Thursday 30 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "I Sell The Dead"

The closing film of the 2008 Toronto After Dark Film Festival was also a North American premiere and the 4th sellout of the week. In only its second public showing, Glenn McQuaid's "I Sell the Dead" was a fun way to close down the festival - particularly due to having not only McQuaid himself present for the Q&A, but also some of the stars of the film: Brenda Cooney, the very enthusiastic Larry Fessenden and Angus Scrimm (best known as The Tall Man from the Phantasm films).

To be honest, I wasn't overly looking forward to it initially...The trailer didn't really grab me and it felt as if it might be somewhat bland. But we've seen trailers bely the film's real content before and this was a good example. A pair of grave robbers (Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan) are captured and sentenced to death. While spending his last night in his cell before his pending morning execution, Arthur (Monaghan) is visited by a priest (Ron Perlman) who wants him to confess all of his dirty deeds. In flashback we retrace Arthur's life of grave robbing - from his first outing with Willie Grimes (Fessenden) through some rather odd encounters with members of the undead (vampires, zombies, etc.). The flashbacks are good fun especially when they come in contact with these beasts who have risen from their graves. They discover that there are quite a few customers who will pay much higher prices for the undead then for the actual dead. You can even do fun parlour tricks with the undead as Grimes shows to Arthur by repeatedly pulling out a wooden stake to allow the beast to come back to life and then pushing it back in to silence it again.

McQuaid mentioned afterwards that one of his influences were classic old Amicus horror anthologies like "Asylum", "Tales From The Crypt" and "The Vault Of Horror". Definitely fine influences in my book and the film certainly has a bit of that episodic feel as it keeps coming back to the wrap around story in the cell with the priest and Arthur. Unfortunately it spends a bit too much time with long stretches of dialogue between the two of them during these scenes - it's not that those sections are bad, but they tend to drag the energy out of the film. It just slows the film down when most of the audience is itching to get to the next story.

So if that's a bit of criticism directed at the film, it's only because those flashback scenes are so well done and quite funny. Between alien corpses getting beamed up and beach zombies being terrified of vampires, the film really brings in several new angles on well-trod territory. But the biggest reason is likely the characters themselves - the duo of Willie Grimes and Arthur make an interesting pair whose continuing adventures might be fun to follow. More than one person after the film mentioned how they would love to see a TV series built around the two characters. I'd have to agree - there's a great deal of potential here.

The only other drawback was that the copy of the film we saw was very dark and lost a great deal of contrast. I'd love to see this again from a real print, especially if they could tighten up the scenes in between the different adventures (though the conclusion to the priest and Arthur story is a dandy one). With luck, this might find decent distribution.

"Treevenge" How great was this short? Dubbed the first ever Christmas Tree exploitation film, it follows through on its promise in spades, spills blood all over the streets of the suburbs, tosses in all sorts of funny business in the background and makes you believe trees can communicate with each other ("You're scaring the saplings!"). Oh, and one of the best final "kill" scenes ever.

No comments: