“I Sell the Dead” – 2009 Slamdance Film Festival Review

With a sub-million dollar budget, frames of comic book art and a cast full of character actors, the creators of “I Sell the Dead” seem to be gunning for a “cult classic” tag. This may very well happen thanks to the film’s stellar cinematography and actors’ enthusiastic performances.

The film centers around the misadventures of professional body snatchers Willis Grimes (B-movie producer/actor Larry Fessenden) and Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), who begin to steal supernatural bodies at the behest of a sinister doctor (Angus Scrimm, best known as the Tall Man from “Phantasm”). Grimes is executed for his crimes in the opening of the movie and Blake has only hours before suffering the same fate, although he’s forced to undergo a pre-execution interview with a coarse-talking priest (Ron Perlman).

Director Glenn McQuaid adapted the idea from his short “The Resurrection Apprentice,” which showed at the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival. The short was included in one of many vignettes culled from Blake’s colorful tales that he regales the priest. In fact, much of the movie is shown by flashback—and sometimes flashbacks within those flashbacks. Because of this, the story can feel little anecdotal, but the ghoulishly fantastic scenarios the hapless duo fall into keep the film fun.

Some of the situations teeter on the edge of ridiculousness, but the film is saved by the actors, who all tear into their roles with aplomb. The brightest star in the excellent cast is Fessenden, who tears into his role with the same spirit of scene-stealing minor characters (the festival awarded Fessenden a Special Jury Mention for his efforts). His natural chemistry with “Lord of the Rings”/”Lost” veteran Monaghan is a pleasure to experience. Also great is the House of Murphy, a murderous gang of competing gravediggers consisting of a colorful cast of ruffians who dog the duo at every step.

The atmosphere of the movie is what impresses most. McQuaid made his modest sub-million dollar budget work. He shot the film entirely in New York with some of the more rustic scenes taking place on Staten Island. However, there isn’t a moment in the movie that looks anything less than 18th century Ireland.

For its sheer entertainment value, it’s clear that “I Sell the Dead” was a labor of love for McQuaid and company. The movie is a thoroughly enjoyable, dark slice of comedic fantasy horror that more than deserves to become a cult classic.

Accompanying short film: “A Little Mouth to Feed”

Also campy, but darker than the feature, the preceding short “A Little Mouth to Feed” was a Southern Gothic-style tale of a mother who cuts a deal with the devil to get pregnant. The short was made by moderators from popular online filmmaking forum DVXuser.com. Clearly the director had an eye to impress his fellow forum-goers; the film felt more like a showcase for stylistic flourishes than an actual narrative. The concept, though, was well thought out, the acting was decent and it was a nice companion piece to “I Sell the Dead.”