“Horror” isn’t the most accurate descriptor for I Sell The Dead, and “comedy” doesn’t cover it either. Perhaps “light gothic” would do. Dominic Monaghan plays a condemned grave-robber who spends his last hours before the guillotine telling monk Ron Perlman his life story, and explaining how his career took off when he and partner Larry Fessenden started disinterring the undead to sell to anyone in dire need of a shambling corpse. Outside a few moments of disturbing gore, I Sell The Dead is fairly congenial, tracking the rascally adventures of two not-always-bright fellows. Call it The Apple Dumpling Gang & Zombies.
Writer-director Glenn McQuaid uses a nested structure for I Sell The Dead, letting one story unlock still more stories. In some of the flashbacks-within-flashbacks, McQuaid plays with the style by using cartoons for backdrops, or the kind of forced perspectives and mood lighting common to the old Hammer horror films. I Sell The Dead’s low budget is well-deployed, with a few good locations (shot on Staten Island!) and some skillful makeup effects making the movie look and feel, if not top-shelf, then at least not cut-rate. A lot of credit also goes to the cast, top-lined by three veteran actors familiar with genre fare. They exude a confidence that carries I Sell The Dead a long way.
But if there’s a knock against the movie, it’s that it may be a little too confident, a little too polished. There’s very little here to make audiences squirm with that mixture of disgust and delight that horror fans crave, and though the pace is brisk and the tone upbeat, I Sell The Dead is rarely laugh-out-loud funny. And McQuaid’s start-and-stop episodic storytelling means that the movie doesn’t build up any significant momentum until its final 20 minutes, when Monaghan and Fessenden attempt to steal a shipment of zombies from a rival gang. The movie goes out on a high, but until then, it plays almost like the pilot for a TV series. But it would be a good TV series.