I Sell The Dead

I Sell the Dead

 

When I was about seven years old, I saw an old Roger Corman movie called The Raven.  It had Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Hazel Court and a very young Jack Nicholson– all chewing the scenery beautifully. I loved it because it combined all the things I loved as a child: magic, horror, and comedy –all in a vaguely historical setting.  More than just a low budget Roger Corman rip-off of Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven was, for a very young Captain Midnight, what The Wizard of Oz was to normal children.

I Sell the Dead took me back to being seven years old and seeing The Raven for the first time.  It was like rummaging through old boxes and unexpectedly finding a beloved toy that you’d not seen in many, many years.  I bet the creators of  I Sell the Dead ever imagined  their movie about a pair of 19th Century graverobbers would inspire warm cuddly feelings.

 

The movie opens with Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) being led to the chopping block, devouring the scenery as he goes.  The crowd cheers and hurls insults and rocks.  Grimes, much like Popeye, mutters some great dialogue while barking at his audience.  Down goes the blade. CHOP!

We cut to Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), who has arrived at the jail to provide comfort to the infirm and take the confession of Grimes’ partner, Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan).  A brief conversation between the two that gives us an idea of what these characters are all about, Blake begins relating his adventures with Grimes in the “snatcher trade.”

Blake, as a boy, was given to Grimes as an “apprentice,” with the idea that Grimes was to conk young Blake on the head with a shovel and sell him for dissection.   Instead, Grimes has a change of heart and actually does keep Blake as an apprentice. It unfolds that our luckless duo end up under the thumb of the unpleasant Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm), who is blackmailing the pair to ensure that they supply him with the fresh corpses he needs for his research.

The first part of I Sell the Dead plays like a black comedy about grave robbers, which works really well.    Fessenden and Monaghan are fun to watch as they dig their way out of some comically dark situations,  and I barely noticed that I was one third of the way into the movie before it gets to supernatural stuff.   On a routine grave robbery our heroes dig up their first undead.  You might think that would be a bad thing, but as it turns out the “special ones” are worth quite a bit more money.  Trading in the undead is more money, it’s enough that Grimes and Blake begin to specialize in acquiring and selling various flavors of revenants.

As with any lucrative trade, there is competition. Enter the House of Murphy, a trio of ruthless thugs who set the standard in grave robbing,  trafficking in the undead, and evil. The House of Murphy supplies I Sell the Dead with antagonists, horrifying and satisfyingly comical in a dark way.   The struggle Grimes & Blake have with the House of Murphy for a choice bit of  the business is the dominates the plot for the remainder of the movie.  I could give you details, but that would ruin the surprises.

The costumes and sets are darkly Dickensian, and serve well in helping create a creepy, faraway world in which grave robbing and the walking dead are not only believable, but down right essential.     Generally, the monster effects are quite good, as are all the lovely little touches that help make the world of Grimes and Blake complete.  A favorite example,  the scene where our duo share the most horrible sandwich in Irish history. Bread and another piece of bread with something that I can only describe as “ham jam with chunky bits” spread between.  Bleeccch!  That alone is worth the price of admission.

It’s my understanding that I Sell the Dead had a budget of less than a million dollars.  I find that  rather shocking, if true, particularly as it was shot on film, not video.  While I Sell the Dead was obviously not made on a James Cameron-sized budget, it certainly didn’t look as if it was filmed on the cheap.  Epic and uber expensive special effects would not have made this film any better. As far as I’m concerned, whatever budget constraints the film makers had did not show up on the screen.  I Sell the Dead looks and sounds great.

The characters in the movie are over-the-top but so much fun.   The onscreen chemistry between Fessenden and Monaghan is great.  It’s very easy to believe Grimes and Blake are a team.  I love this movie so much, I’d ask it to marry me.

Starring:
Larry Fessenden
Dominic Monaghan
Ron Perlman
Angus Scrimm
Brenda Cooney
Eileen Colgan
Daniel Manche
John Speredakos
Joel Garland

Screenplay:
Glenn McQuaid

Director:
Glenn McQuaid

Four out of five Vincents

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