"I Sell the Dead" Review - A Cheap but Meaty Product

Updated on July 8, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Willie Grimes has been sentenced to death. He has been charged with murder and grave robbery and his execution will be a beheading by guillotine, carried out in the public square of a nameless Scottish village.

After receiving the contempt of all the townies, the head of poor Grimes (Larry Fessenden) ends up in a basket.

His partner in crime, Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan), awaits the same fate. Resigned, Blake mocks the way the authorities came to the conclusion that both were guilty of murder: They both had a trail of human body pieces ending in the door of their respective houses. It's evident that they have been framed.

Blake reaffirms his innocence to Father Duffy (Ron Perlman), who is there to hear his last words and get a testimony that can serve as a cautionary tale for future wannabe criminals. Without any complex, Blake admits to being a grave robber. But the murder charge? Bogus.

Father Duffy, interested in Blake's story, asks him to tell him everything about his life as a serious grave robber along with Willie Grimes. Blake, with absolutely nothing to lose, plays along.

This is how I Sell the Dead starts its flashback structure (there are even flashbacks within flashbacks!). Blake structures his story in several key moments of his life in which, thanks to his "job", he ran into various supernatural events.

After losing his father at an early age, Blake was forced to look for a way to support his family. Quickly, Willie Grimes introduced him to the business of stealing corpses. From knowing when to enter cemeteries for a freshly buried body, to how to steal a corpse in the middle of a wake, the pair quickly became a "success" in their limited and macabre niche.

Blake proceeds by telling three fundamental stories, all framed in two main antagonists: Doctor Quint (Angus Scrimm), which has them practically enslaved under the blackmail to send them to jail if they don't keep sending them corpses regularly and House Murphy, a rival gang of grave robbers with a much darker and violent approach.

In the first story, Blake and Grimes are sent to retrieve a corpse buried in a crossroad. In doing so, both are surprised to see a garlic collar and a wooden stake in the corpse. After discovering that when removing the stake the corpse returned to life in a violent manner, both decide to send the vampire/zombie (?) as a trap to Quint. The plan works.

In the second story, Blake has the first encounter with Cornelius (John Speredakos), the oldest son of the Murphys. Both dispute a corpse of what clearly looks like an alien.

In the third and longer story, Blake tells how, along with apprentice Fanny Briers (Brenda Cooney) and Grimes, he decided to find some crated shipments containing the undead that had been lost in a shipwreck and rumored to be on a nearby island. The catch? House Murphy has already been hired to retrieve the caged zombies.

The best aspect of I Sell the Dead is, by far, its performances. Dominic Monaghan offers a refreshing and charismatic frankness. Larry Fessenden is a perfect scoundrel/antihero. Ron Perlman creates an imposing and mysterious character. The film also has a special apparition by Angus Scrimm (you know, the tall man in Phantasm), which turns out to be a great antagonist.

When you watch I Sell the Dead you'll notice it suffers from a fairly conservative direction. No wonder some shots, like the overhead one in the alien sequence, came from Dominic Monaghan's suggestion. But don't get it twisted: As a debut, Glenn McQuaid does more than praiseworthy work, but his great script ends up being superior to the final directed product.

It's not all McQuaid's fault. With a budget of just $450,000, and with appearances by recognizable actors such as Monaghan, Perlman, and Scrimm, the director rather did wonders with what little he had.

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The special effects are scarce but decent, considering the budget. There is a good work of makeup, a great art production, and a quite forgettable CGI.

But, certainly, there are very extensive passages in the film in which McQuaid mainly focuses on the dialogue. Dialogue that doesn't suck but is far from outstanding to be able to carry the entire movie.

However, the plot ties all the loose ends, and those callbacks and resolutions give the film a great sense of achievement. That revelation about Father Duffy being the Murphy patriarch gives direction to the whole thing, achieving a narrative full circle instead of a simple compendium of isolated stories.

The I Sell the Dead film is a nice humble contribution to the genre. Better written and acted than directed, this is a movie that displays a good catalog of characters and situations.

Zombie Movie Details

Title: I Sell the Dead

Release Year: 2008

Director(s): Glenn McQuaid

Writer(s): Glenn McQuaid, Keti Stamo

Actors: Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden, a.o.

Runtime: 1 hour 25 minutes

Language: English

3 stars for I Sell the Dead

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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