Thanks to the fine folks at the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival/Cinefest 09 we’re going to be running a ton of early reviews from their Danger After Dark program, as well as some other of their genre films. For tickets and schedule information check out their
official site.

I Sell The Dead stars Dominic Monaghan as Arthur Blake, an 18th Century British graverobber. He’s been arrested for his crimes and is now locked up in prison awaiting his judgement, but before he faces the guillotine a priest (played by Ron Perlman) comes to talk to him. In the guise of confessing his sins Arthur brings us all back to when he was taught all about his morbid vocation by his cockney mentor/partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) with whom he provided bodies for the local mad doctor, played by one Angus Scrimm.

I really don’t have to go on, do I? All the genre fans have already just run and bought tickets after reading that.

But it somehow gets better! Not only does this graverobbing duo have to deal with pissed-off relatives and competing body snatchers, they also live in a world populated by ghouls, vampires and zombies… among other things. This all makes their work a helluva lot more dangerous, but also a lot more profitable. After all, what scientist wouldn’t want to have their own Bub to perform tests on? Of course, things soon spiral out of control and our duo goes for one big job too many.

I Sell The Dead is the kind of film you go to film fests for, the kind you can brag about to your friends and anticipate seeing again with them when it’s finally released. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and quite a change-up from most humorous horror flicks nowadays. It has very much of a comic book feel at parts, which is funny because it’s being adapted into one. First time writer/director Glenn McQuaid shows he clearly knows his way around the camera and has a massive love for gothic horror. He’s also one hell of a comedic writer.

There’s really not much in the way of gore or scares here since this is played almost completely for laughs. It’s helped by a fantastic and almost whimsical soundtrack whose violins call back to scores from other classically dark-humored films, like Re-Animator. The movie also oozes atmosphere, and I mean that in the most literal sense. It’s clear that there were some Hammer fans in this crew, because there’s a whole lotta fog here that gives it a nice, moody look. Even more amazing considering this whole film was shot in friggin’ Staten Island! You would never, ever believe it… a credit to some stunning matte paintings.

But what really makes this film work is the lead duo. I’m a huge fan of Larry Fessenden (I believe his film Habit is one of the few that accurately portrays NYC nightlife) and he’s really a delight here. While he of course looks like a 18th century graverobber- just give him a top hat and dirty him up a bit, and he lets his crazy eyes and broken tooth do the rest- you can tell that he’s loving his accent and completely gets into his character. Just wait till you see when he tests out how a vampire works. He’s responsible for most of the humor in the film, although Monaghan’s straight man is no slouch in that regard as well. They work so well off each other and are completely natural as two great buddies who love and hate each other at the same time.
Angus Scrimm unfortunately doesn’t have much of a role here but every word he utters or angered glance he makes is great, as usual. Ron Perlman’s accent slips a couple of times but who cares- he’s having a lot of fun and so are you.

To be fair, the film does feel like it’s missing something. That might be because apart from the leads the other characters are hardly fleshed out- no pun intended- and the story doesn’t really feel complete. Since you’re only being told a few tales from these characters’ dozens of exploits there’s really no big finale or story arc here. But there is the feeling that there’s so much more. In fact, while trying to get back together all of these fantastic actors may prove to be impossible, I’d love to see the continuing adventures of this duo. They’re just so innately watchable together and it’d be easy to think up new supernatural problems to throw their way.

Is I Sell the Dead a cult classic in the making? Possibly. A movie you’ll have a blast with? Absolutely.

8.5 out of 10

There are still tickets available for the Cinefest, so pick them up fast! They’ve already sold out their NYC premiere at the IFC Center on March 30th. Check the official website out for more.