I Sell The Dead Review (2008)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

I Sell The Dead Review (2008)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on August 28th, 2018 | Movie Review | Comedy, Back from the Dead, Drama, Zombie Comedy

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It’s about grave-robbers who expand their business to snatching the undead before being brought to justice.

I Sell The Dead was directed by Jeremiah KippZeke DunnNicole Real  and  Glenn Mcquaid;  and stars Dominic Monaghan (from Pet), Larry Fessenden (from The Ranger) and Ron Perlman (from 13 Sins).

Never Trust A Corpse

I Sell The Dead Review

The Niche of Period Fiction

Grave-robbing has been a staple of horror fiction since, well, at least Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. So it’s surprising that the trade of body-snatching, as practiced in the 18th and 19th century, doesn’t come up more often. That’s the niche opportunity explored in I Sell The Dead, a title which sounds more pulpy than it actually is.

Make no mistake, digging up bodies to sell on the black market (mostly used for medical research) was once a profitable business a couple hundred years ago, and still alarmingly happens (though far less often) to this day. I Sell The Dead starts with this premise, and then veers off into a fantasy direction that’s too tantalizing to pass up.

A Strong Opening Hand...

The movie is composed into a series of mini-episodes, like anthology stories. The framing device is that Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) has been arrested and sentenced to execution for grave-robbing, while pouring out his confession to Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), a priest obtaining his story for prosperity. Seeing those two in the cast alone makes this film catnip already. Blake’s partners in the corpse-stealing fun include Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), Fanny (Brenda Cooney), and a few fences and unscrupulous doctors, chief among them Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm).

Blake tells the story of how he got into this illicit business in the first place, and his subsequent adventures in it, which gives us our episodic stories. The twist is that while pawning the dead, Blake and his partners in crime stumble upon the undead - zombies, vampires, and other stock horror boogies. But wait a minute, if ordinary dead humans sell for a good profit, the undead, it turns out, sell for even more! Thus the band of body-snatchers turn supernatural vigilantes, chasing down rumors of the restless buried. They’re frustrated by various non-undead antagonists as well, especially House Murphy, a competing band of body snatchers.

Of course, it’s a bit more challenging to snatch a body that fights back or even gets up and runs away, and the riskier side of this business leads to all sorts of fun complications. Instead of a straight horror movie, it’s played out as a whimsical comedy, almost something that would have attracted Tim Burton if his most inspired days weren’t long behind him.

...But What A Weak Finish

Now, the backstory behind the making of I Sell The Dead makes no claim to trying for anything but a feature film, and yet there’s clues everywhere that they intended for this to be a series, possibly for cable or streaming original. There’s the comic-book style opening credits, the mini-episodes of the stories, and the framing device. And if this started as a pitch or pilot for a series that never got made, and then got extended to a film when that offer fell through, it would explain the stunted production.

The running time is a brief 85 minutes. At that, it feels rushed, considering it has to establish so much foundation before we get to the fun part of mercenary zombie-hunters chasing their targets around graveyards by moonlight. Then, the stories fail to build up much momentum before they’re over. There’s parts that just don’t fit ( Communion called: It wants its alien back.), there’s characters built up and then discarded (Fanny, we hardly knew ye!), and the production is half-baked. There’s a twist or two at the end, even leaving a sequel hook which smells just like a series pilot hook.

As a final argument for a disguised pilot, the whole movie comes off as TV-friendly. There’s next to no gore or scares here, but plenty of wacky humor that would fit perfectly in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, or something like Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. Given the subject, the comedy is too careful, staying on the fluffy side instead of being the dark farce it could be. It’s downright depressing to see such a promising concept fired off so half-assedly, particularly considering the golden cast this production lucked into - what, did they think Angus Scrimm just grows on trees?

Still A Fun Midnight Snack!

All shortcomings aside, this movie has too much delicious popcorn in it to pass up. At least it’s short, even described as “snack food for horror hobbyists” in a Village Voice review, which nails it. After seeing it, chances are you, too, will ache and pine for a more fully-realized version of this premise, because this jewel of a concept could go all kinds of interesting places. As it is, it’s rushed out of bed at midnight before it has a chance to get its boots on, possibly excused by the troubled shooting schedule since the main cast was in demand on other projects.

Even though it’s played for laughs, the film does a great job of setting the period and atmosphere. It’s authentically Dickens-era in the costumes and set designs, while the graveyards are sufficiently spooky and the undead make-up is adequately sepulchral. It was a darling of the film festival circuit, naturally. It is better to have wasted a good potential than to have no potential to start with. We will give this a decent enough rating to say it’s worth your time to see it, but still we are all the more anguished for what could have been.

And I DEMAND an explanation for that alien!

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