Larry Fessenden produced and co-stars in I Sell the Dead, but the sharp, cerebral horror of the filmmaker’s Wendigo and The Last Winter is nowhere to be found in Glenn McQuaid’s meandering 19th-century supernatural gothic tale. After his mentor and partner in crime, Willie (Fessenden), finishes his date with the guillotine, incarcerated grave robber Arthur (Dominic Monaghan) is visited by a priest (Ron Perlman) interested in hearing him repent. Instead of contrition, the holy man hears Arthur’s tortuous life story, in which he learned to dig up corpses at goofy Willie’s side, then found more lucrative work digging up vampires, monsters, and other forms of the undead and selling them to mad scientists like his initial employer, Dr. Quint (Phantasm‘s Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm).
In one flashback vignette after another, writer/director/editor McQuaid fails to build any dramatic, suspenseful, or comedic momentum, the pace left tediously slack by prolonged conversations without a point, jokes that fall flat, and no overarching plot to tether these various episodes together in even the most rudimentarily engaging way. With some tighter cutting, I Sell the Dead could recount its entire story in 40 minutes, though even at that faster clip it’s hard to imagine caring about its ne’er-do-well protagonists, who are meant to be colorful degenerate rapscallions but lack any clear-cut personality traits that might warrant their incessant banter. McQuaid’s mist-enshrouded old-time New York setting has an artificial phoniness that recalls countless Syfy originals. However, subpar aesthetics—which also, for no good reason, include occasional freeze frames that transform into comic book panels—are eventually far less deleterious than the moment-to-moment and overriding aimlessness of the film, which is geared around an easily foreseeable twist and concludes with a surprise that, instead of functioning as the climax, would have better served as the premise.