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Prior to his execution for grave robbing and murder, Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) is paid a visit by Father Francis Duffy (Ron Perlman). Duffy has been given the duty of recording Arthur's last words and the truth about his crimes. Arthur denies murder, but admits to grave robbing. Arthur then chronicles his childhood involvement with professional body snatcher Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) to Duffy, as well as their subsequent adventures, rivals and even Arthur's brief relationship with Fanny Bryers (Brenda Cooney).
I knew next to nothing about I SELL THE DEAD, the feature film directorial debut for Irishman Glenn McQuaid. Other than the fact that Ron Perlman and genre fave Angus Scrimm were involved, I went in with no preconceptions on this film. An expansion of a short previously directed and written by McQuaid called THE RESURRECTION APPRENTICE, this little horror-comedy had me sold the moment I hit 'Play'. It's a wonder how McQuaid was able to put together a film like this on such a meager budget (the amount of which he hasn't revealed).
Almost immediately, the film evoked a feeling of the old Hammer horror films and EC Comics with its foggy surroundings, as well as a nod to CREEPSHOW with the film's transitions. Even before that, you get the sense of just how the absurdist humour of the film works. From Duffy kicking a downed prisoner who recognizes him as a holy man, to Willie playing with a vampire by repeatedly removing and replacing its wooden stake, it's obvious the film doesn't take itself too seriously. At the same time, it's still a great looker, thanks to the above-mentioned fog, and the great costumes.
You can't go anywhere with the film without talking about the two leads, Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden, and their superb chemistry together. The duo play off each other extremely well, and their banter really makes you feel as if they've known each other their entire lives. That's not to say that everyone else isn't up to par. Perlman is great as Father Duffy, being less-than-holy in a number of ways and loving it. Angus Scrimm does what he does best as the insane anatomist Dr. Quint, even though he's not tormenting Michael Baldwin in this film. From his getup, Scrimm should play a horror version of Ebenezer Scrooge. That would kick serious ass.
The film gets held up on a few minor things, such as some effects that don't quite work (you could tell which shots are green screen, along with instances of fog that don't quite match up), but the main problem is the choice of telling the film through flashbacks. You could easily remove a sequence or mix some of them up and things wouldn't seem out of place. Plus, things don't go beyond the central theme of grave robbing. And the film's ending, while fun, feels like the end of an act in a story rather than a conclusion.
These missteps don't detract from the enjoyment of the film, however, which itself is the breath of fresh air that's been lacking in horror films lately. Again, you have to marvel at just how well McQuaid was able to pull this off on such a small budget. Here's hoping that McQuaid continues the story of Arthur and Willie, if only to have Monaghan and Fessenden team up again.
Video: Hitting Blu-Ray with a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer (the back of the case mistakenly lists it as 1.78:1), I SELL THE DEAD looks damn good. Retaining the film's grain, the transfer features great detail and colour that despite going through some post-production alterations, looks superb. There's a point where scenes from THE RESURRECTION APPRENTICE are integrated into the film, and there's a drastic increase in picture noise, but it's not a big deal.
Audio: First up is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which has you appreciating the score by Joshua Tidsbury and Jim Bruening even more. I absolutely loved it. Dialogue is crisp and clear while focused on the centre channels, while the music and ambient effects are spread nicely around it. There's also a lossy PCM English 2.0 Stereo track, but it's a no-brainer as to which track is superior.
We get two commentaries for this bad boy! First is a solo commentary with director/writer/editor Glenn McQuaid, who provides an engaging and fact-filled track. McQuaid touches on his inspirations for the film, his technique for 'saving his ass' in the editing room with those CREEPSHOW transitions, as well as admiring his cast (and rightly so). Following that track, we get a commentary with actors Larry Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan. Unlike the informative and relatively serious tone of McQuaid, this commentary is basically your laugh track. The duo poke fun at themselves and each other, share stories about the shoot, and generally goof off. Enjoyable, but not one to rely on for in-depth information.
Next is an hour-long documentary on the making of the film entitled Making 'I Sell The Dead'. It's very loose, but overflowing with on-set footage and talking heads. It's also quite thorough, but at the same time makes the whole filmmaking process fun work. You also get allusions to the commentary track in here, Ron Perlman's words of wisdom on doing indie films, and the makeup effects crew who love their zombies.
Last up is a 13-minute featurette on the film's CG effects. 'I Sell The Dead' - The Visual Effects looks at key sequences like the vampire, a RE-ANIMATOR style talking head and a thrown knife. While they aren't the greatest CG effects, this piece is still enjoyable to watch and listen to (and not just because I'm a CG Artist myself).
Overall, it would've been nice if the various trailers for the film were included on the set (dammit!), but this is still quite the package for a film such as this. I do object to the migration of the faux clasps that annoyed the sh*t out of me on DVD to Blu-Ray. At least it's more obvious with the Blu-Ray cases, though.
A fun and refreshing horror-comedy that manages to hold together under a minuscule budget, I SELL THE DEAD is one that shouldn't be missed. Combining a great cast (including a spectacular duo of anti-heroes), a great atmosphere and wonderful music, this is one for the album. Add to that a great set of extras and audio/video transfers, and you have an equally impressive Blu-Ray disc.