I Sell the Dead (2009)
Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm
Written and Directed by Glenn McQuaid
Distributed by IFC Films
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 19th 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
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