You think there are no new ideas in the zombie genre? Well tell me how many historically based comedies about two shiftless grave robbers who specialize in the undead you can name? The number, as far as I know, is one, and that one is I Sell the Dead, a charming little tale from first time director Glenn McQuaid. And, to be fair, it isnâ€™t really a zombie movie. But it is a movie with zombies in it (as well as a vampire, some undefined weirdness and one thing I canâ€™t reveal without ruining one of the movieâ€™s best scenes) and hey, thatâ€™s enough to qualify it for inclusion.
Set sometime in the 18th century, the story is told in flashback. On the eve of his execution, grave robber Arthur Blake recounts the highlights of his career in the â€œresurrection trade,â€ as he calls it, to a strange priest. From his first grave robbing to his last job, Blake expounds on the vagaries of digging up corpses — some quite lively — for cash. Each story is essentially self contained, yet a clear narrative thread runs through and connects them all. Itâ€™s a nice mechanism that allows the film to explore a much wider swathe of story than would have been possible with a more straightforward tale and it keeps things moving along at a consistently brisk pace.
One of the film's zombies
Itâ€™s the last, climactic vignette that introduces the clear-cut zombies of the film. In attempting to recover two of them, the luckless heroes clash with a rival gang, with fairly disastrous and generally humorous results all around. The zombies look good, with an exaggerated, almost cartoonish design and are quite expressive for zombies â€“ especially the one who, while caged, seems to display a bit of affection for both the heroes. The look of the zombies fits well with the obvious influence of old-school, EC-style horror comics. The other main influences here seem to be the British horror of Hammer and Amicus â€“ the period setting, fog-drenched moors and other atmospheric clues nod towards those classics. Itâ€™s a nice mix and it works well.
The script is good and the funny bits are actually funny. The leads â€“ Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden â€“ are fine actors and display a good on-screen charisma. Two familiar genre vets â€“ Ron Perlman and Angus Scrimm â€“ do a nice job in supporting roles as well. And the twists of the ending, while not completely unexpected, work well and leave things open for a sequel â€“ or even a series (the format would work very wellâ€¦). All in all, a pleasant, light horror comedy thatâ€™s a great way to get a zombie fix without treading much â€“ if any â€“ familiar ground.
I Sell the Dead/US/2008