I Sell the Dead (2009) review

I Sell the Dead (2009)This episodic horror-comedy, which appeared in a handful of art house engagements last year before arriving on home video this March, doesn’t quite hold together for its entire length, but its amiable approach will win you over with its good intentions, which include nostalgic nods to horror classics of yesteryear: atmospheric bits that echo Universal Pictures 1930s’ output are mashed up with Hammer Films-style gore, all of it mixed in with enough modern mayhem to create an amusing off-kilter vibe.
I SELL THE DEAD is structured around imprisoned grave-robber Arthur (Daniel Monaghan), telling the story of his long association with fellow grave-robber Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden)  to the attentive Father Duffy (Ron Perlman). The result is less a feature-film narrative than a vaudeville-style series of comedy routines, with Arthur and Willie nervously encountering a series of supernatural complications during their illegal late-night activities.
Although the individual episodes are fairly amusing, the loose story structure never works up any narrative steam, leaving I SELL THE DEAD to coast along from one set-piece to the next. At least the script neatly weaves one continuing thread (a rivalry with other grave robbers) into the wrap-around story, tying it all up with a nice surprise twist or two.
The humor is fairly broad, but I SELL THE DEAD is not really a genre spoof. The familiar cliches are served up without contempt or camp, the laughter arising from the characters’ reactions to the vampires and zombies that cross their path. Monaghan and Fessenden make an enjoyable comedy team, their working-class protagonists grumbling and struggling to get by whatever weirdness they dig up. Although the obvious comparison is to Burke and Hare, the characters actually come off more like a pair of bit players in a Hammer horror classic, who somehow managed to wander into starring roles in their own film (a la ROSENKRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD).
The cast and crew of the low-budget production acquit themselveswell. It’s nice to see Angus Scrimm (PHANTASM’s Tall Man) back on screen, and Perlman is always a welcome presence.  Atmospheric photography, enhanced by judicious digital work, captures a convincing flavor of old-school British horror (even though filming took place in America). The monster makeup and effects are deliver the requisite zombie attacks and severed heads with gruesome glee – and with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Definitely worth a rental, especially for fans seeking a good-natured tribute to old-fashioned horror.

I sell the dead
Daniel Monaghan and Larry Fessenden

I SELL THE DEAD (2009). Written and directed by Glen McQuaid. Cast: Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm, John Speredakos, Eileen Colgan, Brenda Cooney.

Girly (a.k.a. "Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly, 1969)

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly (1969)This 1969 curio  from director Freddie Francis is so obscure it doesn’t even qualify as a cult film. The title of the twisted tale was shortened from the original MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY, AND GIRLY in order to sell it as a sexploitation effort, and later home video box art (first on VHS back in the 1980s, now on a new Region 1 DVD released in 2010) suggest a horror film. GIRLY is definitely not sexploitation and only borderline horror; truly, it is a bizarre black comedy, whose humor derives from the way the titular quartet engage in extremely strange behavior while prattling on as if they were all a normal happy family.
The children Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) – both of whom are actually approaching adult age – lure men back to their home, where adults Mumsy (Ursula Howells) and Nanny (Pat Heywood) cluck with approval over the “games” they play, which have lethal consequences for their new “friends,” especially if these reluctant friends refuse to play. The story follows their latest victim (Michael Bryant), a gigilo who is fooled into thinking he has killed his client and so must hide from the police in the weird family’s ancient and extensive ancestral manse. At first this “New Friend” (as he is called) seems stuck between a rock and a hard place, but eventually he is able to to use his sexual charms to seduce Girly and turn her against Sonny and the others, although the final fade out suggests his ploy may not have paid off so well after all.
Francis (who helmed some enjoyable horror films for Hammer and Amicus in the ’60s and ’70s, including DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE) considered this one of his best efforts, but it’s not easy to see why. Although initially intriguing, the eccentric English humor goes only so far, and the plot (which is vaguely similar to THE BEGUILED, with Bryant in the Clint Eastwood role as a trapped man using sexuality as a weapon to defend himself) needs more engaging performances and a stronger ending. (Bryant is a good actor, but it was easier to believe that Eastwood had the charisma necessary to turn the tables on his captors). Also, the visual style is not up to Francis’ best work, with little in the way of the prowling tracking shots or carefully choreographed extended takes that distinguish his thrillers and horror films.
Although viewers expecting a full-blooded horror story will inevitably be disappointed by the tame approach (only fleeting moments of violence and restrained hints of sex), MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY, AND GIRLY does tread on genre territory, in an Addams Family kind of way; its closest antecedent is THE OLD DARK HOUSE, which also featured a family full of weirdos in a dusty old mansion. No match for James Whale’s 1932 classic, MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY AND GIRLY is just dark and weird enough  to sustain interest as an off-beat cult item; on that level, it is worth a rental, for curiosity seekers and for fans of Francis, who want to see what he could do with an independent project that he himself originated (as opposed to working as a director-for-hire on a studio film).
MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY, AND GIRLY (a.k.a. GIRLY, 1969). Directed by Freddie Francis. Screenplay by Brian Compton, based on the play “Happy Family” by Maisie Mosco. Cast: Vanessa Howard, Michael Bryant, Ursula Howells, Pat Heywood, Howard Trevor.