poster) is quite good, and I suspect that the story may even be more enjoyable in graphic form. It would certainly make an excellent monthly series, with Arthur and Willie continually discovering different monsters (along with the alien, the movie also has vampires, zombies, and ghouls), grave-robbing rivals, etc. Fans of "The Goon" or Ben Templesmith’s "Wormwood" series would definitely dig it.
I SELL THE DEAD is fantastic! I liked Glenn's short back in the day but I'm astonished at how strong a filmmaker he's become over the period of just a few years. The staging, the sets, the compositions, the writing and the performances are uniformly spectacular across the board. To see something this distinctive, this full of personality, wit and invention get made is such a rare thing these days. The film is an absolute joy from start to finish.
Two bumbling grave robbers in 18th century England learn that the big bucks come from raiding the tombs of rather more otherworldly beings…
Considering that I Sell the Dead features cameo appearances from Dracula’s daughter, the living dead, Ron Perlman, the Roswell alien and Phantasm star Angus Scrimm (also essaying the role of a macabre old mortician here) it is probably safe to surmise that most genre fans will have a grand old time with this raucous little romp.
Certainly, almost every major comedic moment works a treat and Lord of the Rings/Lost star Monaghan is on fine form throughout. Moreover, especially for a low budget production, the period set design and make-up effects are uniformly gnarly.
Yet, what stops I Sell the Dead from reaching the giddy heights of something like An American Werewolf in London is that grand old bug-bearer: the tone. Yes, the movie works perfectly well as a preposterous horror-spoof but it never manages to raise a single scare or gross you out with some momentary mutilation.
That said, though, some segments are even more fun than Shaun of the Dead and, for the sequence with the terrified zombie alone, it has to be put to the top of your must-see list..
I Sell the Dead was the opening night selection of the 15th Slamdance Film Festival. It’s the first film by writer/director/editor Glenn McQuaid, an established visual effects artist and cohort of prolific director/actor/producer Larry Fessenden (McQuaid coordinated the visual effects for Fessenden’s The Last Winter). I Sell the Dead is a cinematic marvel that is both an homage to classic horror films, as well as an innovative mash-up of several different horror tropes from subsequent generations. It’s all held together by the filmmaker’s true love of these genres, as well as his staggeringly impressive ability to direct tone, actors and special effects toward a singularly unique and innovative genre perspective.
The film stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy 2 and The Last Winter), Dominic Monaghan (Lost), Fessenden, and horror icon Angus Scrimm. Fessenden plays professional grave robber Willie Grimes, while Monaghan is his young trusty partner-in-crime, Arthur Blake. Set in a dark, Olde Dickensian turn-of-the-century England, the film follows this duo as they take to the misty moors to perpetuate their dark deeds after imbibing a few mugs of brew in the cave-like taverns on the city’s edge. Each night they earn their keep by digging up graves and wheeling the remains to the lab of a sinister mad doctor (played by Scrimm).
The pre-credit sequence opens with Willie Grimes being dragged to the gallows in the public square. Right up to the end he jokes and cajoles the crowd as the wood clamps down on his neck. He then stares into the bloody basket and the masked executioner lets the blade drop. Grimes’ decapitated head falls into the basket and stares back at the camera as the image turns to animation, music rises, and a fantastic animated credit sequence sets the tone for the Hammer-era film homage to come.
Monaghan’s character Arthur Blake is next visited in prison by the massive Father Duffy (Perlman) and urged to confess before he too is led to the gallows. Arthur begins the story of the infamous grave robbing duo and we travel with them both as they pass through a strange series of encounters with the undead.
The film moves effortlessly through horror genres—from the beautiful, dark-haired, gossamer nightgown wearing vampires of early Mario Bava, to fog-drenched graveyard ghost hunters in the washed out color films from the mid-1960s, to the evocative bold 1980s Zombie genre circa Evil Dead 2. There is even a hilarious encounter with an undead Spielberg-esque ET! Each sequence employs lighting, camera placement and music that pitch perfectly captures the production value tendencies of that particular horror period. But this is far more than a mere genre mash-up collage; it is all held together by the hilarious buddy banter between a spot-on Fessenden and Monaghan. Not to mention a narrative velocity tied to the initiating story set-up that has Monaghan telling his Death March confession to Perlman like some sort of Dickensian Schezerade. The film moves with a darting confidence and it literally soars via the evocative and aggressive score by Jeff Grace. Cinematographer Richard Lopez expertly allows the Old England yellow-brown patina of the candle-lit village interiors to meld with icy blue fog-drenched moors at night. There are also some wide shot night exterior composites that are truly beautiful in that they are evocative and deliberately period artificial but not wink-wink smarmy fake. This a horror film lover’s wet dream, made by a team of genre lovers who worship this stuff. Unlike films like Black Dynamite, a blaxploitation mock-comedy in the midnight section of Sundance, I Sell the Dead recreates the genre past with respect and fanboy awe.
What is most amazing is that I Sell the Dead was all shot on a micro-budget in actual locations on Staten Island. The basic technical virtuosity of this endeavor, on this budget, is simply astounding. The Hammer-era narrative framework is bulging with McQuaid’s energy, talent and ambition, and where most genre films would rest on the laurels of fantastic evocative monsters and special effects, I Sell the Dead soars because there is a narrative skill that is not often seen in this genre. It’s not just mere recreation that has inspired these filmmakers; it’s the desire to weave a yarn that captures your imagination and leads you down a fog-drenched path into a moor of buried fears and unknown shadows. This narrative impulse is what most clearly distinguishes McQuaid as a major new talent to watch. I Sell the Dead delivers the goods. Let’s hope it gets picked up and finds the mainstream audience that it deserves.
Writer-director Glenn McQuaid makes one hell of a feature debut with I Sell the Dead, which is both an earnest love letter to geek genre fans and a fantastic horror-comedy. Told in flashback by a death-sentenced Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), the story recounts the life and times of grave-robbing team Blake and his mentor-turned-partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). Blake reveals how he came into his current sorry lot, from hoodwinking normal corpses out from under saucy morticians, to fighting over the trafficking rights of the undead with the notorious House of Murphy gang. McQuaid imbues his film with a combination of classic horror and irreverent humor, filling his gallery of things that go bump in the night with vampires, zombies, and aliens alike.
Set in a fog-drenched, dreary Irish land, I Sell the Dead is an off-beat, uproariously funny romp that twists the conventional monster genres into a delightful farce by dropping them in with two dim-witted but good-hearted grave robbers. The film rides on the performances of Monaghan and Fessenden, and the pair bring a great chemistry to their relationship. It’s a real treat to watch them play off each other, confronting each new creepy ghoul and goblin with stupefied terror and clueless charm.
McQuaid delivers on all levels with the pantheon of geek iconography. One of the film’s most successful devices is that neither Blake nor Grimes ever really know what they’re up against, whereas the audience is fully aware of the dangers they face - so when the body-snatching duo run up against, say, a garlic-wreathed and staked vampire corpse, it’s with a sick glee that we watch them work out its weakness. Grimes and Blake amuse themselves with how the repeated stabbing and removing of a wooden stake into the creature’s heart will bring it from benign to bloodthirsty, and we can’t help but laugh along. It’s a brilliant technique to play with the audience’s comparitively well-educated background in monster slaying, watching the hapless couple stumble through each hairy encounter.
The film does have a few weaknesses. The pace gets a little uneven at times, which creates an episodic feel to the narrative that does take away some of the momentum. Part of this is the editing, which isn’t quite as sharp as it could be. It’s nit-picky, for sure, and though the film is already brisk with its 85-minute runtime, it does feel like some of the scenes could’ve been tightened to help keep the comedic punch. I think that the film could’ve benefitted from more test screenings, to help the filmmakers identify where the gasps or laughs were slowing down and then make the appropriate tweaks.
But all in all, I Sell the Dead is completely enjoyable time at the theater. There’s an unbridled sense of fun infused into every scene, and you can really feel the enthusiasm which McQuaid and co. brought to their work. Special mention must be made of Jeff Grace’s score, which is just perfect. This is a great film not just for fans of the horror genre, but for any audience that has a sense of humor. It never takes itself too seriously and is an utter pleasure to watch (especially with a packed house). It’s a special little film with a big, slightly mad heart, and is definitely one you won’t want to miss.
In no way an infomercial pitch to afterlife consumers as might be intimated from the ambiguous title, I Sell The Dead is a combo zany and creepy old fashioned ghostly gothic tall tale about two 19th century warped bottom feeder British blokes who have taken to grave robbing for a living. Written and directed with devilish tongue in cheek by Irish filmaker Glenn McQuaid, I Sell The Dead is a juicy traditional horror yarn with playfully crafted, delightfully depraved storytelling kicking in for good measure.
Dominic Monaghan is young Arthur Blake, a longtime professional body snatcher, but not a murderer, if you please. Blake apprenticed in the underground trade as a boy to Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), a cantankerous career criminal who has just had his head lopped off at the local guillotine. And it seems that Blake is next in line for execution, but not before a mysteriously sinister priest Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) stops by with a bottle of whiskey to pry some confessional redemption out of the condemned felon, before he departs this world.
As Blake opens up about their unscrupulous but intermittently jolly excapades, the audience is treated to a never-a-dull-moment, ever more surreal journey through your basic body snatching, to the surprise exhuming of vampires, zombies, and possibly even an alien from outer space. Blake also gets to introduce his co-conspirator to some new-fangled thing called a sandwich. But the murky body business gets even more complicated when rival snatchers, the notorious House of Murphy gang shows up, and runs more than a little interference regarding conflicting turf privileges.
I Sell The Dead is a best of both worlds descent into goofy post-modern mischief. While unearthing, so to speak, the spooky supernatural antics of classic horror.
I have always loved the evocative atmosphere of old horror films. You know the ones – they always seem to feature fog-shrouded cemeteries, an ominous score, stark trees silhouetted against an October moon and just a deliciously macabre feel to them. So when I heard about I Sell the Dead, a film that promised the same kind of spooky atmosphere combined with a morbid buddy comedy, I was definitely eager to see it.
The tongue-in-cheek horror comedy definitely lived up to my expectations, even surpassing them at times. Not only is the romantically macabre atmosphere of old horror films perfectly captured, but the story is gleefully unique with a good heaping of gallows humor thrown in for good measure!
The film is told in flashback form, but opens in the present 1800’s Ireland with convicted grave robber Willy Grimes (Larry Fessenden) meeting an unkindly end at the guillotine. His partner, Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), is awaiting a similar fate when he is visited by Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), a rather odd priest who seems to take unusual delight in hearing all about Blake and Grime’s misdeeds. For five hours before his scheduled execution, Blake recounts how he fell into the corpse snatching business with Grimes, their ghoulish client Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm) who always needed fresh corpses for his mysterious experiments, the many unusual “undead” things he and Grimes were paid to dig up and their unfortunate run-ins with the House of Murphy, a rival grave robbing gang.
I Sell the Dead is no doubt one of the best horror films I’ve seen all year! I really think 19th century Ireland, with its bawdy bars, decrepit old cemeteries, moon-lit back alleys, desolated moors and strange isles populated by the undead, was the perfect setting for the film. It definitely captured that old Hammer horror atmosphere, giving the film a nostalgic feel. What’s even more amazing is because of a small budget the movie was filmed in New York! When there wasn’t enough money to construct elaborate sets, existing locations were used (such as for the pub used in the film) and backgrounds and such were added in by computer effects and mixed art media like photography, painting and illustration. Yet, when you watch the film, it is absolutely seamless!
Besides the nostalgic look of the film, the story, written by Glenn McQuaid (who also directed) is also absolutely delightful. As I watched the story unfold, I was just as gleeful as a kid on Christmas morning! When was the last time you saw a film that made you want to crow its praises from rooftops? Besides the fact that the story keeps popping up with surprises as to what Grimes and Blake would dig up next, the whole repartee between Grimes and Blake reminded me of Abbott and Costello-style shenanigans. There is some slapstick, but most of it is witty banter. Even the dialogue between other characters, especially Blake and Father Duffy, is very playful. The whole story has this irreverent, imaginative feel to it, but it is not without its moments of horror. Though the undead they encounter are more cartoonish than serious, there are several nice jolts throughout the film. I especially enjoyed a discovery of a vampire, though the two main characters had no idea what they had dug up and proceeded to remove the garlic around the undead’s neck as well as removing a stake through her heart. As a result, hilarity and horror ensues. Even the addition of the not-undead-but-still-damn-scary House of Murphy gang was pleasurable and added another dimension to an already colorful film!
The characters are fancifully drawn, with even the lesser characters being fully fleshed out. Besides the main characters of Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), Willy Grimes (Larry Fessenden) and Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), I loved the menacing members of the House of Murphy, including Cornelius Murphy (John Speredakos) with his grim childhood at the hands of the cruel Murphy senior, Valentine Kelly (Heather Bullock) whose face was so disfigured by a fire that she now wears a blank, white mask that she only removes when she is about to kill someone and Bulger (Alisdair Stewart) whose toothy maw is full of razor-sharp dog teeth. Then, of course, is the sinister Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm), who keeps demanding more and more bodies from Grimes and Blake and corpulent barkeep Ronnie (Joel Garland), among the many memorable faces! Plus, all of the actors delivered stellar performances. I have to make special mention of Daniel Manche, who played the young Arthur Blake! Hats off to the rest of the excellent cast, including a rather gleeful performance from the “Tall Man” himself, Angus Scrimm!
I really cannot speak highly enough of I Sell the Dead. It is a whimsically macabre film that will delight and entertain all horror fans. So far, I Sell the Dead is one of my favorite films from 2009!
I Sell the Dead will hit theaters August 7th, 2009 and will be available On-Demand August 12th, 2009! Don’t miss it!
When January rolled around, I was all ready to throw in the towel and declare 2009 a wash for movies in general. I’ll tell you what, though. I continue to be surprised by some of this year’s offerings and some of last year’s that are finally making their way to me through the festivals. Though I haven’t kept a best of the year list in several years because of how much of a pain in the ass those lists tend to be when there’s nothing much worth talking about, I have been keeping one this year that began with Drag Me To Hell. I am now adding I Sell The Dead to that list, a flick I’d heard about but knew very little of.
Glass Eye Pix has been hanging around for a while with a bunch of pictures in development for what seems like forever and now it would seem that many of these movies are finally coming to the fore all at once. House Of The Devil is now making festival rounds, Satan Hates You is just on the horizon and I Can See You is coming to DVD, shortly. Their production ethic is something that all independent producers should aspire to and because of said ethic, they’re on their way to becoming the model of the contemporary independent production house with some of the most original movies I’ve ever seen.
From a young age, Arthur Blake was robbing graves with his partner, Willie Grimes and they garnered quite the reputation around town. The problem is that as the movie begins, they’re answering for their crimes. Among them, an erronious accusation of murder that lands Willie in the guillotine, shortly thereafter sans head. Arthur is up next, but he is first being visited by a priest who will document his last confession. His confession includes details of his grave robbing exploits that begjn with simple bodysnatching but somehow leads to a world of vampires, zombies and aliens and a rivalry with a group of super criminals called The House Of Murphy.
I Sell The Dead just can’t go wrong. It’s a solid black comedy with what is one of the best scripts of the year interpreted by an inspired cast that includes Glass Eye captain, Larry Fessenden as Willie Grimes, Dominic Monaghan of Lord of the Rings and LOST, horror legend, Angus Scrimm of the Phantasm series and Ron “Hellboy” Perlman. Operating on the budget of your average low-budget picture, I Sell The Dead wears what little resources it has with style. Pulling off a proper period picture, particularly on this scale, is often hard to do with little money and where it substitutes actual sets for Victorian looking CGI, it does well. At times, it deliberately looks like it may have been torn from a comic where at others, it looks as though Hammer Films has had it’s hands all over it. Though changing up wildly in theme from scene, I Sell The Dead maintains a consistent Gothic Victorian tone.
It’s funny, too.
Don’t be fooled. Comedy is hard and the people who are good at it are being paid handsomely to make you laugh at unfunny people. It’s the rarest treat when a good laugh comes out of the low budget scene as low budgets often mean pandering to the lowest common denominator and the people producing them often feel that there is no higher art than a good fart joke but I Sell The Dead’s already tight script is packed with good laughs delivered by a cast that you may not expect practiced comic timing from. They’re not selling you Evil Dead 2 here, but when it’s funny, it’s funny and that’s harder to do than you might think, particularly when the writer/director is best known for visual effects and has only written one other script. Director Glenn McQuaid’s future is bright and Glass Eye Pix is better off for having him on the roster.
Often I like to balance my raves with a little criticism when it comes to these reviews, but I’m at a loss with I Sell The Dead. I suppose some of the CGI effects at times look like CGI but even the adequately budgeted trash out of Hollywood is struggling to give their computer generated effects the authenticity of practicals. The occasional knife to the head contained here sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s really where the criticism ends. I Sell The Dead was an extremely pleasant surprise, for my money and further evidence that the best in genre films isn’t due to come out of a major Hollywood studio any time soon. It’s also proof that the horror genre isn’t dead or dying. It’s quite alive and the real creativity is in the hands of forward thinking writers and directors who are making movies with whatever they happen to have in their wallets at the time. I Sell The Dead, of course, isn’t that low budget, but it shows how far you make your money go on a good, original idea and a tight script..
Charm would probably
not be the first adjective to come to mind in describing a movie about
McQuaid's brand of charm is pretty quirky, I'll give you that. (He begins with one of his lead characters going to the guillotine -- and, no, there's nary a last-minute reprieve). Yet as writer, director and editor (that's he, above, in front of the guillotine), McQuaid -- and his cleverly chosen cast -- bring this unusual movie to life without ever for a moment "pushing" the charm factor. It seems but a natural part of these bizarre yet utterly typical (think Hammer Horror goes deadpan) proceedings.
Once that guillotine has parted its participant, the movie introduces us to the other "hero," played with innocent relish by Dominic Monaghan (above, right, of Lord of the LOST Rings fame), who's about to meet that famous French-inspired blade himself, and then to one very beefy priest, played by Ron Perlman (shown at bottom), who wants to obtain the Monaghan character's story before the lad meets his maker. From there, the movie flashes back, giving us the entire tale in dribs and drabs that are both enticing and funny but never pushy. Along the way, we're treated to the occasional comic-book-type-visual that connects a scene or makes a point via artwork rather than special effects (this is completely in keeping with the charm factor and, of course, reduces the budget by probably fifty per cent).
Events are both typical and a bit surprising along the way and are -- in either case -- handled with flair and delight. The cast, which includes Angus Scrimm as a dirty doctor (remember Don Coscarelli's Phantasm? Well, Mr. Scrimm seems not to have aged a single day since then) and Brenda Cooney as a good-time gal with a tad too much avarice in her heart. Oh -- and there's also the fine and funny Larry Fessenden, who produced the film as well as acted the other lead role of Monaghan's "mentor." Everyone is on the same page here in terms of wit and style, including the various undead (and one surprise corpse who turns out to be a bit more contemporary), making possible the continuous flow of charm, thrills and the red stuff.
I Sell the Dead opens its theatrical run this Friday in NYC (at the IFC Center), and on August 14 in Los Angeles. The film begins showing On-Demand next Wednesday, August 12. Check your local TV reception provider, under IFC On-Demand, for specifics.
The setting was perfect: it was just the second theatre showing ever of I Sell The Dead, it was the North American premiere, it was the final film of the best-ever third edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Fest, and in attendance were director/writer Glenn McQuaid, producer/actor Larry Fessenden, actor Angus Scrimm, actor Brenda Cooney, and producer Peter Phok. You could feel the buzz. And hardly miss Mr. Scrimm’s ultra-funky white glasses.
The movie? High-caliber comedy-horror, done vignette style, as Irish grave robber Arthur Blake (adroitly played by Dominic Monaghan) tells a series of macabre yet wacky tales to a really big priest, Father Duffy (delightfully played by Quiet Earth fave, Ron Perlman) as he awaits his beheading in five hours.
Arthur is the erstwhile partner of the recently-beheaded, underachieving graverobber Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden plays himself with an Irish accent) and he relates the episodic history of their freaky, yet hilarious adventures during 15 years of body snatching somewhere in rural Ireland. We accompany our two heroes -- Arthur progresses from boy apprentice (convincingly played by Daniel Manche) to adult partner -- while they fumble through an increasingly dangerous series of dark, yet somehow innocent robberies. Innocent? Well, maybe they’re just ignorant. OK, here’s an example: in one story they dig up a female vampire. They have no idea what she is. Curious, they discuss and discard the string of garlic around her neck. Then they notice the oak stake through her heart. Confused now, they discuss the possible meanings of this odd wooden cipher, and decide to remove it to make transporting the body easier. Yes, mayhem ensues. Yes, our heroes survive.
That’s the way it goes. Arthur tells Father Duffy a yarn, which we cut to, and then it’s back to Duffy and Arthur, repeating the process until all the little stories are told and the big picture unfolds, amusing us with a suitably surprising and haplessly happy ending, structured in such a way that yes, there may be a sequel opportunity for those lovable degenerates, Willie and Arthur, depending on the success… you get the picture.
Dr Nathan suggests Glenn McQuaid gets out his writing pad, because one does sense the world will want to see more of this deplorable duo, if for no other reason than to savor McQuaid’s obvious writing talent, and to watch Fessenden and Monaghan chew up the scenery whenever both share the screen, which is often. Monaghan’s portrayal of Arthur is slightly withdrawn and subdued when he’s alone with girlfriend Fanny or Father Duffy, but he comes competitively alive when teamed with the twitchy ball of energy that is Fessenden, who looks eerily like Jack Nicholson of The Shining. And shine he does. Full of facial ticks, winks, nods, that stunning hockey player grin, dancing eyebrows and happy hands, Fessenden portrays sorta slick Willie to perfection, imbuing him with a personality that’s half realist, half helpless, half Long John Silver on speed. Choose any two.
Ron Perlman as the rather odd priest Father Duffy is a treat, playing the whiskey-toting “gallows chronicler” to imposing perfection, acting as our sort of master of ceremonies as he leads the doomed Arthur through a litany of he and Willie’s monty-python-like grave robbing scenes. After awhile you may ask: why is he so interested in certain stories? In the midst of the mayhem is an almost cameo role by Brenda Cooney, who deftly plays the manipulating Fanny in one of the episodes. She starts off as an apprentice to Willie and Arthur, but finds Willie too cautious for her greedy plans, and quickly takes over the gang, resulting in a rowboat ride to recover some undead on an island, with hilarious, yet meaningful results. Unfortunately, this trip has more departures than arrivals. Fan fave Angus Scrimm obviously enjoyed his role as evil corpse buyer Dr Vernon Quint. Oozing inhumanity to man, dead or alive, Scrimm makes life hell for Willie and Arthur, and, in a totally surreal moment, whips out a violin and plays a melody to a fresh new female corpse the boys have just delivered. Hmmm. It has a stake in its chest… I wonder why?
Digging up much more than human corpses is, of course, the source of much of I Sell The Dead’s relentless hilarity. Their website doesn’t reveal the results of their digging, so Dr. Nathan will leave you with just the beans already spilled. In this case, you can simply trust the movie’s telling tagline: “Never trust a corpse”.
Another ongoing plotline through the vignettes is Willie and Arthur’s tentative association with the House of Murphy, another gang of grave robbers who use mafia techniques to protect their holes. Daddy Murphy’s technique for training son Cornelius is worth the price of admission alone. This truly ghoulish mob, featuring a woman so disgustingly ugly she has to wear a mask, pecks away at the W&A periphery before they finally reach the predictable showdown conclusion, albeit in a shockingly imaginative manner.
Technically, there’s not much to carp about. Sure, there’s lots of mist in the outdoor scenes – McQuaid’s homage to Hammer – and the monsters are more funny friendly than fiendish, but the cinematography is seamless, the art direction incredible, considering it was shot entirely in New York, the music evocative to the moods without being overwhelming, and the editing is crisp and even. It’s tight.
During the presentation
following the screening, writer/director McQuaid told the audience
he came from a working class Irish background, and he cut his youthful
teeth on weekly horror double features, the first a B&W, the second
in color, usually a Hammer classic with his two heroes, Christopher
Lee and Peter Cushing. Writing this, his first screenplay, was a lot
of fun, he told the soldout audience, adding, “When I thought
of Willie Grimes I thought of Larry Fessenden.” Much cheering.
Crowd fave Angus Scrimm, wearing some kind of zombie 3-D glasses,
told the audience he had a great time making the movie, and related
the story of how he came to play the violin. Apparently he was over
at Larry Fessenden’s home, and discovered that Larry’s
son plays the piano. Scrimm made the mistake of telling the son that
he once played violin, but was out of practice. Son tells father,
and Larry arranges to have a violin solo inserted in Scrimm’s
last scene. “I practiced that bit for two and a half months”,
Scrimm told the audience. (It was still pretty shaky, between you
Glenn McQuaid camps it up in I Sell the Dead. Doffing its cap to Hammer, but also emulating the graphic backdrops employed by Michael Verhoeven in The Nasty Girl (1990), this is a rollicking, episodic yarn that's related in flashback to priest Ron Perlman by 19th-century Irish resurrectionist Dominic Monaghan, as he awaits the guillotine fate recently meted out to his partner in crime, Larry Fessenden.
Monaghan became Fessenden's apprentice as a boy, when he helped steal his aunt's body from her own wake. But such is violin-playing doctor Angus Scrimm's insatiable demand for cadavers that the pair are forced to snatch whatever they can unearth, be it vampire, alien or zombie. Their cause is hardly helped by either a potentially fatal rivalry with the snarling John Speredakos or by the grasping ambition of Monaghan's mistress, Brenda Cooney, who persuades the serial bunglers to steal a march on the ruthless House of Murphy by rowing to a remote island in order to poach a cargo of corpses washed up in a wreckers' ambush.
For all its quipping quirkiness and affectionate pastiche, this is a rather patchy horror comedy. But such is the brio with which Fessenden and Monaghan go about their business that it's impossible to resist either the brash gallows humour or the knowing indifference to the penury of the production. Designer David Bell, cinematographer Richard Lopez and effects supervisor Matt Connolly work wonders with the visuals, which are often shrouded in generic fog, while Jeff Grace's circus-sounding score reinforces the mood of mischief. Swigging hooch while scribbling Monaghan's memoirs, the becowled Perlman contributes a canny cameo. But it's the knockabout repartee between Monaghan and Fessenden that makes this gleefully gruesome romp so enjoyable.
After an exhausting day of art films, it's refreshing to dip into Rotterdam's vast trove of genre movies and activate the more sophomoric parts of the brain. The best so far is Glenn McQuaid's "I Sell the Dead," a horror comedy closer in tone to "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," than, say, "Scream." So it's a knockabout buddy comedy except the knocks come from vampires, zombies and deranged Irish ghouls. Dominic Monaghan ("Lost") plays the straight man grave robber to Larry Fessenden's cockney simpleton, and Ron Perlman is along in flashback to add an extra dollop of menace. A cult hit in the making.
Gallows humor, with its dark and often subversive nature, remains a hard sell in modern cinema. Not only does it take a certain droll oddball proclivity to truly appreciate, but the subject matter involved can often be an equally hard sell. That’s why we critics end up seeing so many hapless horror comedies. Filmmakers, convinced that macabre and merriment go hand in hand, try to balance out fear and funny business. Few succeed.
Now imagine Sam Raimi circa Army of Darkness taking on a delirious version of a Merchant/Ivory period piece, complete with cockney criminals, corrupt priests, and enough crown Victorian flavor to turn a standard motion picture meal into steak and eel pie. That’s the beauty (and the bedevilment) of writer/director Glenn McQuaid’s goofy I Sell the Dead. Part slapstick shocker, part uneven horror romp, this tale of a grave-robber’s apprentice and his frequently supernatural travails offers some intriguing ideas. They don’t always work, but when they do, the film finds a groovy, ghoulish eccentricity.
Just hours before his execution, accused fiend Arthur Blake is visited by a kindly priest. The purpose? To record this notorious criminal’s last thoughts before the guillotine. Along with former colleague (and already disposed of) grave robber Willie Grimes, Arthur is indeed guilty of several gruesome acts. As he discusses his introduction into the body part trade (and his work for the horrific hack medico Dr. Quint) we learn very quickly of blackmail, mortuaries, missed opportunities, and a band of equally terrifying rivals known as the Murphy Clan. Made up of cutthroats, killers, and one demonically domineering father, Willie and Arthur soon find themselves battling the heinous forces of this determined family - as well as the occasional zombie. Indeed, as their business turns from the recently deceased to the “undead”, our duo discovers how profitable, and problematic, a career as a body snatcher can be.
There are times when you just want I Sell the Dead to settle down. This is perhaps the most “inertly hyperactive” movie ever made. Such a contradictory statement needs a bit of an explanation. McQuaid is clearly a fright film fan. He’s got the references and implied homages down pat. But he’s also like the 13 year old scary movie buff who is full to bursting with his own opinions and ideas about cinema - and you can see that scattered, ADD like attention span right up there on the screen. Instead of letting moments play out organically, building tension and laughs from within some exceedingly sinister material, he gets the basics down and then jumps right to the next set-up. This works during the initial scenes when Arthur explains his beginnings. But once we get to the more “monster” oriented material, the approach does some damage.
Take Arthur and Willie’s run-in with a vampire. She’s fetching. She’s voluptuous. She’s a corpse. Everything is set for a ripe bit of Hammer-era bodice ripping. Instead, the aforementioned maker of The Evil Dead is channeled, the bloodsucker appearing and disappearing in a series of silly Loony Tunes like false shocks. Indeed, the Murphys with their various superhero/graphic novel style backstorys are far more terrifying than any creature we see here. But at least McQuaid is borrowing from the best. The Raimi touches are everywhere, from weapon POVs to sly bits of Abbot and Costello like humor. As always, casting is crucial to making this work, and filmmaker Larry Fessenden and eternally Lost hobbit Dominic Monaghan are fine as the intrepid tomb raiders. Their personalities don’t dive below the fundamentals - cowardly/cautious - but they have their own brand of onscreen charisma to help them along.
Sadly, McQuaid utilizes several other quality cult stars in underwritten or little seen turns. Phantasm‘s Tall Man, Angus Scrimm himself, has a blink and you’ll miss it turn as the evil doctor demanding corpses from our heroes, and Ron Pearlman channels his Name of the Rose past playing the cockiest clergyman in the history of the Holy Sea. Yet both men feel like fanboy additions, ways for McQuaid to make good with nerd nation and the majority of movie fans who will read about this movie and want to check it out. The rest of the cast is competent, but clearly molded out of journeyman level of career. As for the main man himself, McQuaid has an interesting filmic frame of reference. Inspired by EC Comics, Stephen King , Charles Band and almost the entire ‘80 direct-to-video catalog, this Irish maverick wants to be both rebel and realist. I Sell the Dead does have a subtle satiric edge. When it goes a bit bonkers, however, things get way out of hand rather quickly.
Indeed, for its short running time and rapid fire vignette like approach, this is a movie that can feel a bit bogged down at times. While McQuaid keeps up the atmosphere and the kitschy CG backdrop dynamics, his narrative occasionally lets him down. Once we see that things are going from gruesome to Ghostbusters, the gimmick gets in the way. Certainly I Sell the Dead is never dull or disposable, offering every bit of its low budget invention up on the screen for everyone to see, and it’s clear that McQuaid, properly funded and flush with available talent, could turn in something really super. As it stands, this delightful bit of gallows humor has its high points. It also suffers from occasional stumbles. Still, in a genre that sees more misfires than masterworks, I Sell the Dead is an excellent minor example of the latter. While it could have possibly been better, fans know it could be a whole helluva lot worse.
Somewhere in England in the 19th Century body snatchers Arthur Blake [Dominic Monaghan] and Willie Grimes [Larry Fessenden] have robbed their last grave. Willie has already had his date with destiny with the chopping block and with just a few hours before Arthur follows he recounts his life story to Father Duffy [Ron Pearlman]. As Arthur talks about his early upbringing, developing the skills of the trade he also accounts for some truly bizarre occurrences and we learn that not all corpses are equal. I Sell The Dead presents a unique point of view of a life of crime in 19th century England. It is not very often that you see a grave robbing film that also has zombies, aliens and vampires in it. This horror comedy from director/writer/editor Glenn McQuaid gives us just that.
Told as a series of reflective vignettes, each story getting more and more bizarre, Arthur tells Father Duffy of the events that ultimately led to their arrest. They were once grave robbers for Dr. Vernon Quint, played by horror film icon and gentleman, Angus Scrimm. Quint is not so much an important piece of the puzzle but it is damn cool to see this icon on the screen including a scene where he performs a sonata on the violin. While on the topic of icons Ron Pearlman is also relegated to supporting role in this film but he is still an enormous presence on the screen only dwarfing the seemingly impish Monaghan as they sit across from each other in the cell.
Where the real goods happen is when Monaghan and Fessenden are on screen together. They pair up very well and play off each other so well that one cannot help but imagine that with stronger material this sort of horror comedy routine could have been comparable with great duos like Abbott and Costello whose comedy monster films are the stuff of legend. And while McQuaid’s script does have its inspiring moments I found it fairly predictable, which is a shame. Crap, it was like I was prophetic and could predict which jokes and gags were coming thus quelling their comedic impact. I’m not saying McQuaid was following the rules of British comedy but there was little that I didn’t see coming. This absence of original comedy was disappointing. What could have been the reinventing of the buddy film, immersing it in the blood and shock of horror cinema, played out fairly flat a lot of the time.
As far as the horror elements of the story are concerned they are centered around some of the stronger comedic moments of the film and do provide the bigger laughs. And there were some great laugh out loud moments. When the tag line says, Never trust a corpse, McQuaid’s script does provide excellent reasons for second guessing a career in grave robbing. But I Sell The Dead is not without strong horror scenes and a good amount of blood letting. Neat. Makeup and special effects are mostly good and McQuaid does dress up a pretty set, converting New York into 19th century England complete with taverns and funeral parlors. Production and art direction are not weak points in this film, everything looks great.
Good but not great. Still, it gives hope for the future of McQuaid. He has a good little movie here. For me if fell short of awesome but there is enough interesting stuff in his film that I would gladly see what else he has coming up.
With a sub-million dollar budget, frames of comic book art and a cast full of character actors, the creators of “I Sell the Dead” seem to be gunning for a "cult classic" tag. This may very well happen thanks to the film’s stellar cinematography and actors’ enthusiastic performances.
The film centers around the misadventures of professional body snatchers Willis Grimes (B-movie producer/actor Larry Fessenden) and Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), who begin to steal supernatural bodies at the behest of a sinister doctor (Angus Scrimm, best known as the Tall Man from “Phantasm”). Grimes is executed for his crimes in the opening of the movie and Blake has only hours before suffering the same fate, although he’s forced to undergo a pre-execution interview with a coarse-talking priest (Ron Perlman).
Director Glenn McQuaid adapted the idea from his short “The Resurrection Apprentice,” which showed at the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival. The short was included in one of many vignettes culled from Blake’s colorful tales that he regales the priest. In fact, much of the movie is shown by flashback—and sometimes flashbacks within those flashbacks. Because of this, the story can feel little anecdotal, but the ghoulishly fantastic scenarios the hapless duo fall into keep the film fun.
Some of the situations teeter on the edge of ridiculousness, but the film is saved by the actors, who all tear into their roles with aplomb. The brightest star in the excellent cast is Fessenden, who tears into his role with the same spirit of scene-stealing minor characters (the festival awarded Fessenden a Special Jury Mention for his efforts). His natural chemistry with “Lord of the Rings”/”Lost” veteran Monaghan is a pleasure to experience. Also great is the House of Murphy, a murderous gang of competing gravediggers consisting of a colorful cast of ruffians who dog the duo at every step.
The atmosphere of the movie is what impresses most. McQuaid made his modest sub-million dollar budget work. He shot the film entirely in New York with some of the more rustic scenes taking place on Staten Island. However, there isn’t a moment in the movie that looks anything less than 18th century Ireland.
For its sheer entertainment value, it’s clear that “I Sell the Dead” was a labor of love for McQuaid and company. The movie is a thoroughly enjoyable, dark slice of comedic fantasy horror that more than deserves to become a cult classic.
Death has long been a subject of comedy because it’s a useful tool in dealing with one of man’s oldest fears.
Arthur (Dominic Monaghan) is sitting in his cell awaiting his execution. A priest (Ron Perlman) arrives to help him pass the time by recording his final words. Arthur decides to use the time to regale the man with tales of grave robbing with his mentor and partner Willie (Larry Fessenden) and their eventual transcendence to ghoul. They began stealing regular dead bodies but realized they could fetch a higher price for vampires, aliens and zombies. The transcriber, however, is most interested in their run-ins with the Murphy boys, a band of rival ghouls akin to a goon squad.
Influenced by old horror flicks starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, writer/director Glenn McQuaid delves into the world of the macabre. The monsters resemble those of the early horror movies and are often shot in a similar manner, as the vampire appears to glide toward them. The key locations are graveyards, a dank tavern and a near-deserted island. In addition, almost all of the events occur in the dark of night.
A dark humour underlies the entire narrative as the ghouls exchange quips graveside; even the monsters are often more funny than scary. The storytelling style is reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt and other anthologies that return to the narrator between stories. Unfortunately, the script hits some slow spots and the film drags a couple of times; luckily these moments are book ended by fairly entertaining scenes.
Monaghan and Fessenden play well together, hitting every comedic beat. Perlman’s role is limited and his Irish accent is not very convincing but he’s still Ron Perlman. And Brenda Cooney, who plays Monaghan’s dangerously ambitious love interest, is a good mix of sexy and tough. Phantasm’s “The Tall Man” Angus Scrimm even has a cameo.
I Sell the Dead is an enjoyable picture with a fitting end, but its sluggish instances create a glass ceiling.
“Horror” isn’t the most accurate descriptor for I Sell The Dead, and “comedy” doesn’t cover it either. Perhaps “light gothic” would do. Dominic Monaghan plays a condemned grave-robber who spends his last hours before the guillotine telling monk Ron Perlman his life story, and explaining how his career took off when he and partner Larry Fessenden started disinterring the undead to sell to anyone in dire need of a shambling corpse. Outside a few moments of disturbing gore, I Sell The Dead is fairly congenial, tracking the rascally adventures of two not-always-bright fellows. Call it The Apple Dumpling Gang & Zombies.
Writer-director Glenn McQuaid uses a nested structure for I Sell The Dead, letting one story unlock still more stories. In some of the flashbacks-within-flashbacks, McQuaid plays with the style by using cartoons for backdrops, or the kind of forced perspectives and mood lighting common to the old Hammer horror films. I Sell The Dead’s low budget is well-deployed, with a few good locations (shot on Staten Island!) and some skillful makeup effects making the movie look and feel, if not top-shelf, then at least not cut-rate. A lot of credit also goes to the cast, top-lined by three veteran actors familiar with genre fare. They exude a confidence that carries I Sell The Dead a long way.
But if there’s a knock against the movie, it’s that it may be a little too confident, a little too polished. There’s very little here to make audiences squirm with that mixture of disgust and delight that horror fans crave, and though the pace is brisk and the tone upbeat, I Sell The Dead is rarely laugh-out-loud funny. And McQuaid’s start-and-stop episodic storytelling means that the movie doesn’t build up any significant momentum until its final 20 minutes, when Monaghan and Fessenden attempt to steal a shipment of zombies from a rival gang. The movie goes out on a high, but until then, it plays almost like the pilot for a TV series. But it would be a good TV series.
In the vast pantheon of Hollywood movie titles, I Sell the Dead ain't bad. It's a strange, off-beat title that at first seems a bit unwieldy before eventually piquing your interest. How exactly does one sell the dead? And to whom do you sell them? Any film with "dead" in the title has got to be a horror film, right? Yet I Sell the Dead is just so downright odd that might it be, one supposes, a horror-comedy? Are the dead actually dead? Are they un-dead? Does selling the dead pay well, or do you have to take a side job? If the dead you've sold turn out to be un-dead, do you give refunds?
Which is all just a playful way of saying that I Sell the Dead is as bizarre and puzzling as its title implies. Created by writer/director Glenn McQuaid, the film tells the story of two low-rent graverobbers in 19th-century Ireland, one of whom, Willie Grimes, is beheaded in the very first scene. Left to confess their sins to the enigmatic priest, Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), Grimes' younger partner lays out how the pair came to be arrested, charged and ultimately sentenced to death. Played by Dominic Monaghan, Arthur Blake's tutelage under Grimes results in a series of nearly episodic vignettes as the two reluctant friends dig up corpses, encounter the undead, discover the body of what may be an extra terrestrial and finally cross paths with rival graverobbers, The House of Murphy. It is their attempts to swindle the violent, half-crazed sons and daughters of the House out of a few undead bodies that eventually leads to their being tossed in prison for murder, but the road getting there is both horrific and horrifically funny.
The film is semi-stylized, throwing in a few illustrated, comic-book style frames when introducing the members of the House of Murphy, and despite some lackluster make-up effects, the shoestring budget is hardly over-obvious. The film is visually impressive, boasting some nice digital-matte backdrops to provide the illusion of a bustling, centuries-old township, as well as some nice production design to help further sell the period setting.
The performances are wry and believable with a fun turn by the Phantasm himself, Angus Scrimm. Monaghan rises above the TV material we've seen him tackle lately to convincingly fill the role, using his sarcastic wit and boyish charm to help enhance the humor of the piece. The horror isn't particularly terrifying so much as it is amusing, and while the world could be described as real-ish, there's little explanation as to why the countryside is awash in walking corpses.
I Sell the Dead is an amusing horror/comedy with a few worthwhile twists and turns, as well as few head-scratching, genre-bending moments. It's not likely to be for everyone, but it works well enough within its own wheelhouse to deserve a heap of fun, low-budget praise. If you don't catch this one in theatres, check it on IFC On Demand.
With I SELL THE
DEAD, writer/director Glenn McQuaid demonstrates unbridled love for
the Hammer and Amicus twinkle-eyed horror anthologies of yore. Not
only is his film set in what appears to be Dickensian England, but
it is shot in the same almost sepia-toned colors that marked the exploits
of Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula and the original TALES FROM
THE CRYPT and ASYLUM horror omnibuses. The look and feel of DEAD is
even more impressive when one considers that it was shot in New York,
under the auspices of indie horror filmmaker Larry Fessenden, who
serves as producer and costar here.
If you were to take the feel of an early Sam Raimi film like ‘Evil Dead’, combine it will an 80’s classic like ‘Monster Squad’ and throw in a couple of grave robbers as the main characters and place the story in medieval times then that’s what you get out of the new horror/comedy film from director Glenn McQuiad’s ‘I Sell The Dead’. The movie is like a live-action animated show that you would find on Cartoon Networks Adult Swim. This is a good thing if you are a fan of that kind of fun and humor like I am.
The film stars Dominic Monagan (Lord of the Rings, LOST) , Ron Perlman (Hellboy), and Larry Fessenden (Session 9, Broken Flowers). All these guys do a great job for what this movie is. You can tell they were all just having one hell of a good time making the movie. The characters they play are just so wacky and animated you can’t help but laugh and enjoy the performances.
The movie follows a couple of grave robbers in the 19th century named Arthur Blake and Willie Grimes. Justice has finally caught up with them and they are going to be punished for their crimes. Before the young Arthur Blake is about to get his head sliced off by the guillotine he is visited by a clergyman named father Duffy. It is in this interaction that Blake tells the story of his life which recounts his days as a young boy to stealing corpses, his partnership with Willie Grimes and how they ended up hunting the living dead. Yes they living dead like Vampires.
The film is full of great comedy and crazy situations. One of the best qualities of the movie is it randomness. It’s the random events that unfold in front of your eyes that you don’t see coming that have a great payoff. It is the inventive off the wall craziness that makes this movie incredibly fun to watch.
This film has got cult classic written all over it. It just has that quality and quotable dialogue that will entice a person to watch it over and over again and be prompted to share it with everyone you know.
I had such a great time watching ‘I Sell The Dead’ I would love to tell you so much more about it but it will ruin the fun for all of you! There are scenes in the film that will have you busting up with laughter. I will tell you that the scene where the two grave robbers encounter a vampire for the first time is priceless.
The movie is definitely worth watching!
The closing film of the 2008 Toronto After Dark Film Festival was also a North American premiere and the 4th sellout of the week. In only its second public showing, Glenn McQuaid's "I Sell the Dead" was a fun way to close down the festival - particularly due to having not only McQuaid himself present for the Q&A, but also some of the stars of the film: Brenda Cooney, the very enthusiastic Larry Fessenden and Angus Scrimm (best known as The Tall Man from the Phantasm films).
To be honest, I wasn't overly looking forward to it initially...The trailer didn't really grab me and it felt as if it might be somewhat bland. But we've seen trailers bely the film's real content before and this was a good example. A pair of grave robbers (Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan) are captured and sentenced to death. While spending his last night in his cell before his pending morning execution, Arthur (Monaghan) is visited by a priest (Ron Perlman) who wants him to confess all of his dirty deeds. In flashback we retrace Arthur's life of grave robbing - from his first outing with Willie Grimes (Fessenden) through some rather odd encounters with members of the undead (vampires, zombies, etc.). The flashbacks are good fun especially when they come in contact with these beasts who have risen from their graves. They discover that there are quite a few customers who will pay much higher prices for the undead then for the actual dead. You can even do fun parlour tricks with the undead as Grimes shows to Arthur by repeatedly pulling out a wooden stake to allow the beast to come back to life and then pushing it back in to silence it again.
McQuaid mentioned afterwards that one of his influences were classic old Amicus horror anthologies like "Asylum", "Tales From The Crypt" and "The Vault Of Horror". Definitely fine influences in my book and the film certainly has a bit of that episodic feel as it keeps coming back to the wrap around story in the cell with the priest and Arthur. Unfortunately it spends a bit too much time with long stretches of dialogue between the two of them during these scenes - it's not that those sections are bad, but they tend to drag the energy out of the film. It just slows the film down when most of the audience is itching to get to the next story.
So if that's a bit of criticism directed at the film, it's only because those flashback scenes are so well done and quite funny. Between alien corpses getting beamed up and beach zombies being terrified of vampires, the film really brings in several new angles on well-trod territory. But the biggest reason is likely the characters themselves - the duo of Willie Grimes and Arthur make an interesting pair whose continuing adventures might be fun to follow. More than one person after the film mentioned how they would love to see a TV series built around the two characters. I'd have to agree - there's a great deal of potential here.
The only other drawback was that the copy of the film we saw was very dark and lost a great deal of contrast. I'd love to see this again from a real print, especially if they could tighten up the scenes in between the different adventures (though the conclusion to the priest and Arthur story is a dandy one). With luck, this might find decent distribution.
It was a crazy week at After Dark this year, but unfortunately all good things must come to an end. The closing night film was an odd curiosity called I Sell The Dead. This was only the movie’s second public screening (the first was at Sitges), so it’s not surprising I hadn’t heard of it before it was announced for After Dark.
The night before his execution, grave robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) tells his life story to a priest (Ron Perlman), who has come to give him his last rites.
I liked I Sell The Dead. I’ll refrain from using the word ‘cute’ to describe it, as that was the term I heard coming out of people’s mouths all that night in regards to it. In my book, cute is a term reserved for Gremlins and E.T.
The low budget underpinnings of I Sell The Dead are easily overcome through strong performances, good storytelling and solid production design. I believed I was in this world and that’s really all you can ask for. I Sell The Dead also scores points with me for having a really cool and fulfilling conclusion. The sound mix was a little difficult to decipher at points, but that could have been due to the venue, which I’m sad to say had several different playback problems this past week.
I Sell The Dead felt like an elongated Tales From The Crypt episode (by no means a knock) as Arthur Blake regaled the priest with his exploits. His world was filled with all sorts of colourful characters. I got the feeling that there were a few more movies worth of material that could be told and, to be honest, I would watch them. I wouldn’t call I Sell The Dead cute, but the words amusing and charming do come to mind.
Vampires, flesh-eating zombies, grave robbers, pirates and aliens; just some of the ingredients required for a successful closing gala film at a genre/horror film festival. Now while that might seem like a tall order, one should never underestimate the clever programmers at Toronto After Dark, because these things are exactly what I Sell the Dead has up its proverbial sleeve. Well, that and a very recognizable and fun cast.
Cut into basically three acts, we follow the misadventures of two semi-bumbling grave robbers; from the conception of the duo to their final, deadly escapade. Each of the three adventures has a different element of the super natural and/or macabre. None of them are particularly scary, though they are very much in the spirit of Halloween in their setting and atmosphere. Mostly, the escapades are of the humorous sort bordering on slap-stick in some cases. Since there really is a fairly distinct beginning and end to each part of the story, there really isn’t much of an overall plot or storyline to relate to you, the reader.
The film is structured in such a way that we basically already know how things are going to turn out. The story is relayed to us by way of one of the main characters as he explains his cirumstances to a preacher as he awaits execution by guillotine for various crimes. This way of going about telling a story almost works, but not quite. The idea of listening to tales of the macabre by candlelight, over a bottle of whiskey, sounds pretty good in theory, but because we already know how things are going to end up, it’s hard to care too much about anything.
This style of story telling has been used to much greater effect in many films, Spike Lee’s Inside Man comes to mind. While I admit it’s not fair to compare a low budget, genre film to the great Spike Lee (and that is not my intent), I do think the lack of any sort of standing antagonist throughout the picture leaves us with no sense of urgency about what is to happen. The film’s opening shot is one in which the other half of our “heroic duo” has his head removed by guillotine (thus instilling in us a fear for what is in store for our story teller). Had this little sequence been shown in real time or within a parallel time-line to the adventure stories, we might be forced to care a little bit more about what is happening throughout the rest of the picture.
The cast is capable enough. Fans of the genre will be pleased to see Larry Fesenden as a main character and also a nice cameo role from the aging Angus Grimm (Phantasm). Ron Perlman in the interrogator role works pretty well (as Perlman usually does), but unfortunately we don’t see much of him as he’s not part of any of the adventure stories. So Dominic Monaghan is left to do much of the work. And I can say quite confidently that he is nice fit for this role. He’s got wit and charm, seems to now exactly what the story calls for and he fits the part well. So certainly no complaints about the cast or the performances.
The production value could stand a bit of polishing however. Very little, if any, of the film is shot on location. It’s all quite obvious that it’s on a sound stage or backlot. The lighting keeps everything in the Halloween mood, but it can be difficult to make out certain things on screen. A minor detail to be sure, but one that is noticeable and does take a bit away from the experience.
Having said all of that, there are good things that come of I Sell the Dead. While light hearted with not much action or thrills, there is a lot of fun being had with the situations and dialogue. Laughs are plentiful and the stories, while not particularly involving, do engage some new ideas and bring a lot of fun into play. The characters themselves are great and they seemed to have loads of chemistry.
Also, no good movie about zombies and vampires, etc is complete without realistic looking ghouls. Here, the creatures look great. Kudos to the make-up department for putting together some fantastic looking living dead that are super fun to look at. The director seems to realize this and has no qualms about letting the camera linger a bit on his undead antagonists. Twas quite a treat and a nice departure from the jump scare tactics in which we only ever see a quick glimpse of the creature before it disappears forever.
The question of a sequel was posed to the director following my screening and both he and the cast seemed enthused by the idea and even admitted to having a couple of stories sort of halfway prepared. I have to admit that while I wasn’t overly engaged with this film, I do like the characters enough to see them again on more escapades. I wouldn’t even mind seeing them with the same type of story structure as long as it could be worked out a little bit better to make things a tad more cohesive.
So lots to complain about here, but also enough good things to keep me involved at least somewhat. And as I mentioned, the fact that I would get out to see a sequel says alot about a film, it’s director and it’s cast. Maybe not the best choice for a closing night film at a festival, but there seemed to be just enough of a little bit of everything to keep the audience cheering and genuinely pleased and entertained. Again, that says alot.
I am not a horror fan at all, but interestingly enough, I Sell the Dead was one of the movies that I wanted to see the most at the LA Film Fest.
I Sell the Dead follows the story of Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), two grave robbers, who one day discover a body with a stake through its heart. Now unfortunately, Willie and Arthur have not been educated by pop culture and don't know that if you find a body with a stake in it, you just never remove it... This new "adventure" leads them to become dealers for the undead, in this very original and funny horror/comedy movie.
I Sell the Dead opens with Arthur confessing his "crimes" to a priest, Father Duffy (Ron Perlman). We then go back and forth between the story and the present in the prison. We learn about what lead Arthur to this point and all the crazy adventures he and Willie went on, as well as all the creatures they encountered along the way.
As I said, I'm not a horror fan, but what I loved about I Sell the Dead is that it wasn't the typical horror movie. Not only does it have elements of comedy, it also gives homage to a lot of the vintage horror films, for example the movie uses a lot of fog. So really, I wouldn't call it a horror film per se, it's more of a comedy/horror film, and I definitely like that.
Another thing that I think the director, Glenn McQuaid, was able to achieve with I Sell the Dead, is to make his two main characters very likable. Granted they are very naive, but they are not dumb, and that is a very important distinction.
Furthermore, while the movie does use a lot of cliches, they are not hammering you with them. Even better, the reason why I Sell the Dead works is because these cliches are seen through the characters' eyes, who themselves are experiencing them for the first time. So something like a body with a stake in the heart turns out to be quite an experience for them (and by extent for the audience) and that is why it's fun to watch.
Of course the movie wouldn't work if it wasn't for the great acting abilities of the cast. Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden make quite a team, and they really work well together as the master and his apprentice, who eventually become business partners in a very weird line of work. And then you have Ron Perlman, who even though doesn't take part in the main adventures, definitely makes a great impression as the priest coming to hear the last confessions of a man on death row.
Overall, my instincts were right, I Sell the Dead was definitely one of the great movies at the LA Film Festival, and I enjoyed myself from beginning to end. I think fans of horror will definitely appreciate what Glenn McQuaid created, and I think that even people that are not usually drawn to the horror genre might find themselves pleasantly surprised.
And if you want to see I Sell the Dead for yourself, it will be released to limited theaters on August 14 and I think that I should be available on IFC on Demand shortly after that..
A recurring theme I've encountered in horror fan conversations is that of the dearth of new ideas in horror movies of the past decade. I've confessed my puzzlement at this in past posts. If folks want to find a wasteland of tired ideas and dead-horse flogging, they'll find it--the underpinnings of genre entertainment revolve around the recycling of easily recognizable themes, concepts and images. I remember thinking, during my mandatory Art Since 1945 course in college, that NEWNESS and NEVER-BEEN-DONE-BEFORE-NESS in art was overrated--sometimes, an idea was previously unexplored because it was a bad one. My love of horror entertainment comes not from a thirst for freshness, but from a love of mist-shrouded castles, vampires with Eastern European accents, and over-the-top (often-fiery) climaxes. The horror-things I enjoy the best take familiar elements and tweak them enough to keep me smiling.
In this spirit, I really, unexpectedly, enthusiastically enjoyed Glenn McQuaid's horror-comedy "I Sell the Dead." It's a 2008 film, it feels like a 2008 film, but its roots are in vintage Euro-Gothics. The movie is set in that tenuous "Old Timey" period that encompasses anything from about 1775 to 1905, roughly at the same time as the classic Hammer entries or the early-60s Bava and Margheriti Gothics. The film is told largely in flashback by grave robber Arthur Blake as he sits awaiting his execution. Imprisoned after a career of digging up bodies to sell with his crusty partner Willie Grimes, Arthur details how the pair went from unearthing human cadavers for physicians to seeking out the undead for sale (at a far higher price-tag) to occult employers.Trying to capsule-pitch this movie and make it sound appealing is almost impossible: "Burke and Hare with ZOMBIES!" fails due to the invocation of the too-popular-right-now Z-word while "lovable Hammer-flavored comedy" is far too weak praise. I think the reason this movie has flown under a lot of people's collective radar is because it's not crude, controversial, or overly-grotesque. In that spirit, I'll try to take a moment and bullet-point out exactly why you should go see this movie and quit yer bitching about Rob Zombie's "Halloween II" (which was loud, good to look at, and not-very-smart, much like several of the girls I've known, and no less entertaining as a result):"I Sell the Dead" has an *awesome* cast. Dominic Monaghan (of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) and Larry Fessenden (whose career has largely consisted of supporting roles in some pretty darned interesting genre films) chew up the scenery in a glee-inducing manner as hapless-then-rich Resurrection Men. Their performances in these quirky roles carry the film and make the weird plot believable. No--show of hands: who here doesn't love Ron Perlman? That's right--no one. He may have made some dodgy script choices over the course of his career, but he's an actor who always appears to be having a great time, and his performance in the role of Arthur's confessor Father Duffy is no exception. Angus Scrimm is cartoon perfection as a cold-hearted physician who underpays Arthur and Willie for their efforts, a character that evokes his iconic Tall Man role in the "Phantasm" series without just reprising it.
I'd have been happy with a standard "grave robbers profiteering via murder" story, but "I Sell the Dead" sets up its own mythology and gave me SO MUCH MORE as a result! Arthur and Willie may be money-hungry, but they're not murderers--they stumble into the lucrative field of trafficking in the undead quite by accident. In fact, it's almost taken for granted that vampires, ghosts and zombies exist in their world. The grave robbers are unnerved by their first encounter with a revenant, but it only inspires them to refocus their business plan because such creatures are rare. Not impossible mind you--just unusual and therefore valuable. The movie takes a turn from the really good to the AWESOME when our protagonists encounter members of rival grave-robbing gang The House of Murphy. Scoundrels, sadists and scum of the vilest sort, these broadly-drawn baddies are one of my more favorite fictional creations of recent memory. The montage in which their history is roughly sketched made me grin THIS BIG.
"I Sell the Dead" keeps its comedy funny while incorporating some effective chills. If creating horror atmosphere is hard, and creating comedy is harder, then striking the proper horror-comedy balance is hardest of all. If we learned anything from "Dead Snow," it's that relying too heavily on the Sam Raimi "splatstick" school just leads to unflattering comparisons to previous movies. "I Sell the Dead" avoids this pitfall by creating a genuinely interesting story populated with likable characters BEFORE setting off on the task of spoofing gothic horrors of the past. Order of operations, people!
Texture, texture, texture! Great costumes, good-looking sets and creepy FX work (even if some of it is CG'ed) combine to produce a fully-realized world where the spooky plot takes place. It's got that "labor of love" feeling, but it's a labor that actually pays off.
Now that I've had a chance to explain why this film should rocket to the top of your must-see list, take a peek at the trailer with the understanding that what you see here is what you're *actually* getting, so you can feel free to get psyched.
I found it pretty spectacular that this year we were treated to such a wide array of films at Toronto After Dark. The closing night film is equally as important as the opening night film, perhaps more so. The closing night film always seems to wrap the experience of the film festival up, and this year was no exception. “I Sell the Dead” is a Period Piece / Horror Film / Buddy Movie all wrapped up. Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden play the buddies-in-question, digging up the graves of selected individuals.
The two are in direct competition with a vicious, and more successful, family of gravediggers known as The House of Murphy. Willie (Fessenden) being the elder of the two admonishes the younger Arthur (Monaghan) for daring to deny the House of Murphy the spoils of their efforts and soon the two are forced to confront the House of Murphy with disastrous results. The twist here, is that the gravediggers dig up bodies that, in some cases, choose not to stay dead, and so decide to “specialise” in the unusual corpse market.
The entire film is told as a tale being told by Arthur to an old priest, played by Ron Perlman. The movie opens with the beheading of the venomous Willie and soon after we are introduced to Arthur, awaiting his own execution. The two had been set up for murder and convicted.
I was pretty sure of the direction the movie would take about twenty minutes in to the film, but that certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. It is almost unfair to mention, but due to the poor sound of the theater, and the distance we were forced to sit from the screen, I found myself very detached from the film. I enjoyed the characters but essentially felt nothing for them. “I Sell The Dead” is a very unique take on the undead, and in a Q&A after the film, Writer/Director Glenn Quaid mention all the different Willie and Arthur stories he wanted to tell. It would be a tont of fun to see more adventures from this unusual pair.
My one regret with the film is that the present-day (at least as far as the film is concerned) sequences seemed to run on for too long. I understand the idea of advancing the plot and all, but I just think they could have spent a little less time doing so and getting right down to the meat of the matter. When it did get rolling though I was thoroughly enjoying this unique fable.
The way the story runs is both dark and gloomy, but also light and comedic. The light moments are such delightfully twisted moments that one can’t help laughing at the unusual circumstances our “heroes” are forced to endure. I am reminded of “Evil Dead II” as far as relating the film to something already established, but without the extreme ham of “Groovy!” et al. The humour is, so to speak, realistic and creates a sense of empathy for the protagonists.
If anything, “I Sell The Dead” almost has the feel of one of the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales but in a much more sinister atmosphere.
I Sell The Dead starts off with the execution of graverobber Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), by beheading. We are then introduced to Willie’s macabre business partner, Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan,) who is awaiting a simular fate in a nearby jail cell. Arthur is then visited by a kindly priest (Ron Pearlman), who wishes to record the bizzare story of the two petty criminals for posterity.
The whole story plays out in flashback sequences was Arthur recounts his life since being apprenticed in the art of graverobbing. The action is supplimented with scenes of Father Duffy asking questions of Arthur and recording his story. The Director, Glenn McQuaid makes good use of animation as bookend scenes to the movie, that reminded me a bit of Creepshow and more recently, Sin City. As this is his debut feature film, I will definately be keeping tabs on him to see what the future holds because he has a lot of potential.
Taking place in 18th century England, I Sell The Dead is beautifully and realistically rendered on film. The graveyard scenes have a foggy dark feel to them that really sets the mood of the film. The story is solid and although it seems to start out a little slow and straighforward, McQuade excells at slowly infusing strange bits of horror as it ramps up to the unexpected finale.
Where to start on the acting? I think I could watch Larry Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan play off of each other for hours…their chemistry is that good! It is always a pleasure to watch Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man from Phantasm) as the deadpan creepy Dr. Vernon Quint. He has a limited part but is quite effective as the villian. Well, more accurate would be as one of the villians, because pretty much the entire cast is less than reputable. Veteran genre actor Ron Pearlman (Hellboy) is suprisingly well cast as Father Duffy, who patiently listens to Arthur’s story and does not even bat an eye as the tale gets stranger and stranger. Overall this is easily the best cast film I have seen this year.
If you are in the Philadelphia area and have a chance to check out the Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinefest ‘09, definately put I Sell The Dead at the head of your “must see” list. It is a fun, throwback movie that reminds me of a modern Hammer Studios film and a must see for fans of horror movies. The potential is definately there for a sequel, which I would love to see. If you, like me, are geographically challenged and unable to make it to the festival, definately watch for a future DVD release.
Now here's something you don't see every day. I didn't really know what to expect going into Glenn McQuaid's I Sell the Dead, but I was pleasantly surprised by its freshness and creativity.
Set in 18th century England, I Sell the Dead is a gleefully macabre horror comedy about two grave robbers (Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden) who come in contact with the living dead, and discover a huge, untapped market in transporting undead corpses.
It's kind of a warped mix of Dawn of the Dead and Death Becomes Her, and after Make-Out with Violence, is yet another 2009 winner that deals with zombies in an unusual way.
There is no release date as of yet, it's still making the festival circuit. It will, however, be showing at the River Run Film Festival in Winston-Salem on April 24 at 11:30 PM, and April 25 at 9:00 PM at The Garage.
For those of you who like your humor a bit dark, I highly recommend this one.
his movie is the reason why I came to the festival, this movie was made by people who know me, who know my humor. The movie is twisted, sick, has very, very dark humor where people don't give a cunt's ass about the dead. So, what do you do for a living? Well, I dig up graves and get corpes out of the coffins and sell them to a mad old doctor of +70 years. He rather have them fresh, than thoroughly rotten. But normal corpes just don't sell good anymore. We need something more special, like vampires. While digging up vampires, why not have some fun and play "Stag!, you're it". Get the stick out of the vampire, let it come alive again, and then stick it right back in again and repeat it.......and then the aliens came.......aaaaaaargh...no not really, but you see one.....dead! And that in the middle ages. How about zombies, actually getting scared and then mad at a woman who puts of her mask?
The movie is a gem in it's gender. The setting is good (middle ages, somewhere), the humor is well done (and like Joost already mentioned, well timed), the genre is probably metioned as horror, but there is not so much blood in it, the makeup is a little bit cheap here and there, but not too sleezy, the acting is well done since the (main) actors play a good character. Even the special effects are nicely done. You can see it is a relatively low budget movie, but it is well done I feel. I think a bravo to the director for this one. A bigger budget would not have made the movie better and that is a good thing.
If you like horror comedies, this movie is definately for you.
I was so exhausted on the final night of the Toronto After Dark festival that I assumed I'd end up napping through half the closing night film, not because I wasn't looking forward to it but because I wouldn't be able to help it. I'm happy to report that this fun, Hammer-esque period horror comedy had just enough charm, gore and bewildering monsters to carry me through the night fully awake.
The setup is easy: a priest (Ron Perlman) comes into Arthur Blake's cell the night before his execution by hanging in order to hear his last confession. Blake (played by Dominic Monaghan, who was one of those adorable hobbits in LoTR) launches into a weird and wonderful tale about his life as a grave robber alongside mentor/partner Willy Grimes (a hilarious Larry Fessenden).
Seems that the unlikely pair were making a decent living stealing corpses for the creepy Dr. Vernon Quint (Phantasm's own Tall Man, Angus Scrimm) until they discovered there was even more to be made in pilfering undead corpses. Why do people need so many fresh bodies that grave robbing is a viable profession with stiff competition in old-timey England? Why are vampire cadavers worth so much dough? Why do Blake and Grimes' rivals (the scary Murphy gang) seem to have zombies in cages? The answer to this and so much more is: who the hell cares?
This film is a fun, humorous and loving homage to the schlocky horror films of yore, and can be enjoyed in absolutely the same way as an old Peter Cushing gem. If you like this stuff, you'll like this playful updated version of the genre.
I was fortunate enough to see the North American premiere of 'I Sell the Dead', last night (Oct 24) at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto, as part of the 'Toronto After Dark' horror film fest, and wanted to share a brief review here. (mostly x-posted from my own LJ)
First: No, Dom did not personally attend. However, several others connected with the film were there - Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm, Brenda Cooney and writer/director Glenn McQuaid.
Having provided that disclaimer: OMG YOU GUYS, SO MUCH FUN.
I can't give too in-depth a review without becoming spoilery, but this was a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable film. Although it's billed as a horror-comedy, it's heavy on the comedy and non-horror-fans can rest assured that its horror qualities are in the 1950s Hammer Horror vein... there was really nothing "scary" about the film and nothing that should upset the squeamish.
The movie unfolds as a series of vignettes, as Arthur (Dom's character) tells his life story in a gallows confession, so we see his character progress in graverobbing from child apprentice to a partner in crime to Willie (Larry Fessenden); meanwhile their adventures get more complicated as they progress from digging up the dead to digging up the... well, let's just say 'undead'. Hijinks ensue. Dom and Larry have great onscreen chemistry - in addition to amusing dialogue, there's also a lot of brilliant physical comedy going on.
It's certainly a B-movie and not high-budget, but I thought the production quality was great, and it's truly astounding what a good job they did in creating period sets and atmosphere in a movie filmed entirely in New York.
From a Dom-fan perspective: first, it was just wonderful to see so much of him! (no, I don't mean nudity, although - arms!! yum.) With the exception of the couple of vignettes where they have younger actors playing Arthur as a child and teen, Dom is in virtually every scene. And as a nice bonus, since we see Arthur at various points in his adult life, we see Dom in various looks in terms of hairstyle, beard, etc. There are a few scenes where he looks young enough to be a dead ringer for his days as Geoffrey Shawcross! But it's not just a matter of lots of pretty to look at; he really gets to do a lot onscreen and it seems like he really made the most of it.
It's a good role, and a good movie, too. The storyline is coherent (unlike some past films - The Purifiers, I'm looking at you), and shawcrossedlove and I were laughing all the way through. And most of the crowd - a sellout crowd of about 800 people, the vast majority of whom were clearly there as 'horror film fest goers' rather than 'Dom fans' - seemed to agree with us, so it's fair to say the movie is enjoyable whether you're biased by fandom or not.
There was a brief Q&A after the movie. They were asked about the future for the movie as far as distribution goes, but all they could say at this point is that they're doing the festival circuit and hoping to sell it - but there were also intriguing hints of a possible sequel!
In closing: Two thumbs up. See it if you get the chance.
On Saturday night, I was lucky to catch a screening of Dublin-born director Glenn McQuaid's new horror-comedy I Sell The Dead, starring Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fassenden (who also served as producer). It's a B-movie pastiche about two 18th century grave-robbers who end up stumbling across some supernatural corpses, incurring the wrath of a rival gang of body-snatchers known as the House of Murphy.
McQuaid obviously has a deep knowledge of and affection for the genre, and he directs with an assured hand, perfectly balancing the laughs, the shlock and the frights, aided in no small part by two game, exuberant performances from his leading men.
ISTD is establishing itself as a firm festival favourite (it was one of the first flicks to sell out in the JDIFF), so here's hoping it gets a wider release later this year. It has the makings of a true cult classic.