Comedy and horror are an often ungainly mixture. The easy way out is to (subtly) satirize or (broadly) spoof the conventions and clichés of the horror genre, and the results are ... generally not all that impressive. (For every one Shaun of the Dead, there are at least three Stan Helsing(s).) But what's a lot more interesting is when a group of filmmakers can take a macabre tale of murder and mayhem ... and somehow still find the sunny absurdity of all those gruesome situations. Even more impressive is when they're able to translate all the terrors and the giggles onto the screen in one fun little package.
Obviously I believe Glenn McQuaid's I Sell the Dead covers those bases nicely -- otherwise I wouldn't have bothered with all that set-up.
We open in a grungy 19th century prison, and before the viewer even realizes that they're being prepared for a "flashback story," they're introduced to an Irish priest (Ron Perlman) and a convicted grave-robber (Dominic Monaghan) who is destined for the hangman's noose only a few hours. In an effort to alleviate his guilt, the affable Arthur Blake begins spinning his yarns for his "captive" audience. And they're all some pretty grossly amusing stories.
Blake and his sleazy partner Grimes (Larry Fessenden) steal corpses, you see, and their business is more or less booming. Or it would be if not for the nauseating Murphy clan (the only real competition in the grave-robbing business, but a powerful one) and an ever-escalating series of mishaps involving dead bodies ... and just a few not-so-dead bodies as well. Yep, when it's not a horror tale, a buddy comedy, or a flashback-happy love letter to Sam Raimi, I Sell the Dead also deals with ... well, let's just say "the undead," and that way we're not spoiling any surprises.
And speaking of surprises, let's throw some praise towards first-timer Glenn McQuaid and his hardworking crew. While it's plainly evident that I Sell the Dead is a relatively low-budget affair, the flick is also a testament to simple but important things like snappy dialogue, narrative curve balls, clever story structure, and plain old fashioned fun. And even with that relatively low budget, I Sell the Dead still looks and sounds (and almost smells) a lot better than it probably ought to.
Genre fans will no doubt delight in the presence of genre lord Ron Perlman, and (as usual) Dominic Monaghan makes for an effortlessly affable anti-hero. Also quite fun are Larry Fessenden (as the rather scummy grave-robber Grimes) and Angus Scrimm as a daunting doctor. Bonus points for a few truly funny bits and some slick effects work, but the best parts of I Sell the Dead come in the script, the comfortably clever flashback structure, and some really amusing interplay between Monghan and Fessenden.
Plus I Sell the Dead capably delivers a half-dozen sub-genres in less than 88 minutes. That's just plain old fun, regardless of how much the flick cost to produce.
MPI Home Video does well by this strong little indie. Available on DVD or blu-ray (cool!), the flick is supplemented by two very different audio commentaries. The first, with writer/director Glenn McQuaid, is personable and informative, but the second, with co-stars Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden is just pretty damn funny. (Anyone who's been through the Lord of the Rings commentaries knows that Monaghan is a hoot, and Mr. Fessenden -- a multi-talented filmmaker in his own right -- trades banter with the Brit to fine effect.) Also included is a very solid hour-long making-of documentary and a shorter featurette on the film's special effects.
All that and the blu-ray only cost me $16!