I Sell the Dead (US - BD RA)
Our Gabe was expecting an in depth documentary on life insurance policies...
Career grave robbers Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) and Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) are captured following a botched ghoul-job. Willie is unceremoniously beheaded, but Arthur is given a slight stay of execution when clergyman Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) appears to take his statement. Arthur proceeds to tell his tale, starting from his beginnings in the trade, and covering some of his more ostentatious adventures.
Spurning curiosity with a delectable cast, and a well cut trailer, I Sell the Dead features a little bit of everything for the little, snot nosed horror fan in all of us. The opening titles immediately recalls EC Comic homage-festivals like Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and George Romero’s Creepshow. Other sequences recall Hammer’s best, classic Universal entries, the finest Italian gore opuses, Corman’s Poe work and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, But everything is tinged with a modern slant, and a steeped in delicious anachronism, which usually pushes the film beyond its many shortcomings. The Raimi similarities might overstep into rip-off, but it certainly is all in good fun, and unlike so many modern homage flicks I Sell the Dead has a plot, and a reasonably original one at that. The structure is similar to classic episodic horror anthologies (especially those produced by Amicus and Roger Corman), but also presses a relatively forward moving narrative. The structural foundation is shaky, and the plot line has its ups and downs, but there’s something about the whole film will bring a grin to many faces.
Unfortunately, the film is pretty forgettable on the whole, and feels more like an accomplished student film than a major video release. The trailer’s promise of A plus, B-Movie cast members, and oodles of style are both delivered upon, the content just doesn’t match the imaginative iconography. Writer/Director Glenn McQuaid’s past career experiences have all been in special effects and title design, and it certainly shows both in terms of the intricate mise-en-scène, and the erratic focus. It certainly doesn’t help that the high-points are mostly nestled nicely right in the centre, creating an awkward bell curve of interest. I Sell the Dead is a great genre fan rental candidate, and is a solid would-be television pilot. There’s nothing to say there is an I Sell the Dead series anywhere on the horizon, but I’d certainly watch it. It also makes a good comic book series, as proven by the mini-comic that comes with this Blu-ray release. Given proper time the creators could likely produce a Mike Mignola worthy universe.
I should probably also note that I Sell the Dead is ‘unrated’ simply because it wasn’t reviewed by the MPAA, not because it roams anywhere beyond an R-rating. In fact, I’m assuming the film would actually get a PG-13, because the violence is very campy, not particularly disturbing or grotesque. This isn’t a criticism, but a warning to all the bloodthirsty gorehounds out there.
IFC Films and MPI continue a streak of solid 1080p transfers. I Sell the Dead is a mixed media exercise, roaming through all kinds of visual styles. Some scenes are soft and warm, with characters existing within perfectly black, soup-like backgrounds. Some scenes are gray and extra grainy, with lighter blacks, thick smoke, and desaturated hues. Many of the sets are clearly computer generated, and look a little off with some kind of cartoony purpose. These feature some of the best colour mixes, which are usually pretty nicely separated. Many of the mini-stories end with pen and ink comic book panels, which are especially clean and colourful. Depending on the style the real film details are especially sharp (the most common sepia look is a bit dull), and there are no obvious, unintended artefacts, even in the brightest red hues that sometimes closeout a shot, and the uncompromising silhouettes. Occasionally the 2.35:1 framing feels a little too tight, but is accurate according to the film’s original specs.
I Sell The Dead is a reasonably cheaply made film, but often makes up for obvious monetary shortcomings with an impressive and lively surround sound mix. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 doesn’t compare to most summer blockbusters, but it sounds fine overall, and works the surround channels on a relatively consistent basis. The centre channel dialogue is certainly clear, but can sound a little too quiet in the overall mix, especially when the music pumps harder into the stereo channels, and overwhelms it. The majority of more natural effects are also unfortunately centred in the mix, and suffer a similar disappearance on occasion. Surround effects and directional elements are far from constant, but when they’re part of the aural design they definitely work. The wacky little insert gags that make the design so cartoonish are especially loud. The LFE is a bit on the dulled side, but bounces effectively enough during the more audacious musical cues.
The people behind I Sell the Dead clearly had the DVD/Blu-ray release of their film in mind during production, and this disc comes fit with hours of behind-the-scenes information. Things begin with two commentary tracks. The first track features director Glenn McQuaid. McQuaid leans more towards thanking his cast and crew than I’d prefer, and his tone verges on terrifyingly shy, but he is prepared, and there is quite a bit of information mixed into the back patting. The fact that the film was shot in New York is immediately dumbfounding considering the Irishness of the production. McQuaid’s discussion of inspiration is pretty predictable, but also amusing. The second track features actors Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden, who are less prepared, and run out of steam rather quickly. Monaghan focuses on the ins and outs of acting (all the actors), and being funny, while Fessenden, being a co-producer, gives up some production factoids (which unfortunately mostly overlap McQuaid’s).
This brings us to the rather epic ‘The Making of I Sell the Dead’ (64:00, SD). This behind-the-scenes featurette certainly has its heart in the right place, and is full of fun little facts, but it’s a bit of a chore. The whole thing is presented in filming sequence, which leads to a random focus, and everything is so raw it feels a little too much like work to watch. Personally speaking I could use a lot more interview footage, some retrospective structure, and more hand holding in terms of momentum and narrative. There are gems in here; you just have to wait for them. This is accompanied by a look behind the visual effects (13:00, HD), which is easier to watch. This featurette runs on staff interviews, pre-viz animatics, and before and after footage. It’s hard to not be impressed by what these guys accomplished on a nothing budget, even if the harsh style helped disguise some of the problem shots. Things end with a trailer, and trailers for other IFC releases.
I Sell the Dead ends up a less than remarkable, but beautifully rendered genre love letter, and it’s worth a rent for certain. IFC (who picked the film up for this release) and/or Image Comics (who produced the comic adaptation) would do well to pick the film up for a series, because the rumoured sequel isn’t going to do the universe justice. This is an episodic idea, and it deserves a proper episodic presentation. The Blu-ray looks and sounds about as good as expected, and the extras, though a little trying, are pretty comprehensive. Once again, however, I’m noticing improper labelling on the back of a smaller studio’s Blu-ray release. The box art says nothing about the DTS-HD MA soundtrack. It lists ‘English 5.1’ as the only sound option (there’s a 2.0 track too), and there’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 logo kind of randomly placed above the specs. The regional stamp is also listed as Region 1, NTSC, and the widescreen label is listed as anamorphic. It’s kind of embarrassing, and both MPI and IFC should know better, based on previous releases.
*Note: These images were taken from the UK region B Blu-ray and re-sized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 30th March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Actor Commentary, Director's Commentary, The Making of I Sell the Dead, The Visual Effects of I Sell the Dead, Comic Books, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Glenn McQuaid
Cast: Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm
Length: 85 minutes
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