Monday, August 3, 2009

Glenn McQuaid's I SELL THE DEAD: a charmer -- and a fine re-animation

Charm would probably not be the first adjective to come to mind in describing a movie about body-
snatching the dead (and, some-
times, the undead) in Victorian Eng-
land. But there it is. Charming: That describes, about as well as any single word TrustMovies can think of, the feeling that ebbs, first moment to last, from Glenn McQuaid's new

film I SELL THE DEAD. Talk about re-inventing and re-animating the horror flick: This movie does it very nearly via subtle style alone.

McQuaid's brand of charm is pretty quirky, I'll give you that. (He begins with one of his lead characters going to the guillotine -- and, no, there's nary a last-minute rep-
rieve). Yet as writer, director and editor (that's he, above, in front of the guillotine), McQuaid -- and his cleverly chosen cast -- bring this unusual movie to life without ever for a moment "pushing" the charm factor. It seems but a natural part of these bizarre yet utterly typical (think Hammer Horror goes deadpan) proceedings.

Once that guillotine has parted its participant, the movie introduces us to the other "hero," played with innocent relish by Dominic Monaghan (above, right, of Lord of the LOST Rings fame), who's about to meet that famous French-inspired blade himself, and then to one very beefy priest, played by Ron Perlman (shown at bottom), who wants to obtain the Monaghan character's story before the lad meets his maker. From there, the movie flashes back, giving us the entire tale in dribs and drabs that are both enticing and funny but never pushy. Along the way, we're treated to the occasional comic-book-type-visual that connects a scene or makes a point via artwork rather than special effects (this is completely in keeping with the charm factor and, of course, reduces the budget by probably fifty per cent).

Events are both typical and a bit surprising along the way and are -- in either case -- handled with flair and delight. The cast, which includes Angus Scrimm as a dirty doctor (remember Don Coscarelli's Phantasm? Well, Mr. Scrimm seems not to have aged a single day since then) and Brenda Cooney as a good-time gal with a tad too much avarice in her heart. Oh -- and there's also the fine and funny Larry Fessenden, who produced the film as well as acted the other lead role of Monaghan's "mentor." Everyone is on the same page here in terms of wit and style, including the various undead (and one surprise corpse who turns out to be a bit more contemporary), making possible the continuous flow of charm, thrills and the red stuff.

I Sell the Dead opens its theatrical run this Friday in NYC at the Quad Cinema (not, as I earlier reported, at the IFC Center), and on August 14 in Los Angeles. The film begins showing On-Demand next Wednesday, August 12. Check your local TV reception provider, under IFC On-Demand, for specifics.

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