Glenn McQuaid's feature-length debut I Sell the Dead opens on an execution, but it doesn't really quite start until a priest offers a young man, himself a few hours away from the gallows, a drink. Arthur (Lost star and erstwhile Hobbit Dominic Monaghan) obliges Father Duffy's request that he recant the life that led him to this grim precipice on one condition: He keeps the whiskey flowing. And so he does: Played by Hellboy himself Ron Perlman, this is no ordinary priest, as we realize from the moment we witness him kick a homeless man in the gut on the way into the holding cell.
An apprentice since the age of 10, Arthur has been learning the graverobbing trade from the appropriately named Willie Grimes (The Last Winter director Larry Fessenden), a lowlife who has become a sort of older brother type to Arthur. They are under the thumb of local scammer Dr. Quint, who pays them nearly nothing and often threatens them with blackmail or calling the cops. Unable to buy more than a pint, the boys find the perfect end to their predicament when they stumble onto a zombie woman in the graveyard and decide to chuck her into Quint's laboratory. Article continues below
Wholly inconsistent and madly episodic, the rest of the film comes to concern a rivalry between Arthur and Willie and a tribe of gothic sociopaths named the Murphys, led by a mythically sadistic father figure. Both gangs have become practitioners in not only robbing what is on the bodies but taking and selling the bodies themselves.
Suitable only to the most uninspired of 3am schedules on the Sci-Fi Channel, I Sell the Dead is goofy enough not to be offensive, but it is far too frantic to be anything enjoyable. McQuaid worked with Fessenden on The Last Winter as a visual effects supervisor, explaining the casting not only of Fessenden but of Perlman and Fessenden-regular Speredakos. But the visual effects that accentuated the chill of Fessenden's eco-horror flick are run amok here, making even the simplest of shots look like something crafted by a freshman-year graphic design student.
Horror devotees may find refuge in the film's promising concept, but I can't imagine a single eye not rolling at the lack of depravity here. McQuaid, who also wrote the screenplay, makes Arthur, Willie, and the eccentric Murphys suitably bereft of morals -- but all the shocks and gross-outs which should be on offer are instead passed off as mediocre gags. There are a few spurts of blood, a slit throat and, for reasons best left for astrophysicists, a frozen alien corpse, but nothing oozes, nothing drips, and almost everything remains perfectly in order. It seems to be the director's belief that the mere suggestion that men would undertake this sort of life is shocking enough, allowing him to fill the rest of the film with sad nods to Tim Burton. Who knew you could make graverobbing boring?