Tick Reviews(sort of):I Sell The Dead (2008)
Oh mediocre horror film, how I loathe thee…
I am a huge horror movie fan. I’ve established that on here in the past. I may love all types of film, but horror is my genre of choice. It’s my default genre when I’m channel surfing or streaming Netflix when I’m bored. It’s the genre that shaped me as a child and turned me it the film nerd that I am today. I may not be the guy in The Misfits shirt that’s standing in line at Horrorcon to get a copy of Fangoria autographed by Linnea Quigley, but I’m a horror fan to my very core nonetheless. Besides, I’m glad I’m not that guy at this point. If I was that guy, I’d beat my own ass right now. My relationship with horror movies has turned into an abusive one and these people are the enablers that have made it all go bad.
But I digress. Or, actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. This rant needs to start with a small review of the film that broke the proverbial werewolf’s back. That movie was I Sell The Dead. I will have some minor spoilers in this and I don’t care. It won’t really hurt the film and in all honestly it’s better to know these things going in so that your bubble isn’t burst by the time you get to the pointless, predictable ending.
I Sell The Dead has a log line that reads pretty clever and actually pretty original. The film opens with a man being lead to the guillotine and executed before segueing quickly to another man sitting in a dank dungeon awaiting a visitor. The man is 18th century grave robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and we find out that the executed man was his partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). Arthur is soon joined by a strange priest named Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) who wishes to speak with him and document his and Willie’s adventures as grave robbers, particularly their many dealings with the supernatural over the years. Thus begins the history or Arthur and Willie, told through flashbacks, as Father Duffy gets to hear tales almost too bizarre to believe.
From here, I Sell The Dead goes through a variety of tales that start out as fairly endearing to any horror fan. Where I assumed, and the trailer seemed to sell, this film being about grave robbers vs zombies, there’s actually far more going on than that. This is a world more akin to TV shows like Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Our heroes have to contend with zombies, vampires, demons, sea monsters, aliens and bizarre gangs. It’s scattered hodge podge around the film, for the most part it’s handled well and, at the beginning, each reveal is a bit of a surprise.
Their first encounter is with, presumably at least, a vampire. The vampire, however, moves and acts like one of the deadites from the Evil Dead trilogy. It’s an obvious homage and it’s remarkably faithful in the mechanics and filming. I wasn’t expecting the nod and I actually liked it. If the film had stuck with this one idea, I would have been happy and I think it may have ended up the better film. This scene is perhaps the best part of the film, yet indicative of why it goes so wrong.
From there we are treated to the boys using the “vampire” to kill their evil employer, who’s played by Angus Scrimm, best known as The Tall Man from the Phantasm films. Once again, a wink wink for horror fans that goes nowhere and is more distracting than useful. We move to Arthur and Willie uncovering the corpse of an Alien Grey straight out of Area 51, a trip across sea monster infested water to retrieve zombies and a showdown with a rival gang of grave robbers that might as well be an 18th century super villain team, all before coming to an ending that everyone who isn’t already asleep will see coming a mile away.
Except for that ending, sounds at least intriguing, right? It could’ve been. Hell, it should’ve been. The setting, the basic plot and the way genre staples are combined are all fresh and the two leads give good performances with terrific chemistry. Instead it’s all wasted. What makes it even worse is, it’s not completely terrible either. It just….is. It has some good ideas, some lousy ones and a whole lot of meh. It’s somewhat…cute? Do you want a cute horror movie? I don’t. I sure as fuck don’t want a horror movie that starts out offering me a totally original premise, only to turn it into some half ass homage that wants to be everything to everyone without ever being anything at all. I Sell The Dead is watchable. It isn’t really terrible and if you caught it while channel surfing on the couch one rainy Sunday, you’d feel satisfied enough and probably wouldn’t ever think about it again. It really is, for the most part, inoffensive and slightly amusing.
Yeah, the Evil Dead homage was done really well and it did bring a smile to my face. The question is, do we really need to see another Evil Dead homage or do we desperately need to see a new voice bring something as original and exciting to the screen as Sam Raimi did all those years ago? The main reason I was smiling was because I thought the film would be going in a different direction than I expected. It didn’t. The smile faded.
Yeah, the unexpected Area 51 corpse was a neat little idea that I didn’t expect. That’s all it was. An idea. It went nowhere, was quickly wrapped up in a way that made no sense and never held any significance, nor was it mentioned again. It was like an easter egg in a video game. A moment of “Hey! Look at that!” yet meaning nothing in the grand scheme. Just like the idea of the sea monster, which gets a nice back story and some sound effects, and then are never seen or mentioned again. They’re red herrings and the quest for the zombies is a Macguffin. Just like the grand legend of the rival Murphy gang and the detailed reveal of each member, including their sinister backstories and special powers mean nothing as they are anticlimactically dispatched a minute or so after finally meeting up with our heroes. I Sell the Dead, like so many horror movies now, are just throwing lots of things into a pot and hoping something works without ever really caring if they do or not. They gave us some touchstones and we should be happy.
So why would something that rates a five or six out of ten be the film that sets me off on a rant like this? Because I’m sick of mediocre, half-assed horror films more than I’m sick of shitty ones. I’m far more sick of indie film makers, who like to trumpet being “real fans”, shitting out quick cash and grabs than I am of seeing clueless studios do it. I’m sick of lazy “homages” and fan wank casting instead of originality and competent film making. I’m sick of genre smash-ups so someone can try and cover up the fact that they really have no story to tell. I’m tired of the “throwback” films and “gritty” films and brain dead gore just for the sake of gore. Most of all, I’m tired of being made to think that any of these things is enough for a horror fan to accept a film.
That’s my biggest problem with I Sell The Dead. Is it wholesale terrible? No. It’s just symptomatic of the larger problem within the genre. I Sell The Dead is a kitchen sink approach at film making. Take a bunch of cool ideas that don’t fit together and pour them haphazardly into the story. Add in sprinkles like other fallback categories of stunt casting, “homages” and genre mash-up and we have a cult classic that fan sites like Dread Central and Fearnet will lap up and do their best to make sure that other horror fans will drink the Kool-Aid. I say fuck that.
It’s time to stop watching crap films. It’s time to stop eating them up just because we don’t have anything better. Even more so, to bring up the abusive relationship analogy again, it’s time to stop watching them and making up excuses for liking them when they’re obviously terrible. No one is as masochistic as horror fans and not even Star Wars diehards are as big of apologists. We love to abuse the phrase “so bad it’s good” even when most of the time what we just saw is awful. We’ll decide an unwatchable movie is somehow cult worthy because it has great gore. We’ll watch something shitty, that we know full well is going to be shitty, just in the hopes that maybe we’ll be wrong. Sometimes for a second or third time.
Horror fandom has become one big fucking Ouroboros. A cynical one at that, eagerly devouring its same stale self as it pretends it’s feeding on something original. There’s not much original out there. Horror has become the least original genre in an industry that rewards the safe, the regurgitated and the rerun. Why bother giving us something that we haven’t seen before when we have such a Pavlovian response shopworn horseshit? Originality? That require work, and artistry and risk. Just trot out another jokey homage with some genre faves and some grue and some asshole will dub it a “modern classic.” Other assholes will immediately fall in line.
The “homage” and the fan castings have become the two things that have most come to signify everything wrong the genre as far as I’m concerned. They’re the things that piss me off the most because they were once things that I loved seeing in films. So did other fans. That’s why they’ve become such over saturated garbage. Hack film makers don’t understand how or when to use them properly. They’ve become substitutes for actual plot or fully formed characters. They become just flat-out masturbatory. Shit, they’ve become acts of self fellatio. They’ve become just another reason to bash Rob Zombie’s stupid fucking head in.
Hey, horror film makers, here’s a list of people I don’t want to see in another film for at LEAST a year – Sid Haig, Robert Englund, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, Kane Hodder, Jeffery Combs, Lance Henrickson, Gunnar Hansen, Angela Bettis, Tiffany Shepis, Linnea Quigley, Debbie Rochon, Tom Savini, Andrew Bryniarski, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Andrew Divoff, Doug Bradley, Karen Black, Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman or any Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alumni. Seriously. Enough already. It’s not like I don’t want them to work. I love most of these people too. These people have earned their stripes. Most of them are icons to the genre. That’s why we need to stop turning them into jokes by just needless piling several of them into bad horror films like it was a fucking clown car.
Ken Foree shouldn’t be made to play a jive talking vampire. I don’t want to see Robert Englund in a cameo just so he can smile at the camera and tell some idiot twenty-year old nobody that he hopes they don’t have a nightmare tonight. I don’t want to see Kane Hodder do anything at all. Do you fucking idiot film makers even understand who these people are or what made them genre favorites to begin with? If you do and you truly do love horror, quit reducing them to jokey, embarrassing cameos. Don’t make them a name I cringe at when I see it in the credits. Ken Foree is a good actor who turned in some great, fully realized characters before Rob Zombie turned him into a punchline. Use these people in real roles or don’t use them at all. Next time you decide to round-up four or five of these people for your film, go fuck yourself instead.
So, this is where we’re at. It’s time to stand up and do something about it. Stop feeding on the shit that they’re shoveling. Vote with your wallet and just stop watching. Go to the internet and speak out on message boards and Twitter and review sites. Create a backlash. I’m not expecting miracles. I know there will still be bad movies. I know we’ll still happily watch a lot of them. We just need to be choosier and clean up our own backyards. We need to make sure there aren’t a hundred new zombie films this year. We don’t need Pumpkinhead 6, Saw 9 or Hellraiser N Da Hood. We need to stop any more variations of vampire versus werewolf movies. We need to not have any more movies with the cast full of the usual suspects named above.
Horror fans know our genre has always been the shunned stepchild of the film world. We love that. It makes us proud. That doesn’t mean we can’t expect more. There’s no reason why films like Let the Right One In or [REC] aren’t the rule instead of the exception. Reward original, well made films that take genre conventions and turn them on their head. Shun the films that aren’t even trying. Don’t fall for the same old tricks and don’t accept what they’re selling just because you’re supposed to like it. No more excuses. Stand up and change the game. It surely would have helped I Sell The Dead if writer/director Glenn McQuaid had just stuck to his original ideas and not felt obligated to give into fan wank.