Those of you who know me, know that every so often I have movie nights with a couple of friends. And on those movie nights, we usually watch horror flicks. Any kind. They could be quirky, weird, craptastic, good, alarming, horrifying, unintentionally funny, or any combination thereof. Often, my cinematic contributions to the evening’s festivities are the result of dredging up the weirdest of the Netflix recommendations that come my way. Sometimes, they defy all logic as to what I’ve watched or what data they’ve mined that would bring certain titles to my notice. I Sell the Dead is one of those titles.
Not all that surprisingly, I Sell the Dead is the story of a graverobber, and takes place in a time and place that is only established by its lack of cars, abundance of thatched rooftops and predilection for guillotining the unfortunately sentenced. So…the 18th…ish? century? Maybe? In…America? Perhaps? Or maybe France. Or England. Which is kind of an impressive feat, since the movie was largely shot on Staten Island, which up until now has been known for both a giant mall and a giant landfill. Opponents of rampant consumerism would ask what’s the difference.
Fun fact: Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill was once not only the world’s largest landfill, but also the world’s largest man-made structure. (Think about that for a while.) Thankfully, it stopped receiving garbage in 2001 and is now being redeveloped into a park. Where the garbage goes now I do not know but Fresh Kills had been pretty well tapped out, so it’s good to know that era has ended.
Anyway, moving on. Arthur Blake, said robber, is in prison, awaiting execution for a murder he claims to have not committed. Arthur is played by Dominic Monaghan, who…
OK, really? Am I the only person who recognizes the name “Dominic Monaghan”? Because I’ve actually had this conversation with more than a few people:
Me: blah blah blah see preceding paragraphs and it stars Dominic Monaghan.
Anyone else I’ve ever spoken to: Who?
Me: Dominic Monaghan.
Anyone else: …???… *head scratch*
Anyone else: Oh! The Lost guy!
Me: Yeah, the Lost guy. He was also a hobbit, in three movies that most of the world saw at least once. Remember? The much-anticipated big-screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has been a beloved fixture in our cultural lexicon since its original publication in 1954?
Anyone else: …errrrhhmmmm…
~~~Note to Dominic Monaghan: Hire a more proactive publicist.~~~
Anyway. Dominic Monaghan, awaiting execution for a crime he didn’t commit, is in a prison cell, offering the story of his life of misadventures as a cautionary tale. The priest who comes in to hear his confession is played by Ron Perlman. Yeah, Ron Perlman. If you don’t think the idea of Ron Perlman as a priest is horrifying enough, then imagine the terror you would feel if Ron Perlman were to father a child with Barbara Hershey.
And then? Take that gut reaction, that nauseating, stomach-dropping burst of fight-or-flight adrenaline, and wrap your head around the concept of Father Perlman. Frightened yet? Good.
(There are those of you who may think I unfairly pick on Barbara Hershey and her ginormous teeth. Perhaps you’re right; this is, after all, the second time I’ve made reference to her and the alien from Alien. But, she’s also done it to herself, with her penchant for plastic surgery, which has stretched her skin into an unnatural rictus and given her a permanent gaping maw. I could, perhaps, go on about the unfair demands of the entertainment industry on women and physical appearance–as this is a legitimate issue with plenty of room for concern–but that’s a different blog for a different time. As for Ron Perlman, he’s just blessed with a mouth full of enamel Chiclets. I’m sure he’s aiming his chompers at me and laughing all the way to the bank. Well played, Ron Perlman. Well played.)
The movie is primarily a flashback, with Arthur as the narrator of his own life. It’s also clearly got its own tongue planted firmly in its cheek, incorporating a supernatural-yet-goofy plot pivot. Which works…mostly. Sort of. Before I go one step further, let me make something clear–I adore comedy-horror. Idle Hands. Fright Night. Fido. Oh, the king of them all, Army of Darkness.
So I wanted to really love it and yeah, it mostly works. But it’s kind of uneven, and the plot doesn’t hold together terribly well. There are some wonderful scenes in it–I still chuckle over the encounter with the vampire, and I won’t divulge any spoilers. But I felt like at some point, the producers got too caught up in the idea that they were taking the piss out of the horror genre, to actually create a good movie. Case in point: Arthur Blake and his gravedigging partner, Willy Grimes (played by Larry Fessenden) are hard at work one night, and take off their shirts as they’re warm and sweaty. They’re both wearing Fruit of the Loom white ribbed cotton men’s undershirts and I thought…really? I get this is an indy film, I get there was only a tiny budget to work with, and I get that the undershirts are a wink to the audience to not take anything too seriously and yet…really? Army of Darkness was about as stupid as it could get and winked at the audience at every opportunity (the magic words Ash has to learn are “Klaatu barada nikto”…movie geeks, enjoy!) but Ash would be the only character you’d find in a white ribbed T-shirt (that he would have gotten at S-Mart). Duke Henry the Red? Not so much.
As movies go, it was fun and I’m glad I saw it. It wasn’t one of those movies I watched to the end and resented because it took so much of my life, and I’m never getting that time back. But it’s not the indy gem I’ve seen raved about in the reviews, and I wonder if it’s gotten notice just because it’s so very different from what’s being offered in the mainstream. If there were quirky movies that were actually good and dependable from start to finish, would this movie have garnered as much notice?
Watch this movie if:
You like tongue-in-cheek horror and don’t mind when they go over the top in their elbow-to-the-ribs wink and nod-type laffs.
You’re an aficionado of all things filmed in Staten Island.
You want to round out your Ron Perlman movie viewing.
You want to see more of that guy from Lost.
Don’t watch this movie if:
You need your movie experiences to be completely straightforward and serious.
You think Staten Island is only good for biker bars and earring shopping.
You have an aversion to large teeth.
No B-movie hero will ever compare to Bruce Campbell and his amazing chin.