I Sell The Dead Blu-ray Review
Erroneously listed as being 1.78:1 on the packaging, I Sell The Dead arrives on Canadian BD with a fine 2.40:1 transfer that does well with some deliberately difficult photographic and lighting issues. Encoded via AVC MPEG-4, McQuaid's macabre little movie retains its grain, features some pretty deep black levels and fairly accurate shadow delineation, and doesn't suffer from any overt sharpening or aliasing, nor does it show any banding in the filtering drapes of mist, the amber glow of the tavern, or the often desaturated sheen of the cold daylight sequences. The transfer does differ radically at one point early on, when we segue into the initial short film that McQuaid has integrated into the full feature and there is a level of noise in the image that positively hums in a few brief shots during this sequence.
The disc does a respectable job of reproducing the autumnal hues of the graveyards and the hamlets, though once we reach Langels Island, it is fairly obvious that the sun is shining and the temperature is quite high, despite the fog machines wafting their yield across the stony beach. But this is a curious film with regards to its colour palette. At times, it can be intentionally rich and warm while, at others, it can be bleak and slightly shorn of vitality - again intentionally. As far as I am concerned, the transfer plays fair with this. The warm glow from candles, lamps and lanterns is natural, as is the frigid air around the spectrally frozen grave. Skin-tones are fine, too. Nobody looks exactly peachy with health, but there is some clean diversity between the complexions to show that the image has distinction and realism.p>There are times when detail isn't quite as vivid as at others, but this is still a very pleasing and obviously richly defined image for much of its duration. Some shots of the grave-robbers going about their business provide lots of distant detail in the background. Those lamps trailing off down the country lanes, for example, and the trees and even the hills seen far away retain a sharpness and clarity that makes the image feel quite lush and three-dimensional. Facial detail is strong, especially when a bit of stubble or whiskerage is involved. The big guy, Bulger, has glorious, old school pugilist mutton-chops that exhibit fine separation. His teeth, too, those hideous dog-fangs, are also well rendered. The zombie makeup, which is mainly seen in the hazy daylight of the mist-wrapped Langels Island, is sharp and clear. The eyes, feral-yellow and green, come across vividly too. What is quite fetching about the picture is the frequent dropping from live-action to comic-panel frieze, a la Creepshow, and this is always handled with a sublime but rapid infusion of lurid red and purple to accentuate matters.
Overall, I Sell The Dead looks very good indeed. It is appropriately cold and bleak when necessary, bedecked with deep black shadows that don't appear to be hiding any detail within, and offers a striking colour scheme that, on command, bestows a gloriously garish sheen to the picture.
This gets a good, solid 8 out of 10.
Without being overly flashy or creating a whip-around experience of bombastic overkill, I Sell The Dead's DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is splendidly evocative throughout.
As I say, this isn't the type of mix that is designed to blow you away with floor-trembling aggression, but rather one that provides plenty of realistic activity and lots of atmospheric presence. The wind whispers all around you, trees creak. Unearthly moans and shrieks emanate from all around. We even get the low rumbling of a sea-creature wailing beneath the waves to enliven the eerie channel-crossing. The grumbling of the little shovel/body carts travels across the soundfield too, and the fiddle-playing from Angus Scrimm's sinister surgeon is clean, sweet and clear and moves across the frontal array. Effects are sharp and well-prioritised - from the downward slash of the guillotine and the jarring thud of a shovel on a frozen casket, to the splintering wood of zombie-cage and the frantically comical shrieking of a vampire as a stake is pulled from her heart, then put back in again, then pulled out ... and then put back in again. There are lots of little things going on all the time and the track is well-balanced and constantly entertaining.
The often fruity and ribald dialogue is always keenly heard and possesses a genuinely naturalistic presence within the soundfield. There is never a time when you are straining to hear what is being said, and it is often a lot of fun trying to differentiate the myriad accents that populate the film. The score is warm and flows into the environment with vigour, and deep impacts, although not really sub-walloping, have some decent density and weight to them.
The disc also has a 2-channel stereo option, which is cleanly separated and offers a fair presentation of the film's soundtrack, but the lossless mix is truly the only way to go, as this widens the atmospherics quite considerably and provides plenty of subtle immersion.
Another 8 out of 10, folks.
Two commentary tracks grace the film - McQuaid's is a fact-packed but ultimately rather dry experience, whilst the one that pits the two main characters - Monaghan and Fessenden - together again is far more enjoyable. Fessenden is actually able to deliver a lot of background about the project, from the casting, McQuaid's style, the effects and whole putting-together of the film because he has been involved with it for years now, what with the original interpretation and the funding and producing of this more elaborate take. Friends are pointed out in their cameos, yarns are spun, secrets are divulged and much fun is to be had, since the two are clearly good mates now. I love chat-tracks such as these - when the actors are able to watch themselves on the screen and simply take the “proverbial” out their performances whilst still being respectful to the film, the makers, the craft itself and, of course, to one another. It is just so endearing. This chat is casual, continuous, spontaneous and thoroughly entertaining. Monaghan does give in to some audible yawning towards the end, but this is no reflection of boredom on his part as he is clearly enjoying watching the film and reminiscing.
For his part, McQuade, flying solo, points up his influences, from Hammer and Freddie Francis to even the artistic/cultural bent of Is Paris Burning? He discusses his creativity and how he wanted to shoot certain scenes, but is honest enough to admit when things didn't quite work out, or when common sense got the better of his more impractical ideas. It is also quite clear that although he loved the chance to elaborate and expand upon the characters he created for The Resurrection Apprentice, he is not a major fan of the original short film, itself. Together, both tracks cover some of the same ground - which is unavoidable - but there is plenty to enjoy with either ... not least the provocative mention of a steamier, less-clothed version of the sequence when Fanny Bryer persuades Blake to make the trip to Langels Island.
The hour-long making-of, entitled simply “Making I Sell The Dead” is actually a tremendous overdose of on-set footage interspersed with talking head interviews. But what we get is a very thorough, though often pleasantly slapdash chronicle of the filming and photographic style, the makeup effects and the set-building, the actors going through the motions and, very often, just goofing-about. The meandering manner of the piece is not immediately conducive to the thematically educational, but McQuaid's guerilla doc covers most aspects of the film's production. It also does that very fine thing in that it genuinely makes the process of making a movie look like fun ... hard work, yes, but bloody good fun. Some of the things that are alluded to in the commentary tracks are seen here, such as Dominic Monaghan punching the imposing Alisdair Stewart in the stomach, and we get to meet the guys who created the makeup effects, all massive zombie-geeks who couldn't wait to “deadify” some faces.
The Visual FX of I Sell The Dead is thirteen minutes that looks at the CG elements that went into creating the look of the film and, more pertinently, the key sequences of the vampire, the knife-throwing and, most crucially of all, the beheaded corpse with its own talking noggin held, Re-Animator-style, in its own hand. The CG effects aren't the best around, but they are immensely enjoyable, just the same, and it is surprising how informative and actually interesting this little, step-by-step tutorial really is. We've seen these FX-rundowns so many times now that you just yawn at the inclusion of yet another one on a disc, but somehow - maybe because the production is so amiable and cheerfully cheap - this one doesn't become tedious and doesn't outstay its welcome.So, not a bad little selection of extras that actually puts to shame the paltry offerings that a lot of much bigger, more high profile titles are equipped with.
I thought that I Sell The Dead was excellent, though I realise that many people will just shrug their shoulders and bemoan its quirky attitude and playful nature as so much superficial whimsy. Packed with great characters and featuring plenty of inventive vignettes, though, it is hard not to warm to Glenn McQuaid's oddball gothic knockabout. It wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, yet it defiantly digs some fresh earth of its own and, as well as a great atmosphere of otherworldly fantastique, it offers some engaging chemistry between a cast that genuinely appear to be enjoying themselves.
Anchor Bay's hi-def release is a strong one, as well. The image is fine and detailed and has not been marred by any glaring digital manipulation. Audio-wise, the DTS-HD MA track is very good indeed. What it may lack in actual bombast, it more than makes up for with subtle detail and all-round atmospheric scene-setting. And the extras are worth your while, too, which is enormously pleasing for a film that so many have either neglected or never even heard of. A couple of commentaries may inevitably overlap occupationally, but with the more fact-based one from the director and the much more fun and entertaining verbal romp from the two leads, you can't say that every base hasn't been comprehensively covered. The extensive making-of is also pretty unique and totally encapsulates that “fun-for-all” attitude that so permeates the movie. With its combination of interviews, on-set footage and hi-jinx, this may, like the film, meander slightly, but it still delivers much more than many other so-called making-of “featurettes”.
Dark, demented and devoted to the tropes of gothic misbehaviour, this is a ripe fairytale for the jaded and the delinquent. I Sell The Dead is great fun and I, for one, would love to see more of Glenn McQuaid's two grave-robbing buffoons.
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