Not in the mood for a Halloween movie that’s dark, scary, and gory? How about a movie that’s silly, fun, and exceptionally gory?
Dead Alive (entitled Braindead in its native New Zealand) is comedic horror film about a timid young man named Lionel Cosgrove who lives in an old house under the oppression of his domineering mother Vera, credited as Mum. The family dynamic takes an even worse turn, however, when Mum is bitten by a demonic Sumatran rat-monkey and transformed into a flesh-eating zombie! Struggling to care for his monstrous mother and her increasing mob of undead victims, Lionel must keep the disaster secret from the townsfolk, including his infatuated girlfriend Paquita and his brutish Uncle Les, who schemes to inherit the family home and throw a massive party inside: and oh what a killer party it will be.
Dead Alive is a splatter film, and is indeed bloody and gross. In fact, it is excessively bloody and gross and may rank in the top ten bloodiest and grossest movies ever created. Dead Alive is also funny and lighthearted. The horror scenes are comically over-the-top and succeed at being hilarious. Bridging the gap between action sequences is a fast-moving plot with entertaining characters. Lionel and Paquita are lovable heroes, but the laughs come from kooky side characters like Uncle Les, Mum, Father McGruder the kick-ass priest, and a mischievous zombie-baby named Selwyn. The first hour provides plenty of thrills as the plot develops, but the third act is where the real party begins. At this point the action is accelerated, the carnage climbs to a whole new level, and the film transcends into an all-out, maniacal monster mash of violence and mayhem.
Some of you feel, as I do, that zombies belong with Kim Kardashian and Angry Birds in the archive of hyper-exposed media sensations that have lingered long past their expiration date. Since zombie horror is the signature genre of indie filmmakers who have little-to-no imagination, it’s consequential that most zombie movies consists exclusively of tired tropes established five decades ago by George A. Romero, whose work itself does little to justify his legendary status.
Dead Alive, nevertheless, has much to offer horror movie lovers, even those with zombie fatigue. This is due to its humorous writing, its creative monster design, and almost certainly the leadership of Peter Jackson, who in 1992 was the furthest thing from an unimaginative filmmaker. The zombies in this movie are treated as individualistic monsters, not as a monotonous mob. Every human victim is killed in a unique way, with the manner of death dictating the type of zombie produced. Most of the zombies are mutilated in comical ways which give them signature looks. For example, there’s a zombie with only bones for legs, one with a garden gnome crammed into his headless neck, and another whose face glows yellow because she was stabbed with a light bulb. Some of the zombies have clothing and personalities which reflect the human characters they replace, which makes them recognizable villains who engage the heroes in dramatic confrontations. The zombie action in Dead Alive has variety and ingenuity. It’s more than just mindless carnage; it’s spectacular carnage.
This movie should be viewed with a large number of friends. You want to be in a screaming crowd when the big, gnarly kills happen. Drinking alcohol is highly encouraged, although you should avoid consuming quantities that will make you liable to puking. Don’t bring friends who are squeamish or opposed to cinematic violence, unless you are a prankster. Do, however, watch Dead Alive, watch it with friends, and if you ever need a household item to defend yourself from a brigade of zombies, definitely choose the lawnmower.
Bailey Wattron is a biologist who also loves horror movies. You can follow him on Twitter @Baiwatch.