This episodic horror-comedy, which appeared in a handful of art house engagements last year before arriving on home video this March, doesn’t quite hold together for its entire length, but its amiable approach will win you over with its good intentions, which include nostalgic nods to horror classics of yesteryear: atmospheric bits that echo Universal Pictures 1930s’ output are mashed up with Hammer Films-style gore, all of it mixed in with enough modern mayhem to create an amusing off-kilter vibe.
I SELL THE DEAD is structured around imprisoned grave-robber Arthur (Daniel Monaghan), telling the story of his long association with fellow grave-robber Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) to the attentive Father Duffy (Ron Perlman). The result is less a feature-film narrative than a vaudeville-style series of comedy routines, with Arthur and Willie nervously encountering a series of supernatural complications during their illegal late-night activities.
Although the individual episodes are fairly amusing, the loose story structure never works up any narrative steam, leaving I SELL THE DEAD to coast along from one set-piece to the next. At least the script neatly weaves one continuing thread (a rivalry with other grave robbers) into the wrap-around story, tying it all up with a nice surprise twist or two.
The humor is fairly broad, but I SELL THE DEAD is not really a genre spoof. The familiar cliches are served up without contempt or camp, the laughter arising from the characters’ reactions to the vampires and zombies that cross their path. Monaghan and Fessenden make an enjoyable comedy team, their working-class protagonists grumbling and struggling to get by whatever weirdness they dig up. Although the obvious comparison is to Burke and Hare, the characters actually come off more like a pair of bit players in a Hammer horror classic, who somehow managed to wander into starring roles in their own film (a la ROSENKRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD).
The cast and crew of the low-budget production acquit themselveswell. It’s nice to see Angus Scrimm (PHANTASM’s Tall Man) back on screen, and Perlman is always a welcome presence. Atmospheric photography, enhanced by judicious digital work, captures a convincing flavor of old-school British horror (even though filming took place in America). The monster makeup and effects are deliver the requisite zombie attacks and severed heads with gruesome glee – and with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Definitely worth a rental, especially for fans seeking a good-natured tribute to old-fashioned horror.
I SELL THE DEAD (2009). Written and directed by Glen McQuaid. Cast: Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm, John Speredakos, Eileen Colgan, Brenda Cooney.