Graverobbers? Zombies? Dominic Monaghan?
If you like supernatural hijinks, this isn’t a bad little movie.
Arthur (Dominic Monaghan), a graverobber who specializes in the undead, tells his life story to a priest (Ron Perlman) as he awaits execution in 19th century Europe.
1. There ought to be more comedies about graverobbing the undead. The comedic potential seems vast.
For instance, in one of my favorite scenes in this movie, Arthur and his partner, Willie (Larry Fessenden), try to steal a corpse and end up accidentally releasing a vampire from its confinement. Willie’s glee at discovering how the staking process works is pretty damn hilarious. You never get to see the glee in graverobbery, you know? I’d like to see more of that.
2. In fact, the best part about this movie is Arthur and Willie’s ongoing banter. Fessenden and Monaghan play off of each other extremely well, and they’re really enjoyable to watch. In fact, they kind of make the whole movie. Ron Perlman certainly isn’t bad in I Sell the Dead, but he also doesn’t have a ton to work with, so he’s just kind of there. This one is definitely Larry Fessenden’s and Dominic Monaghan’s show.
3. Especially Monaghan. Oh, how things have quickly become less wholesome for Mr. Monaghan . . . first, he was just a nice, mischievous little hobbit, and then he became a rock star junkie in LOST, and now he’s a grave robber with a mite bit of a drinking problem? (He’s constantly bartering things for alcohol in this movie, even his confession.) Just say no, Merry! Just say no!
Anyway. Dominic Monaghan has a few great comedic expressions, some nice reactions, and is generally a lot of fun in I Sell the Dead, but what I really like about him is how he plays the quieter, more serious moments. There aren’t a ton of them in there, but he does well with what he’s given, rounding out Arthur a little bit without ever trying to oversell the drama and make this movie something it’s not.
4. I don’t have a ton to say about this film—it’s fun, enjoyable, but nothing really spectacular, either. I laughed while watching it, could buy it if I found it cheap enough at Target, but I’m struggling to come up with a lot of notes for this review because not much really stuck with me after it was over. Like tests in high school: cram the material for the exam and lose it all by the time the bell rings. I liked I Sell the Dead, could potentially appreciate it even more on repeat viewings, but right now it’s just sort of fun, okay, and that’s it.
5. To be fair, though, I don’t know that it needs to be anything more than just sort of fun, okay, and that’s it, and I really don’t have many serious problems with it, either. I think my only one (well, besides the exact ending—get to that in the Spoiler Section) is that sometimes it goes a little fast. I’d like a little more detail on the time that goes by, particularly between Arthur and Willie’s discovery of the supernatural to being experts at stealing the corpses of the undead. Also: the exact circumstances of how Arthur and Willie were arrested in the first place. They mention it in passing, but I wouldn’t have minded actually seeing the scene in question, myself.
6. Some of my favorite scenes in this film were cutaways to flashbacks or illustrations. I love Young Arthur at the funeral home, bursting into exceptionally fake tears so that he can fool the staff into leaving him alone with the body. I also love Young Cornelius and his tragic inability to keep his evil father from stomping all over his toys and pets. His solution to the problem is, shall we say, unique.
7. I also really liked Jeff Grace’s score for I Sell the Dead. It matches the film perfectly–mischievously ghoulish.
And—that’s about it without spoilers. I’d recommend this to anybody who wants a light comedy—and who can find the funny in graverobbing—but I wouldn’t bet on this being that one indie film that blew your fucking mind, man. It’s entertaining, not groundbreaking. Not that it needs to be both.
So, it turns out that Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) is none other than the dread patriarch of the House of Murphy, i.e. the bad guys. I do hope that this wasn’t supposed to be much of a twist because the second Perlman starts zeroing in on the Murphy part of Arthur’s story, I think we all know that he’s a bad guy. (If not even before that because, you know, he’s Ron Perlman, and you figure he has to be there for a reason.) I don’t think it’s supposed to be much of a surprise, not the way Monaghan said Murphy’s name like he’s known it for good while now. But if it was supposed to be an honest to god twist . . . ooh, boy. No bueno.
Anyway, Murphy’s here to extract his revenge on Arthur for getting his family killed, which . . . well, Arthur’s not entirely to blame, but you could see how Mr. Murphy might be feeling a bit sore about the whole thing. Anyway, things look dire for Arthur: no guards are coming for him, and Willie’s already dead—his decapitation is the opening scene in the movie, actually. So, who will come to Arthur’s rescue?
Er, Headless Willie. See, Willie was bitten by this sort of unspecified monster thing earlier in the film, and it turns out that this has turned him into his own sort of undead monster. Not that he’s really any different now. He just happens to be headless and still walking around, that’s all.
Headless Willie kills Mr. Murphy, and then he and Arthur just go straight back to bantering. It’s all very casual-like as they just stroll out of the prison cell, and the whole scene is really amusing, a very strong ending to the film, in fact . . .
. . . except that, for some unknown reason, the director decided to tack on a stupid scene with one of the Murphy guys coming back to life, as he’s also an undead creature. It’s the kind of shot that’s usually reserved for bad horror films hoping for a sequel that they don’t deserve, and it totally takes away from the awesome tone that they could have ended the film on . . . but I guess it doesn’t, like, ruin the movie or anything. It’s just dumb.
So, I guess we’ll just ignore that part.
Sometimes, it pays to be bitten by undead things.