Film Review: I Sell the Dead

Produced by co-star and indie legend Larry Fessenden, Glenn McQuaid's micro-budgeted debut is a jauntily gothic period spook story about a pair of drunken graverobbers who find that the undead fetch much better prices.

One would think that being a graverobber was a hard enough career. But in writer-director Glenn McQuaid's bumptious horror comedy I Sell the Dead, it's a one-way ticket to indentured servitude and terrifying encounters with the undead. Set in a particularly fog-shrouded corner of 19th-century Ireland, the film is a buddy story about a pair of no-luck graverobbers, crusty old drunk Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden, in fully whiskered, slovenly oaf mode) and impish joker Arthur Blake (a particularly puckish Dominic Monaghan), who discover that successfully stealing corpses is the least of their concerns. The result is smart, gruesome, and inventive enough to more than please niche genre fans who are likely to spread the word to fellow appreciators of gallows humor.

The story is told mostly in flashback, starting with Grimes getting guillotined and Blake—in his cell awaiting similar treatment—being interrogated by one Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), who shows up late at night with a bottle of hooch, a notebook, and a great interest in the occult. Grimes and Blake had been stealing corpses by any means necessary, going so far as to purloin fresh ones right out of a wake, to sate the ghoulish greed of Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm, of Phantasm infamy), who blackmails them into doing their work for free.

After one particularly chilling late-night encounter with a pseudo-corpse (it was wearing a necklace of garlic for a reason), Grimes and Blake discover there's better money to be made in trafficking the not-quite-dead. Fortunately for these two, their part of Ireland is positively lousy with such creatures. But as their fortunes improve, Grimes and Blake run afoul of a rival graverobbing gang, the House of Murphy, who take the business much more seriously than the whiskey-sodden, happy-go-lucky protagonists.

As the stakes ramp up in the increasingly surreal story he's telling, so does the mood in Grimes' candle-lit cell darken. But though the tone occasionally inches toward the serious, McQuaid never lets go of the deadpan Gaelic wit that makes the film such so effortlessly enjoyable.

Produced under Fessenden's indie horror flick imprint Scareflix, I Sell the Dead makes the most of its micro-sized budget, with various New York area settings filling in for Eire nicely enough. The film's lack of money becomes more apparent in the sometimes chintzy monster makeup, but the filmmakers turn that to their advantage by playing up the comedic aspect of these shambolic creatures of the night. Jeff Grace, a former assistant to Howard Shore, provided the circus-styled music, which adds an extra layer of good-natured bounce to the already goofy proceedings.