Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: I SELL THE DEAD (2009)

[Note: until Blogger gets around to restoring HEY, DID YOU EVER SEE THE MOVIE...?, deleted by their robots for "spamming" after I fulfilled their desire that I "monetize" my blog, this review will reside here.]

Irish director Glenn McQuaid’s feature film wants you to know that, despite evidence put forth in movies like The Body Snatcher and The Doctor and the Devils, grave robbing is actually a merry way to make a living. Sure, it’s unpleasant and distasteful to the law, the church and to public opinion in general, but you can make great friends and have smashing adventures!

McQuaid’s tongue-in-cheek horror comedy drops us into the middle of a prison where professional ghoul Willie Grimes (the outstanding Larry Fessenden) has just had his head separated from his body by the guillotine’s blade. His partner, Arthur (Dominic Monaghan, holding his own amidst very colorful character actors), makes his last confession to the hulking but pleasant Father Duffy (Ron Perlman). He reveals how he apprenticed to Grimes under the employ of the blackmailing anatomist Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm!), and the life he and Willie led as two of the best body snatchers of their time. When things don’t go as planned—such as when a corpse turns out to be a vampire, or the body of a circus freak is revealed to be a dead alien—they somehow manage to turn things to their advantage, whether it’s to get out from under the bad Doctor or to get one over on the vicious Murphy Gang. Occasionally, grave-robbing leads to love (or, at least, opportunity), but more often than not seems to be way more trouble than its worth. Which is how the poor rapscallions found themselves in the gaol awaiting the big chop.

There are no words to adequately describe just how much fun I Sell the Dead is. The script is solid, the performances are all perfect and the direction is right on with camerawork and editing just this side of Evil Dead lunacy without ever feeling forced or derivative. While Monaghan is the hero, Fessenden is the star. However you feel about his own movies (like the deliberate Wendigo or simply slow Habit), Fessenden’s performance will likely go down as a favorite of the horror lover once I Sell the Dead receives its deserved wide-release. Like a genre Cassevettes, Fessenden throws himself into everything he undertakes and his own love of the material shines through to the very end. 

Which isn’t to give a short shrift to the supporting actors. Scrimm and Perlman are, it almost goes without saying, tip top and having the time of their lives. As the Murphy gang, John Speredakos is a gleefully murderous Cornelius (so rotten his drug of choice is the powdered bones of the dead!), Alisdair Stewart is a cartoonishly menacing dog-toothed Bulger, and Heather Bullock memorable in her small role as the disfigured Valentine—whose visage is so horrifying that, once revealed, even a zombie screams. The mixing of genres never feels forced, either. In fact, with all of this taking place in Arthur’s narration, the story takes sharp left turns not into parodic comedy but in classic tall tales and Munchausean epics. Zombies and aliens are not out of place in this graveyard yarn, but merely the odd spice in the familiar but still intriguing stew.

Though I Sell the Dead was produced on a limited budget through Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, it never looks cheap. Attention was paid to period detail, both in costume and dialogue, but not at the expense of the mischief. 

I Sell the Dead saw a very limited theatrical release in late 2009 but has been picked up by IFC and Anchor Bay for DVD and On Demand. There’s even a comic book tie-in available through Image, but it falls short of the magic of the movie. Once it’s more widely available, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not seeking it out. 

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