Well we have gone from some classic sci-fi horror back to the zombies. Now today is another movie from the IFC Films zombie pack and one that I honestly had never heard of before. Now period piece zombie movies are always interesting to watch because you are forced to see how people would have reacted with the technology at hand as opposed to modern technology. So let’s see how things go in today’s movie, I Sell The Dead.
The plot: In the 18th century, a man named Willie Grimes is placed in a guillotine and executed for murder. Later, Father Duffy shows up at the prison cell of Arthur Blake, Willie’s former partner, to get his confession, which is to be used as a cautionary tale. Arthur tells Duffy that while he was a grave robber, he is innocent of murder and claims he was set-up, that a trail of fresh body parts led to his door, just like it had for Willie. Duffy asks how Arthur got started in being a grave robber and, after being given some alcohol from Duffy, Arthur finally starts telling his story. When he was a child, Arthur got a job as Willie’s apprentice but is unnerved when he learns his job consists of grave robbing. On his first job, Arthur recognizes the body as one of his neighbors and doesn’t want to go through with it and Willie moves to strike Arthur but changes his mind. Arthur continues working with Willie over the years and the two continue stealing bodies from graves and occasionally, they will still one from a wake, with Arthur acting as a grieving relative in order to get a minute alone with the body. The two are often employed by Dr. Quint to obtained bodies, but he will often refuse to pay them and instead, threaten to tell the authorities about what they have done. One night, while retrieving a corpse that is buried at a crossroads, they notice that the woman’s corpse has a wreath of garlic around her neck and a stake through her heart. Willie says it is just a bunch of old superstitions and removes the items, then has Arthur help him clean out the cart so they can transport the body but as their backs are turned, the corpse gets up and walks away. When they realize the corpse is missing, they decide to run for it but when their cart overturns, they see the woman standing in their path. Willie runs off while Arthur tries talking to the woman, who suddenly lunges forward and attacks him. Willie saves Arthur when the woman tries to bite him but the woman continually tries to attack them until she goes to attack Willie when he falls and he accidentally jams the stake back in her chest. After Willie teases Arthur by repeatedly pulling the stake from the corpse and plunging it back in, the two deliver the corpse to Quint and leave, only for Quint to pull out the stake and be killed by the corpse. Back in the present, Arthur tells Duffy that after that incident, he and Willie began going after corpses of the undead, as people would pay more for them and Duffy asks about a group known as House Murphy. Arthur says that they crossed paths, the first time being when he and Willie went to retrieve a strange corpse. Finding the ground frozen, they manage to get to the coffin and use their jackets to help carry it, as the coffin is too cold to touch. When they accidentally drop it, they find the body of a Grey Alien inside but as Arthur picks it up, they are confronted by a man named Cornelius Murphy. Cornelius tells them to drop the body and walk away but Arthur refuses and the three struggle over the body until it suddenly disappears in a flash of light. Cornelius tells Arthur he admires his pluck and offers him a job if he gets tired of working for Willie. In the present, Duffy asks if Arthur took Cornelius’ offer and Arthur says no, and they did their best to stay clear of them, as they are known for being a vicious gang headed up by Cornelius’ father Samuel, whom nobody has ever seen. Arthur and Willie continue their trade and eventually take on an apprentice named Fanny, a former wrecker (someone that causes ships to wreck and the loots the wreckage) and Arthur’s girlfriend. One night while they are at the pub, the owner, Ronnie, tells them about a possible job. The local mortuary was expecting a shipment of undead but their recent shipment was incomplete as a shipwreck caused two of the crates to be lost and believed to be on a nearby island. Willie is eager to take on the job but when Ronnie says that House Murphy was hired to collect the bodies, they change their minds, much to the surprise of Fanny. Arthur tries to explain to Fanny why they should leave the job alone but when Fanny says she plans on going, Arthur reluctantly agrees to go and talks Willie into joining them. When they get to the island, they find Bulger, House Murphy’s enforcer, guarding the crates, with the contents inside growling at him. Fanny slits Bulger’s throat and Willie wants to leave, as he knows that House Murphy will not forgive this. Arthur says they should get the crates and leave before Cornelius and Valentine, their assassin, shows up. Arthur finds a gag, which they plan to use on the zombies to keep them from biting them, and open the crate only to find a foot inside. Suddenly, a zombie bursts out of the second crate and, after staring at them for a bit, attacks Willie. The zombie bites Willie on the arm before Arthur and Fanny manage to get it into a cage but as Fanny turns to face the two men, she is killed by a knife thrown into her head and Arthur and Willie turn to see Cornelius and Valentine standing behind them. Cornelius ties the two men to the cage, planning on selling their corpses along with the zombie. Arthur tries to talk Cornelius into releasing him but Cornelius refuses and has Valentine show them her disfigured face, which she does to people she is about to kill. The zombie manages to break free from his cage and attacks Valentine and when Cornelius tries to save her, the second zombie appears and attacks him. While this is going on, Arthur and Willie manage to get free and leave Cornelius and Valentine to their fates but when they get back to the pub, Willie is upset about Arthur’s willingness to leave him to die and ends their partnership. Back in the present, Arthur finishes his story and then says he knows that Duffy is actually Samuel Murphy. Samuel then attacks Arthur, saying he paid the executioner to allow him to kill Arthur, but before he can kill him, Samuel is killed by the headless corpse of Willie, which is holding onto his head. Arthur is a little surprised to see Willie had saved him and Willie says that the bite changed him. As Arthur unshackles himself and as the two leave the prison, Willie suggest Arthur get bitten himself and Arthur says he will think about it, as Willie jokes about being ravenous and playfully chases Arthur out of the prison. Meanwhile, back on the island, Cornelius is seen to be rising up from the water.
I Sell The Dead met with mostly praise from the critics, holding a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that, “A horror comedy that’s almost as chilling as it is funny, I Sell the Dead relies on its dark humor and offbeat charm to overcome its low budget shortcomings.” The movie was inspired by William Burke and William Hare, a pair of famed body snatchers in 1800’s Scotland, and there is a mild reference to them during a pub scene in the movie. The movie had a very limited release in the US, only earning $8,050 at the box office off of a $450,000 budget.
Surprisingly, this was a good, solid movie to watch. The acting was good, with Dominic Monagham (Arthur) and Larry Fessenden (Willie) doing great jobs in their roles. Ron Perlman was also good though he was only in it for a few scenes as he was busy filming Hellboy II: The Golden Army while most of the movie was filmed. The story was pretty good with a lot of dark humor but not too many scares in it. To be honest, this was definitely more comedy than horror, with scenes like the men fighting over the alien’s body or the zombie reacting in horror to Valentine’s face just as much as Arthur and Willie were really funny. There wasn’t really a lot of special effects in this movie due to the low budget but they did a good job with what they had. So it is a comedy disguised as a zombie movie, but definitely worth watching in either case.
Rating: 4 out of 5