I never thought I would see anything personally familiar in a film that takes place in 1850s Ireland. I have never been to Ireland. I have never been to the 1850s. But I have been to Staten Island. If that makes no sense to you, dear reader, don’t worry. It will.
I Sell the Dead, although it takes place in 1850s Ireland, was partly filmed here in New York, on Staten Island. Many scenes were shot at Fort Wadsworth, a national park that used to be one of two cannon forts that commanded the entrance to New York Harbor. Much of the fort is in ruin, access restricted to visitors of the park. These old, decrepit battlements are constructed from stone, brick, and reinforced concrete. Nature is well along on the process of reclaiming these parts of the fort. Crumbling footbridges and paths give old cannon emplacements the look of an abandoned castle. In many ways, that’s exactly what the fort is. I recognized the location because it was about the easiest urbex spot in which I ever snapped a photograph.
In the summer, when the plants are lively in appearance, the old cannon emplacements up the hill from the main battery of the fort are absolutely gorgeous, and, as it turns out, very evocative of a mind’s eye picture of Europe. Who would have thought?
I Sell the Dead stars Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden as Arthur and Willie, a pair of grave robbers who specialize in stealing the corpses of the undead. Apparently, a corpse that is not completely deceased fetches a higher price. The two leads do a decent job, even when they have to spout forth dialogue that is riddled with anachronisms. That problem is minor compared to the accents. With the exception of co-star Brenda Cooney, I don’t think any of the cast was from Ireland. The two stars certainly aren’t. Monaghan makes a valiant effort to sound Irish for a few minutes, while Fessenden sounds like an American imitating the English. The accents in this one are bad enough that if someone from the production told me they were intentional, for comedic effect, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Bad accents aside, Monaghan and Fessenden don’t exactly light up the screen, but it seemed like they were having fun. A buddy comedy where one or both of the stars isn’t into it is just sad.
Written and directed by Glenn McQuaid, I Sell the Dead is more comedy than it is horror. There’s plenty of throwaway gore in this one, but the aim of the film isn’t to frighten or disgust. It’s a buddy comedy about a pair of bumbling idiots just looking to make a quick buck. If, along the way, some occultist wants to get their hands on a genuine vampire or a zombie, then Arthur and Willie are only too happy to oblige.
It being a comedy, plot doesn’t matter as much as the dialogue. The film isn’t an endless string of jokes, but that’s more because the comedy is pedestrian rather than it being an attempt at absurdist humor. This is definitely a film that could have used the absurd quite effectively, though. The characters’ ready acceptance of the very lively corpses they dig up is ripe for exploitation. McQuaid gives it a shot, here and there, but while the film can bring forth a chuckle at times, the humor never really takes off.