Round and Shiny: A Horror Spoof You Just Might Dig
My abiding love of horror movies is no secret. This month, I direct my fellow devotees of darkness to the indie picture I Sell the Dead, which does justice to its straightforward title (no one seeking Kate Hudson rom-coms, I'd wager, will rent it by mistake).
It is indeed a tale of grave-robbers seeking a big score. But this inventive, atmospheric little period piece unearths considerable humor as well as corpses, adopting a tongue-in-cheek tone that owes much to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead franchise, Roger Corman's psychedelic '60s spookfests and the more playful output of U.K. shudder factories Hammer Films and Amicus Productions.
The Victorian-era tale is recounted in flashback by confessed body snatcher and "ghoul" Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan, best known recently as Charlie on TV's Lost), who prepares to follow his partner, Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden, also the film's producer), to the guillotine. Shackled in his dreary cell, he relates his adventures in the trade to a mysterious priest (Ron Perlman) allegedly seeking Arthur's mea culpa.
As the retrospective story unfolds, Arthur and Willie quickly graduate from purloining the run-of-the-mill deceased to more lucrative wares, namely the undead and other "specialty" stiffs. Thus their cargo frequently springs to life baring fangs and claws, making their work considerably more challenging.
Often framing his scenes with comic-book graphics, Irish writer/director/editor Glenn McQuaid moves the story along with great economy — while deftly balancing chills, gore and laughs — in his assured feature directorial debut. The performances sparkle; Fessenden adds zesty good humor to an unsavory role, Monaghan displays hilarious timing, and Angus Scrimm (beloved by horror fans as the villainous Tall Man in Phantasm) delights as a malevolent, fiddle-wielding surgeon. But McQuaid's greatest invention is the House of Murphy, a mythic clan of rival grave-pillagers populated by one delightfully disturbing character after another.
This inventive, atmospheric little period piece unearths considerable humor as well as corpses.
The filmmakers' low-budget resourcefulness, meanwhile, is almost as inspired as their flights of filmic imagination (in fact, limited funds didn't stop the flick's Richard Lopez from winning the 2009 Slamdance Kodak Vision Award for Best Cinematography). Using Staten Island locations and a committed, practically volunteer crew, McQuaid, Fessenden and their loyal company remind us that where horror is concerned, indie is where the really good bodies are buried.