Grave robbers have always had a bad press. The idea of digging up fresh corpses for cash doesn’t sound like a very honest living to most of us. But if you consider that these practices contributed to medical science in a big way, you can view them in a different light.
Similarly, when I first saw I Sell the Dead advertised, with Dominic Monaghan on the cover, I assumed that it was going to be mediocre at best; heavily reliant on the fact that the lead was a former hobbit.
But my opinions were soon to change too.
And so we enter the dark, 19th century, fantasy realm that is Victorian England, in a similar way that we enter a fantasy version of Romania in Van Helsing. Heavily stylised in a graphic novel kind of way.
It’s boom time for grave-robbers, and Willie Gimes and his apprentice, Arthur Blake (Monaghan) seemingly get into the business at just the right time.
It’s not a nice job, but let’s face it, were there any good jobs back then?
Anyway, Blake narrates the story retrospectively, as told from his cell the day before his execution. Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman plays his clergyman (with a pretty decent Irish accent) and is there to record Blake’s final words; fantastic tales of corpse snatching, hiding from the law, fighting with rival grave robing gangs and even love.
However, what makes these tales (and therefore the film) so entertaining is the fact that Grimes and Blake don’t just have to deal with the usual stiffs. As their workload gets heavier they come across all manner of strange things, including vampires and zombies.
And so this comic-book style, horror comedy really takes off.
Both Willie and Arthur are instantly interesting and to some extent, likeable characters.
The whole style of the film is involving. Heavy on the CGI, but great fun, this movie shows just how good things can look if you find the right balance of live action and graphics. The dark, foggy world of Victorian ‘wherever it is’ is the perfect setting for a tale that doesn’t waste time with the over-complicated details. Instead the viewer is plunged into what can best be described as an impressive ghost train ride of a film (as opposed to roller coaster).
Okay, so we’ve been criticising comedy horror a bit recently. But in my book, as long as a film isn’t billing itself as the next Shaun of the Dead, I’m willing to watch it. And it’s a good job too because this truly was a surprise package.
I am a sucker for this sort of stuff. I really liked Van Helsing and From Hell as I thought that they were good fun, mainly because they don’t worry too much about the things that often bog down similar movies, such as historical accuracy and a water-tight plot.
I don’t want to go back to those times to see how hard it REALLY was for people back then, and have to think about how fortunate we are now.
I just want to see how cool it could have been if there really had been vampires, monsters and cool Victorian heroes with great teeth and quick wit. And then witness what great fun it would be if it all kicked-off in such a place in imaginary time.
This film won’t make you scream, it probably won’t make you jump and it might even make you chuckle a bit, but don’t let that put you off.
Suspend reality for a while, step back into make-believe time and have some spooky, Sleepy Hollow-esque fun. Light, slightly gritty and very entertaining.
I never thought that grave robbing could ever seem so exciting and dare I say it, appealing.
Additional film information: I Sell the Dead (2008)