Archive for the Grave Robbing Category

GHOUL (2012)

Posted in 2013, Cable movies, Family Secrets, Grave Robbing, Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by knifefighter

GHOUL (2012)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

G - poster

GHOUL is a movie I’d been following since I heard it was in production. Brian Keene’s novel remains my favorite work of his, and one of the more effective horror novels I’ve read. The reason Keene’s novel works is because the main horrors do not come from the creature haunting the graveyard, but from the parents who have the responsibility of raising their children in a safe and secure environment. This means, however, that a lot of the novel’s effectiveness comes from internal dialogues and the inner thoughts of the characters, both of which are very difficult to show on screen. As thrilled as I was that someone was finally filming a Brian Keene story, I thought that they couldn’t have picked a tougher story to adapt. Because of this, I went into the movie with high hopes but low expectations.

We start with Timmy (Nolan Gould, from the TV show MODERN FAMILY) digging his comics out from under his bed. As soon as he gets comfortable, his mom calls lights out. It demonstrates that kids are at the mercy of their parents’ rules and whims, setting the tone for the film. The next morning, Timmy watches cartoons while his Dad demands his attention. “The start of summer vacation doesn’t save you from your chores!” Timmy’s grandpa shushes him, pretending that he’s watching TV as well. Frustrated, Dad leaves the room. Grandpa (Barry Corbin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007) calls Timmy over and asks what he and his friends are planning to do with the underground clubhouse they’re building near the cemetery. Timmy is shocked because they thought nobody knew about it. Grandpa assures him nobody else does.

Later on, Timmy and Grandpa are working in the garden and Timmy’s friend Doug (Jacob Bila) bikes up out of breath, having been chased by a stray dog. Grandpa offers to finish Timmy’s chores and sends him on his way. Doug and Timmy go to Barry’s house, where Barry’s Dad (Dane Rhodes, DJANGO UNCHCAINED, 2012) bullies them, calling Doug a fag and telling him that’s probably why his Dad left. Timmy responds by accusing him of making Barry do his job while he sleeps off last night’s bottle. Barry’s dad forbids them to play near the cemetery again.

Dane Rhodes, as Mr. Smeltzer, terrorizes Timmy and Doug in Brian Keene's GHOUL.

Dane Rhodes, as Mr. Smeltzer, terrorizes Timmy and Doug in Brian Keene’s GHOUL.

Timmy and Doug meet up with Barry (Trevor Harker) and together they head to their clubhouse. They look at Doug’s hand-drawn map of the surrounding area. Suddenly, they hear Timmy’s Mom calling him. She’s frantic, distraught. “It’s your Grandpa, honey, I’m sorry.”

There are a lot of other things going on, and we get quick scenes depicting some of it. Three older kids on bikes, obviously up to no good, are searching the woods for the clubhouse. A pair of lovers making out in the woods are attacked and presumably killed.

After Grandpa’s funeral, Timmy and his friends are in the cemetery when Doug falls waist-deep into a sinkhole. Barry and Timmy pull him out. Barry says the sinkholes are all over the place because of the old mining operations. While Barry goes for the first aid kit, the stray dog appears, charging and barking. Barry grabs a shovel and attacks the dog viciously, cussing it out while he wails on it. The ferocity of his actions shocks Timmy and Doug. Later on, as they help Barry put away the tools, they discover another sinkhole in the caretaker’s shed, covered by a jagged piece of plywood. That night, over dinner, Timmy asks his dad about the stories of the ghoul. His dad tells him the ghoul is the equivalent of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Steve, one of the three bullies from earlier, spied Timmy and his friends in the shed. That night, Ronnie and Sammie join him and they break into the shed, planning to vandalize what they think is the kids’ clubhouse. They wonder how Timmy and his friends could have shoveled out the maze of tunnels they find, and then Ronnie and Steve continue on, leaving Sammie to stand watch. Predictably, Ronnie and Steve are attacked. Sammie runs back the way they came, arriving at the hole to see Barry’s Dad staring down at her. She pleads with him for help. “You shouldn’t play where you’re not invited,” he says, then pulls the plywood over the hole while she screams.

It’s difficult to distance yourself from a novel as good as GHOUL in order to take a movie adaptation on its own terms. Part of what makes the book so memorable is that it reaches beyond the usual coming-of-age story. These kids are dealing with some heavy-duty subject matter. Doug confesses that his mother comes to him at night and does things to him. Barry’s Dad regularly and brutally beats on him and his mom. From an acting standpoint, staying true to these emotional wallops would tax even the most practiced actors. The three kids in these roles do all they can, and in some scenes they fare pretty well, but in many others they seem disconnected from what’s going on. It felt like they saved their energy for the “big scenes,” which left many of the slower scenes flat.

Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila and Trevor Harker give their all while tasked with monumental acting challenges.

Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila and Trevor Harker give their all while tasked with monumental acting challenges.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it didn’t flow as a whole. It felt bumpy, as if I was watching something that had been heavily edited to fit time constraints. You learn to expect that from a made-for-TV movie, but with this one every time I started to get a handle on what was happening, the scene jumped away, plunging me into something else with no transition time.

Changes have been made to the story as well. Timmy’s parents are not what they were on the page. His mother is more prominent and caring, while his dad is in only two scenes and comes off as simply crabby and overworked. The most traumatic scene of the book has been cut entirely from the movie. If you read the book, you know what scene I’m talking about. There was also a major change to the ending, which I understand kept the focus on the humanity of the story, but it’s not a change any fan of the book will embrace.

GHOUL was a bold choice to put before the cameras, but, sadly, I can’t recommend the finished product. Fingers crossed that the upcoming DARK HOLLOW is a stronger film and more worthy of Keene’s name.

I give GHOUL 1 and one half stars, with 2 timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Studies The CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2012, Atomic Accidents, Atomic Supermen, Cold War Chills, Drive-in Movies, Gangsters!, Grave Robbing, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , , , on December 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel


Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the Bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

Radiation is one of those givens in many films from the 1950s. You can bet your bottom dollar that the radiation is going to make something either really big or really strong. In the CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), a misleading title since there are multiple creatures here, radiation is used for the latter purpose.

The film opens with a bald man with stitches across his head walking zombie-style down the street. The man looks alarmingly like Ed Asner. In the next scene, he’s driving a car, which is a little disorienting, since he’s originally seen walking. He drives to a business where a man named Hennessey and his employees are closing up for the night.

Hennessey is putting the day’s cash away in a safe when Ed Asner’s twin smashes through a window and begins speaking in a robotic voice. He claims to be Buchanan, but Hennessey tells him that he doesn’t look like Buchanan. The creature assures him that he may not look like Buchanan, but he is, and he’s come back to see Hennessey die. The creature then picks up Hennessey and snaps him in two like a twig. Hennessey’s employees shoot at the creature, who lumbers away quietly, unaffected by the bullets piercing his body.

The scene cuts to a man talking into a microphone, commanding the creature to get in the car and drive back home. The creature doesn’t seem to get the message, so an egghead scientist with a bad German accent takes over and gives the commands. Turns out, the scientist is a former Nazi scientist named Steig (Gregory Gay), and Buchanan (Michael Granger), the man behind this whole operation, is a gangster who wants to exact revenge using these atomic creatures to do his dirty work. Why didn’t I think of this? The two are able to see everything the creature sees on a television screen in their laboratory.

The man who murdered Hennessey leaves behind luminous blood. After Chet Walker (Richard Denning), director of the police laboratory, conducts some experiments on the blood, he discovers that it is actually a chemical compound – and a radioactive one at that.

Hennessey was killed, according to Walker, by a creature with “atom rays of superhuman strength, and one that cannot be killed by bullets.” The journalists hanging around for the scoop are in such disbelief, they threaten to misspell the poor guy’s name. The nerve!

Buchanan and his Nazi scientist have an entire arsenal of zombies. Ed Asner’s twin is retired, and another guy is brought in to take out the district attorney, a man named McGraw. D.A. McGraw is also cracked in two by this superhuman dead guy.

By now, the police lab chief and his partner, homicide detective Dave Harris (S. John Launer), have figured out the fingerprints lifted from the original crime scene belong to a man who died weeks earlier. As it happens, the fingerprints lifted from the D.A.’s murder scene also came from a dead man.

Walker and Harris put their police noggins together and determine that there’s a connection between the two murders. The D.A. and Hennessey both worked together to get Buchanan deported to Rome.

Walker gets the military involved in this operation, as the military always seems to get involved when radioactive dead men roam the streets, wreaking havoc.

The evil duo’s plan goes a little tilt when the Nazi scientist gets a little thirsty and stops into a local tavern for a beer. When a solider stops into the bar to check the radiation levels, the scientist flees out the back door, leaving his beer and his change behind.

Apparently, dealing with radioactive zombies tends to cause one to become radioactive. The Geiger counter the solider is using goes off as he waves it around the stool on which the scientist sat. The ten dollars the scientist left behind is also radioactive, a fact that deeply disappoints the bartender, who was certain the money would be his.

A lot of strange, catastrophic things start happening. Things explode, giving us the perfect opportunity to view some stock footage.

Then something exciting happens again. Det. Harris is killed and turned into one of these zombies. Steig does something special for the good detective. He tinkers with his vocal chords, giving him the ability to use his own voice rather than Buchanan’s.

As might be predicted, Harris is used to find Walker. Walker sees his friend and gets into his car. Despite his medical degree, Walker doesn’t notice the stitch marks all over his friend’s forehead, the same stitches seen on the other creatures. The two speed off, but Walker jumps out of the moving car before Harris can take him back to Steig and Buchanan.

The car crashes, draining Harris of his energy. Walker and some other police officers notice that Harris seems to be heading mindlessly toward the source of his energy. After getting the military involved, they follow him to Buchanan’s hideout.

In one of the most half-hearted fight scenes in cinema history, Buchanan sets his atomic creatures on the military, telling them to kill, which apparently means walloping them gently with their limp arms and tossing them around like ballerinas. The soldiers’ guns are useless against the creatures.

Harris, meanwhile, comes to the hideout to regain his power. Walker happens to be there at the same time, trying to thwart Buchanan. For reasons that are never explained, Harris attacks Buchanan instead, giving Walker the chance to destroy the machinery keeping the creatures alive and saving at least some of the soldiers doing battle outside.

CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN is a cute film, but it’s hard to take it seriously. It’s difficult at times to discern whether the filmmaker (Editor’s Note: it was directed by Edward L Cahn, whose other films include THE SHE-CREATURE, 1956, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, 1957, and  IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, 1958)  was going for a cheeky laugh or a serious scare. If you’re looking for a nostalgic chuckle, this film will suffice.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The bi-weekly column “Transmissions to Earth” returns in two weeks.)

Suburban Grindhouse Memories collects some SCALPS (1983)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2012, Bad Acting, Demonic Possession, Drive-in Movies, Gore!, Grave Robbing, Just Plain Bad, Nick Cato Reviews, Possession, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on June 14, 2012 by knifefighter

You’ll Wish it Was Just Dandruff!
By Nick Cato

While most people saw it as part of a double feature VHS release, 1983’s SCALPS had a brief theatrical run in late December of that year.  Directed by future schlock-kingpin Fred Olen Ray, this slasher/possession film is a mixed bag that doesn’t quite live up to its eye-catching poster ad.

Six archeology students head out to the desert to the site of an old Indian burial ground (thank you, POLTERGEIST, 1982, for helping this to become one of the most clichéd horror plots of all time) and despite hearing a word of warning (if they disturb the site, the spirit of an Indian warrior will seek revenge), our generic slasher-film throw-a-ways decide to get busy with their shovels, anyway.  It doesn’t take long for weird things to start happening around their campsite, including the team eventually being disposed of in gory ways.  The tension (attempts) to grow as we learn the culprit may be one of their own, possessed by the spirit they’ve unleashed by tampering with ancient artifacts.

SCALPS is one of those films that rewards ONLY those patient enough to get through its first hour.  Most of the action goes down during the third act, and gorehounds who may have heard about this one need only to fast-forward their DVD to the final half hour (although there IS a decapitation during the opening moments, perhaps placed as a slight teaser).  A couple of people walked out during one of the endless digging-scenes, one guy yelling, “Keep digging, a$$holes!”, causing me to both crack a smile then wonder what someone had expected, paying to see a film titled SCALPS.

The spirit that possesses one of the campers pops up from behind rocks a few times, once actually scaring the audience (see picture below).  Known as Black Claw, this Indian spirit is TRULY annoyed his stuff has been discovered (and, of course, WHY we’re never told) and thankfully there’s a bunch of freshly-dug-up weapons at his disposal.

Call me crazy, but if people found stuff I created a long time ago and wanted to put them in a museum, I’d be thrilled.  Black Claw, however, only wants people to die.  Horribly!

What drove the (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema audience crazy were the seemingly ENDLESS scenes of our archeologists gabbing on and on about their work, both how important it was (another thing never fully explained why) and also how risky it was in light of the post-dig events.  If there’s one film I wish I had a tape recorder playing through, it’d be SCALPS, where more profanity was offered to the on-screen cast than any other film I could recall attending.  One full-figured guy two rows in front of me (complete with a backwards STP baseball hat—perhaps he drove in from New Jersey?) must’ve tossed half his tub of popcorn at the screen whenever one of the more annoying female students opened her mouth (which seemed like every four seconds).  I have to tell you, folks—if not for the entertainment provided my fellow suburban grindhouse maniacs, I doubt I could’ve made it to the end of this thing.

BUT alas, when Black Claw finally gets his minion to go ballistic, the blood beings to spurt like soda from a shaken can: one poor guy has an arrow shot right through his eyeball from about 10 feet away, while another poor sucker becomes a human pin cushion from a hail of them.  Living up to its title, SCALPS contains a couple of graphic scalping scenes, one comparable to Tom Savini’s work on the classic MANIAC (1980).  Sadly, that was the only believable effect: one scene (that had the audience audibly gagging) features another poor victim having her throat slashed in a tight close up, then she gets scalped, causing one of the goriest kills of the early 80s (although it doesn’t look as convincing as the FX team had hoped for).  So in retrospect, yeah, the last third of this one is a gorehound’s delight … although those gorehounds best be prepared to deal with some terrible acting, sloppy effects, and an ending that still has me scratching my head.

As mentioned, SCALPS was released on VHS in a double feature with a film titled THE SLAYER (while I didn’t see that one theatrically, I did watch the video and am beyond thankful I missed its cinematic release—if it even had one).  For the curious, SCALPS is available on DVD, a format that mercifully allows viewers to scan directly to the good stuff.

Sometimes, being a pre-DVD child of the 80s wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

For generic, bad acting, sloppy effects, plotless slasher film completists only!  (OH YEAH—there’s also a cameo by FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND icon Forrest J. Ackerman.  Go figure).

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

The Spirit of BLACK CLAW compels you!


Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Grave Robbing, Vampires, Zombies with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2010 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a dark, filthy prison cell in nineteenth-century England. MICHAEL ARRUDA is chained to a wall. There is a skeleton chained to the wall across from him. The guard tells MA that he has a visitor, and L.L. SOARES enters the cell, dressed as a monk.  There is tremendous laughter from off-camera.)

LS (with hands on hips, faces audience):  What?

MA:  You’ve obviously been miscast.  I mean, a monk?  Come on!

LS:  You don’t think I can pull it off?

MA:  A monkey, maybe.  But I don’t know about a monk.

LS:  Well, I’m a monk for the moment. Deal with it.  Get back into character quick.  We have a movie to review.

MA:  Of course. (Clears throat.)  You’ve finally come to help me escape!

LS: Escape? No, I’m just here because we’ve got a movie to review. Then I’ve got to leave. But don’t worry. I hear the guillotine is kept so sharp, you won’t know what hit you.

MA: No! You can’t let them execute me. I didn’t do anything!

LS: Sure you did. You gave good reviews to some awful movies, and bad reviews to some good ones. The world will be better off without your type.

MA: And leave you in charge?  Then everybody will believe THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is an instant classic!  Over my dead body!

LS:  That’s the idea.

MA:  And just who will you have to bounce your jokes off of? Who will be your comic foil?

LS: Are you kidding? I’ve got a line half-way down the block, people looking to take your job.

MA:  Yeah?  They can have my salary, too.

LS:  Shh!  No need to scare them away!  Besides, I’m just kidding. I’ll help you escape. But first, we’ve got a movie to review.

This week’s movie is a DVD release, I SELL THE DEAD from 2008. This is another movie from Larry Fessenden’s production company GLASS EYE PICS, who have had a pretty good track record so far.

I SELL THE DEAD is a horror movie with a strong sense of humor and begins much like this column did, with a monk (Ron Perlman) visiting a prisoner (Dominic Monaghan) before the man’s execution. Arthur Blake (Monaghan) has been convicted of grave-robbing and murder, but he swears he is innocent of the murder part.

The monk sits down and takes out a book. He then asks Arthur to tell him about his life as a criminal. It turns out the monk is writing a book about grave-robbers and would like to hear the man’s story. Knowing that the more he talks, the more he puts off his imminent death, Arthur is happy to oblige.

MA: The movie actually begins with Arthur’s partner-in-crime, Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden), being beheaded.

LS: Yes, and old Willie appears a lot in this movie despite his early demise. You see, he’s in almost all of the flashbacks as Arthur tells his tales.

MA:  I’m not a big fan of stories told through flashback, for the obvious reason that you know the guy telling the story has to survive the story in order to be there to tell the flashback.  Probably my favorite time it was used was in the Hammer classic, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  The opening of I SELL THE DEAD reminded me a little bit of the opening to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  In terms of atmosphere, I SELL THE DEAD reminded me of a lot of the Hammer Films period piece movies from the 1950s and 1960s.

LS:  It turns out that Arthur was at one time an apprentice grave-robber, learning the trade from Willie. He goes on to explain how they were blackmailed into providing fresh corpses regularly for Dr. Vernon Quint (Angus Scrimm), a vile surgeon who threatened to call the law on them if they didn’t do his bidding. Things change, though, when the boys come across the staked body of a vampire, which leads to a new career, where they specialize in digging up and selling the “undead.”

MA: While this was an interesting plot point, taking things a step further than your average grave-robber tale, it begged the question, who’s buying “undead” bodies and why?  Now, the film does answer this question, as it’s explained that doctors were interested in undead bodies because they believed the undead held the keys to immortality, and the doctors wanted to experiment with these bodies.  As a result, the selling of the “undead” became a very lucrative trade for the grave-robbers.

The problem I had with this answer is the same problem I had with the entire movie, and that is, it’s too superficial.  I think digging up the “undead” is a cool idea, but it brings to mind a lot of other questions, like how are these undead bodies the keys to immortality?  Just what kind of research are the doctors doing on these bodies?  These are questions I asked, and I wanted to know their answers, but the movie doesn’t supply them.

LS: Later on, they make a pretty lucrative living hunting down strange coffins holding bizarre creatures like aliens and zombies.

MA: At this point, the movie really starts to get “out there” and, to be honest, began to lose my interest.

LS:  They even get a new apprentice at one point, a woman named Fanny Bryers (Brenda Cooney), who actually gets them in more trouble than she’s worth.  And then there’s the House of Murphy, a vicious rival gang who tries to beat them to the bounty, and attempts to steal bodies from Willie and Arthur when they get to them first.

MA:  I didn’t like the House of Murphy.  They’re supposed to be this cutthroat bunch of grave-robbers who Arthur and Willie are afraid of, but in reality they’re kind of idiotic, and they don’t do a whole lot of cutthroat terrorizing.  They sort of fail at everything they do in this movie.

On the other hand, I liked Fanny Bryers a lot, and I wish she had been in the movie more.

LS:  As a horror-comedy, I think I SELL THE DEAD works pretty well, mainly because of the excellent cast. Dominic Monaghan is going to be very familiar to most people as Charlie from the TV series LOST (and Merry from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies). He does a good job here as Arthur, keeping things pretty tongue-in-cheek throughout. Ron Perlman (HELLBOY) is good as the monk, Father Duffy. Larry Fessenden, who not only produced this movie, but is a respected indie film director in his own right (his films include HABIT (1995), WENDIGO (2001) and THE LAST WINTER (2006)) is also a really good actor, and I thought he was the best character in this movie, as Willie Grimes, Arthur’s mentor and partner.

MA: I didn’t find the cast all that excellent.  Dominic Monaghan in the lead didn’t really do it for me.  His character was a bit too lightweight for me.  Now, I know this is a horror comedy, but his Arthur either needed to be funnier—the guy who carries the film with his humor—or play it straighter—the guy who is just tormented by the arsenal of buffoons around him.  Instead, he was just sort of there, and I certainly didn’t find him strong enough to carry the movie.

Larry Fessenden was somewhat better as Willie, because his character was more over-the-top, but he too was a lightweight.  This guy’s a grave-robber.  He needs to be down and dirty, shady, unpredictable, scary, but he’ s not.  He’s too watered-down, too likeable, and he came off as a poor man’s Jack Nicholson.

LS: Oh, come on. I thought Fessenden was terrific!

MA:   His performance was nothing I haven’t seen before.  Early on in the movie, Willie attempts to kill a young Arthur, but he can’t go through with it, which is supposed to make the point that he’s simply not a murderer, but the point it actually makes is he’s simply not that scary.  While Fessenden does throw a lot of energy into his role as Willie, he ends up being more goofy than grave.

My favorite performance by far belonged to Ron Perlman as Father Duffy.  I wish he had been in the movie more.  What I liked about Perlman was he played Duffy straight, but this didn’t stop him from being funny.  He’s got some funny lines in the film, but he also has some serious moments that work very well.  His reaction to Arthur’s line about “Is this the first time you’ve paid to be alone with a man, father?” is dead on.  I wish this movie had been more about him.

LS: Oh, Perlman’s always good, but like you said, he doesn’t do a lot here except sit down and prod a story out of Monaghan. Sure, he has some funny lines, but he just wasn’t in it enough. But I can see why you liked him.

MA: I also liked Brenda Cooney a lot as Fanny Bryers.  She brought the right amount of energy and sassiness to the role, and again, I wish she had been in the film more.

LS: Yeah, she gets the boys in trouble, but isn’t that what a movie like this should be about? I liked Fanny a lot, too, and wish she’d joined them in their misadventures much earlier in the film. As it is, her addition later on, in the second half of the movie, almost seems like an afterthought.

And don’t forget Angus Scrimm in a small role as Dr. Quint. Scrimm—“The Tall Man” himself from the PHANTASM movies. I always love to see him in a movie.

MA:  Yeah, Scrimm is okay, but his brief appearance here is certainly not going to satisfy his fans.

LS:  I SELL THE DEAD was also very atmospheric and reminded me of some of Roger Corman’s Poe films of the 1960s, especially because it has such a strong sense of humor to go along with the ghastliness.

MA:  Yeah, as I said before, it reminded me more of the Hammer Films of the same period.

LS: Yeah. There were a lot of cool, atmospheric horror movies back then. And this tries to be in the same tradition.

MA:  And that part of I SELL THE DEAD I liked a lot, the fact that it captured the look and feel of those older atmospheric movies.

LS:  Last Friday we posted your review of Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and you mentioned how a lot of horror comedies don’t work. But I thought I SELL THE DEAD did a pretty good balancing act. The comedy was more of a gallows-humor variety and didn’t conflict at all with the horror aspects. In fact, in this case, the two genres coincided quite well.

MA: I didn’t have a problem with the way the two genres mixed here.  You’re right.  They coincided rather well.  The problem I had with I SELL THE DEAD was that neither of its two genres worked all that well.  The horror is not that scary, and the comedy is not that funny.

LS (Scratches head): Make up your mind. First you say they coincided rather well, then you say they didn’t. Sheesh!

MA: You need to clean out your ears.  There’s a pitchfork over there in the corner you might want to use.

Yes, they work well together, meaning that it’s not a blatant shock that the movie tries to be funny and scary at the same time.  It’s a smooth marriage.  The problem is neither genre here is all that strong.  It’s mildly funny, and it’s mildly scary.  Think Ivory soap and baby shampoo.  They’re fine together, but they’re not all that potent.

LS: I didn’t think it was in the same league with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, or Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD movies with Bruce Campbell, but I found it enjoyable. I give it two and a half knives.

MA: It’s certainly not in the same league with SHAUN OF THE DEADI SELL THE DEAD is a very minor movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a bad movie, but it’s just not a very good one.

Now, I loved the atmosphere and the period costumes.  People were dressed correctly for the time, and they looked sufficiently dirty, but you can’t sell a movie just on atmosphere and costumes alone.

The biggest problem with I SELL THE DEAD is that it’s too superficial.  It does too little with too much, and as a result, it never satisfies.  I mean, it begins with the grave-robber tale, and for the most part, I liked this.  Then, it ups the ante as it introduces the “undead” elements, as suddenly Arthur and Willie are digging up vampires.  Then, it’s aliens, then zombies, and then there’s the subplot of the House of Murphy.  See where I’m going with this?  It’s bunch of things, all of them interesting, but none fleshed out enough to make for a compelling story.

(The SKELETON chained to the wall begins to laugh)

SKELETON: You said “fleshed out.” That’s funny.

LS: Shut up, you bumbling bucket of bones!

SKELETON: Aww. Aint’ you a rude one!

MA: I like movies about grave-robbers, too, as there have been some very good ones in the history of horror.  Probably my favorite is the Val Lewton produced, Robert Wise directed, THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.  It’s one of Karloff’s best non-Frankenstein’s Monster roles, and it’s a terrific film, even though Lugosi’s role is sad and thankless.  There’s also THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959) with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance, and THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985) with Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce, and Stephen Rea.

These movies are all excellent, and watching I SELL THE DEAD brought them to mind, but sadly, I SELL THE DEAD is not in the same league with these movies.  Yeah, I know, it’s a comedy, but I can argue, and I think you’d agree with me, that Mel Brooks’s YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) is in the same league with the genre’s best Frankenstein movies.

LS: Actually, I like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN a lot, but I don’t think it’s in the same league at all with the first two Karloff Frankenstein films, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – the two movies it draws most of its inspiration from.

MA:   I don’t know.  I would put YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in a “Best of Frankenstein Movies” list any day.  While it may not be in the same league as those two movies you mentioned, what FRANKENSTEIN movies are?  Those two are the top of the heap.

LS:  And , if you like grave-robbing movies so much, there’s a very effective sequence at the beginning of the original 1931 FRANKENSTEIN.

MA:  I also thought the movie’s use of comic book sequences where the live action shots would dissolve into a comic book illustration was largely wasted and seemed to have no use here whatsoever.  It was as if it was thrown in just for fun, or perhaps at some point there was going to be more of a comic book connection.  As it stands now, these moments stick out like a sore thumb.

LS: Yeah, I thought that was going for a CREEPSHOW (1982) vibe, but it doesn’t work. It’s just distracting.

(The scene dissolves to a comic book illustration of MA and LS in the prison cell.  After a brief pause, it returns to live action.)

MA:  See how exciting that was?

LS:  No.

MA:  That’s my point.

And the film’s ending wasn’t satisfying.  I found it silly and light, rather than funny and dark.

SKELETON (behind them): All you do is complain!

MA: All in all,I SELL THE DEAD is a mild movie that might hold your interest if you’re in a really good mood, and it certainly won’t offend, but it won’t grab you either, as it has about as much teeth as an old Scooby Doo cartoon.  I give it two knives.

LS: Speaking of which, do you have any Scooby Snacks? I could really go for one right now.

MA: They’re in my other jacket. You’ve got to help me escape, first.

(GUARD comes back into the cell)

GUARD: That’s enough time with the prisoner, Guvna’. Time for you to be moving on.

LS (Looks hesitant and then shrugs): Oh well, I guess this is good-bye. I’ve got a jacket to find.

MA: Aren’t’ you supposed to do something right about now?

LS: Let’s see (Scratches his beard). Nope. Just go about my business.

MA: Dammit, I knew you’d leave me here to rot.

GUARD: You won’t be rotting anytime soon. The guillotine awaits.

(LS laughs and darts out of the room)

MA (Mutters under his breath): You won’t get rid of me that easily.

GUARD: I’ll be back in a minute to fetch you.

MA:  Don’t I get a phone call?

GUARD:  Sure.  (Hands him a cell phone and unchains his hands)  You do realize that cell phones haven’t been invented yet?

MA (Presses buttons on phone):  Ask me if I care?  Hello?  Baron Frankenstein?  It’s Michael Arruda.  I’m in a bit of a bind.  It’s the old “headed to the guillotine” bit.  I knew you’d have a solution.  What’s that?  Find a last minute switch?  Who did you use?  A priest?  Heh heh. As a matter of fact, there is a priest here.  And I can’t think of a better person for the job.

Oh guard?  Would you make sure that monk is present at the guillotine, for the last rites and all?

GUARD:  Of course.  (He leaves).

MA (Smiles):  Thank you.

(SKELETON begins to laugh again)


© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michal Arruda gave I SELL THE DEADTwo knives

L.L. Soares gave I SELL THE DEADTwo and a half knives