JUNE 26, 2009
Heading into Westwood again (ugh), I was a bit weary of I Sell The Dead. Not that it sounded bad or anything, but because I took a quick look at director Glenn McQuaid’s filmography on IMDb, and discovered that it was almost guaranteed to be scarier than anything in the film itself: The Off Season, Trigger Man, etc. But he just worked effects on those films; I Sell The Dead is his directorial debut, based on his own script. I tried to keep that in mind as I sat down to watch the film, and to my happy surprise, my fears were mostly unwarranted: this movie's quite fun.
For starters, the tone is definitely that of old EC Comics (I just picked up "The 10 Cent Plague", which details the efforts to censor/outlaw EC's and other comics in the 50s, can’t wait to read it), something we don’t get often enough. Maybe folks are just too afraid to be compared to Creepshow, but this tale of a pair of graverobbers is a perfect fit for the stylized and "funny/scary" feel of Romero's film. McQuaid tackles the inevitable comparisons head on, though, with some animated transitions and combined “overlay” style shots. But there’s nothing wrong with evoking the style of a terrific movie, and there’s no reason why the EC style should be limited to one film (one from over 25 years ago at that). Let’s bring it back!
I also dug the engaging performances by Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden as Arthur and Willie, our heroes. Monaghan is in slightly familiar territory; some of his dialogue and character actions brings Charlie Pace to mind, but he’s having a lot of fun, and as long as he's starring in a film, he is not romancing my beloved Evangeline Lilly, so I am all for him starring in more films. Plus, his character explains sandwiches at one point, forever endearing the character to me. Fessenden is even better though. It’s rare to see him in such a large role (Habit I think is the only one he may have had more screen time, and that’s just because the movie’s longer), and he is a riot, owning most of the film’s best moments. His unconventional appearance limits the type of roles he can take, but it’s good to know that when the need arises, he can do more than pop up in minor roles.
It’s also impressive on a technical level. The budget surely wasn’t too high, but they really sell the “ye olden tymes” setting with the sets and exterior locations (graveyards, mostly). So I was amazed to discover that the entire film was shot in New York, including parts of Manhattan. It takes place in some unspecified time in the past (let’s say the late 1700s), so you’d suspect maybe some isolated European villa served as the primary shooting location, but nope. Everything’s within driving distance of the Empire State building. Excellent work. The opening credits are also incredible; it’s one of the best of its type I have seen in ages.
The only area that could have used some work is in the story’s structure. It feels too episodic at times, without any real driving force heading toward the film’s conclusion. For example, at one point they dig up the grave of what turns out to be an alien, and you think that the movie is suddenly going to kick it up a notch and open up this large conspiracy of grave robbing or something, but once the particular matter is dealt with, it’s never mentioned again. McQuaid admits that the film started off as an anthology (before he decided to focus on the Monaghan and Fessenden characters), but it often still feels that way. There are basically four stories in the film of about 20 minutes or so each, plus a wraparound with Monaghan telling the story (stories) to Ron Perlman. And each story works on its own, but when combined it feels a bit like watching four episodes of a TV show back to back, rather than a typical cinematic feature. And again, the film is still plenty entertaining, but I just wish that the story was as impressive as its cast and technical aspects.
Image Comics will be putting out a one-shot comic that tells the film’s story (with some changes; it was based on an earlier draft of the script, presumably one without budgetary limitations factored in) this August, and I can’t wait to get it. The art in the film (and on the film’s awesome poster) is quite good, and I suspect that the story may even be more enjoyable in graphic form. It would certainly make an excellent monthly series, with Arthur and Willie continually discovering different monsters (along with the alien, the movie also has vampires, zombies, and ghouls), grave-robbing rivals, etc. Fans of "The Goon" or Ben Templesmith’s "Wormwood" series would definitely dig it.
What say you?