If Sam Raimi directed a film for Hammer Studios, odds are it would look and feel a lot like director Glenn McQuaid's impressive directorial debut, I Sell the Dead. A Creepshow-flavored, period horror comedy with comic-book style to spare, it's a rare treat that serves up laughs and chills in equal measure, and manages the rare feat of cramming just about...read more
If Sam Raimi directed a film for Hammer Studios, odds are it would look and feel a lot like director Glenn McQuaid's impressive directorial debut, I Sell the Dead. A Creepshow-flavored, period horror comedy with comic-book style to spare, it's a rare treat that serves up laughs and chills in equal measure, and manages the rare feat of cramming just about every genre imaginable into its brisk 85 minutes, without ever feeling bloated or overbearing. From the playful score to eerie, brumous nightscapes (fog juice alone appears to have comprised half of the film's budget), I Sell the Dead always entertains and never takes itself too seriously. Fast-paced, funny, and featuring solid performances by a talented cast, it's the kind of rare gem that isn't likely to come to a theater near you (if you live outside of New York or Los Angeles), but could well gain a cult following down the road thanks to positive word of mouth.
Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) and Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) are 19th century grave robbers. When Arthur was just a young boy, Willie took him under his wing and taught him the tricks of the trade. After years of nabbing corpses for the malevolent Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm), they graduated to into the resurrection trade, swiping everything from demonic vampires to alien corpses, and earning more than they ever would have snatching typical corpses. But advancing in the world of ghouls doesn't come without its fair share of risks, and before long Willie and Arthur have caught the attentions of the House of Murphy, a fiendish collection of Irish ghouls led by the dreaded Samuel Murphy (aka Sam the Spider), who uses a three-clawed hook to gouge out his victim's eyes and tongue simultaneously. Unfortunately, it appears that Willie and Arthur's time has finally run out; arrested after police follow a trail of body parts straight to their doorsteps and sentenced to death by guillotine, Willie is swiftly executed. Arthur is set to meet the same fate the following morning, but before he does he will spend his last night alive making a full confession to the curious Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) in exchange for a steady flow of whisky. The emptier the bottle gets, the more colorful Arthur's tales become.
By using Arthur's interviews with Father Duffy as a framing device, McQuaid gradually draws us into a world where the occult lurks just beneath the grimy veneer of reality. It's a smart move, too, because it gives us the chance to get acquainted with the characters and the setting before the more fantastical elements of the story are introduced. Watching Perlman ham it up as the occult-obsessed Irish priest is just the kind of thing fans of the Hellboy star live for, and his performance is perfectly complimented by Monaghan's flippant body snatcher. Meanwhile, out in the graveyard, Fessenden and Monaghan's rapport is equally entertaining -- their moonlit discussion about a new invention called the "sandwich" and their attempt at capturing a particularly troublesome vampire are a few of the film's comic highlights.
Even before I Sell the Dead shifts into supernatural mode, McQuaid's distinct visual style (punctuated by comic-book freeze frames and clever transitions) and Richard Lopez's atmospheric cinematography are more than enough to keep our eyes glued to the screen. It's rare that a first-time director succeeds in creating a world this fully realized, but from the costumes to the settings, McQuaid gets just about everything right. I Sell the Dead is an exciting debut and a giddy love letter to the genre (horror fans will have a great time noticing nods to such favorites as The Evil Dead and Re-Animator) that signals an exciting new talent in the realm of fantastical cinema.
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