Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Sell the Dead (2009)

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!

Available from Amazon!

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