The eerie English graveyards and foggy 18th century city of I Sell the Dead remind one of the classic Hammer horror films, even while modern genre heavyweights like Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm and Larry Fessenden conjure memories of other screen favorites. It’s a mix that sets the stage for the next great independent horror feature from lifelong genre enthusiast, writer/director Glenn McQuaid.
“It's more of a comedy set in a world we normally associate with the horror genre,” says McQuaid of his grave-robbing romp. “But I'm not a fan of comedies that just end up taking the piss out of horror.”
Currently playing at the Philadelphia Film Festival, CineFest 2009, I Sell the Dead has also played at Stiges and some of the most prestigious film fests worldwide. But that hasn’t stopped McQuaid from getting in touch with the ravenous horror fan base. In the following exclusive interview, he gives us the rundown on his all-star cast, the creepy I Sell the Dead story, the film's special-effects techniques, and of course, I Sell the Dead 2!
Can you talk a bit about the short-film that inspired I Sell the Dead?
The Resurrection Apprentice is a short film I made in 2005. It introduces the characters of Willie Grimes and Arthur Blake. It chronicles Arthur's first night on the job of being a grave robber. My goal was to make a short drama set in a fog-drenched graveyard. I Sell The Dead grew out of a desire to develop the characters into something more substantial.
You've worked with Ti West and Larry Fessenden in the past, in the visual effects department on their films. Were you a special effects guy or did you always know you wanted to write/direct?
Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to write and direct. Visual effects is something I'm quite handy at and it was definitely a way into film for me. Working as an effects artist with Larry and Ti was a way for me to get closer to being on set and seeing how they handled the process of making films. Through Larry I've gotten to know several other film makers like Doug Buck, Graham Reznick and Jim McKenny, it's very inspiring to be a member of the Glass Eye troupe. I was part of the Dublin Youth Theatre in my teens and so I've had a certain amount of experience with actors and stage direction. It's nice to be able to gather all these different experiences and channel them into film making.
So how important are special effects in this film and can you speak to the level of blood or gore?
Oddly enough I'm not terribly impressed with the overuse of visual effects in the film industry today. I hate it when people say "Well we can always fix it in post." To me that's such a cop-out. What's most important to me in a film is character, that's where it all starts for me. I Sell the Dead came about through a desire to tell Willie and Arthur's story. I think if I set out to write and direct an effects-driven movie solely on a desire to show cool things, it would be a disaster. The gore in I Sell the Dead is fairly tame, I had some insane gore gags in mind for the project but, with one thing or another, we dropped them. I'm tremendously proud of the special makeup effect by Brian Spears and Peter Geiner. Their zombie make up is top-notch. I mean, we have zombies running around on a sunny beach with the camera lingering and it's still flawless!
How did you end up assembling a cast of genre vets like Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm, Fessenden, etc.?
Fessenden was and will always be Willie! Without him there would be no I Sell The Dead, and there are many film makers out there that can say the same about him and their first films. The man is an indie legend!
I had worked with Ron Perlam on Fessenden's The Last Winter, where I was the 2nd unit director and visual effects coordinator. When I finished the ISTD script, Larry and I sent it out to Ron, who initially passed, but that didn't stop me. I got some great advice from Ron on character development and took what he said to heart. A few weeks later I sent him another draft which he loved and jumped on. I've such respect for Ron. He knows his way around a set, and I learned a lot from working with him. He was a great collaborator and really trusted me even though I was a first time director. The idea to cast Dom Monaghan came from Peter Phok who is an incredibly ambitious and talented young producer. When Peter came on board he basically stopped us in our tracks and told us to shoot for the stars. We sent the script out and Dom loved it. Dom is a real talent and he rolled his sleeves up and jumped in with the rest of us! Working with Angus was a pleasure. I remember the first time I saw him in Phantasm and he frightened the shite out of me! That movie had a huge effect on me, it changed me! Growing up in Ireland I was suddenly intrigued by the local funeral homes. So for me to work and get to know Angus has been a pleasure. It's funny that he has become such a horror icon because he's the nicest man in the world!
You obviously have a real working knowledge of the genre. Were you always a fan?
Yes, ever since BBC2 ran a series of Saturday-night horror double bills. Hammer, Amcius, Universal and RKO horror were the first films I ever laid eyes on. Horror films have been very important to me throughout my whole life. I never saw horror films as threatening though, to me it was always about escapism, and that's my goal as a filmmaker -- to get people out of their heads for a bit.
I Sell the Dead is a black comedy/horror-comedy of sorts -- how important is that fusion to you as a filmmaker?
I love films like Piranha and The Howling, films with a good mix of laughs and scares. Joe Dante has always been an influence, as have people like Paul Bartel and John Landis, so I suppose it's no surprise I mixed comedy with horror. Though in fairness I don't think ISTD will scare anybody. It's more of a comedy set in a world we normally associate with the horror genre.
What types of black comedy/horror-comedies do you think just don’t work?
I'm not a fan of comedies that just end up taking the piss out of horror. I was never a fan of the Scary Movie franchise; that stuff just seems soulless to me.
Do you have a film that you dream of making? If so, is it I Sell the Dead 2 possibly?
I do eventually want to return to the world of I Sell The Dead, but after I've another few movies under my belt. I've already started the writing but I'm keeping it to myself for a while. It's basically a great big undead heist movie with Grimes and Blake reprising their roles. Movies like Rififi and the first Great Train Robbery are an influence on that story, as is Sexy Beast.
I'm also writing a script that I really want to get off the ground in Ireland, it's something that will really showcase the talent at home -- more of a thriller, but using a lot of genre techniques. I suppose my dream is to keep making movies and making a name for myself with ambitious audience pleasers.
When I Sell the Dead hits DVD, what can we expect in terms of extras, deleted scenes etc.?
We have a great making-of doc and some twisted bits and pieces which should put a smile on the fans faces. Also hoping to get several commentaries on there.
What is your biggest fear?
Zombies and producers!