Chad Archibald’s latest “horror-crime-comedy” hybrid I’ll Take Your Dead starts with its young protagonist, Gloria (Ava Preston) narrating, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s alive and who’s dead.” It’s similarly challenging to classify Archibald’s oddity, whose jarring meshing of reality and fantasy prevents it from achieving “instant cult classic” status. Yet, due to committed leads, a sustained atmosphere of menace and a thankfully brief running time, I’ll Take Your Dead deserves your attention as a notable curiosity.
Gloria lives with her father William, a.k.a. the infamous Candy Butcher (Aidan Devine), on a remote, almost-gothic farm. Gloria’s mother passed away from leukemia, and her death casts a dark shadow over the estate. Memories of mom are not the only things that haunt Gloria – zombie-like apparitions terrorize the child; “I can see them everywhere,” she whimpers. William, however, can’t see them, he’s too busy disposing of bodies brought to him by the local mafia.
Though he doesn’t bring her along for the “autopsy” sessions, William is quite casual in subjecting Gloria to the sight of limp human beings, dropped off by gangsters at their front porch. “That’s enough for tonight,” William tells Gloria at one point, as she stares at the limp body of a young woman – as if she were watching too much late-night TV. He then surgically dismantles and liquefies corpses in the basement, while his disturbed daughter carves up teddy bears in her room upstairs.
“Memories of mom are not the only things that haunt Gloria – zombie-like apparitions terrorize the child…”
One day, a presumed corpse turns out to still be alive. Once the badly wounded mobster Jackie (Jess Salgueiro) comes to, she relentlessly tries to escape, but William ties and patches her up in one of the farm’s bedrooms. Soon enough, Jackie forms something akin to a mother-like bond with the motherless Gloria, even walking the girl through her first period. When Jackie gets a hold of a phone and reaches out to her gang, things get complicated – a little needlessly so. The finale is fittingly tense, a bloody, bullet-and-fire-ridden showdown at William’s farm – although the non-stop assault of “why the hell are they here?” ghosts weighs it down.
Archibald assembled a quality crew to bring his insane idea to life. Cinematographer Jeff Maher sustains a desolate, menacing atmosphere, the film filled with brown hues, jagged edges, dark silhouettes, and gloomily alluring imagery. Both Devine and Preston turn in convincing, passionate performances, the former winning us over despite the horrific acts he commits, the latter carrying every scene she’s in with aplomb. Archibald himself skillfully handles quieter moments, such as one involving a homemade blood transfusion.
“…skillfully handles quieter moments, such as one involving a homemade blood transfusion.”
While bound to satisfy the most savage of gore-hounds, the director wisely strays away from overtly gratuitous depictions of the basement’s grisly proceedings – which, granted, include dismemberments, beheadings and immersions into a tub full of acid. When spooky moments do come, they are undermined by clichés, like sped-up, cheap-looking zombies advancing towards the camera, and musical cues alerting us when to jump.
What’s more disturbing – and somewhat controversial – is the sight of a child being privy to such horror. Unfortunately, the ramifications of such traumatic exposure are never truly explored. The explanation provided as to why this otherwise-gentle man became a notoriously horrific butcher doesn’t quite justify him casually and continuously subjecting his daughter to the sight of mutilated corpses.
The life-like thriller, eccentric comedy, and outlandish horror elements don’t quite gel as well as intended, clumsily getting in each other’s way. Ironically, it’s the very hoard of genres that Archibald so gutsily blended that brings his otherwise-captivating film down.
I’ll Take Your Dead (2019) Directed by Chad Archibald. Written by Jayme Laforest. Starring Aidan Devine, Ava Preston, Jess Salgueiro, Brandon McKnight, Ari Millen.
6 out of 10