It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born. For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), and 2013.
This year, we’re going old school and present to you the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon 2014: Classic Edition!
Braindead aka Dead Alive (1992)
Written by: Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh, & Peter Jackson
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Once upon a time in the far-off land of New Zealand, there lived a young lad named Peter. Peter found some seriously disturbed things hilarious. When Peter began making films with his friends, they filmed on weekends and took four years to complete their first try: a horror-comedy about aliens who want to eat people. The next film he directed was a musical comedy starring puppets very similar to the Muppets: it featured drug abuse, VD, pornography, the machine gun murder of most of the cast to a rousing musical number called “Sodomy.”
Then he made the goriest film of all time; a horror-comedy about zombies.
Braindead (it was released as Dead Alive in North America) took the extreme gore of Dawn and Day of the Dead to a whole new level. What Stuart Gordon and Sam Raimi had done with Re-Animator (1985) and Evil Dead 2 (1987) by infusing over-the-top gore with slapstick-style comedy, served as an inspirational launching point for Peter Jackson’s second foray into the world of the living dead (the first being his debut film, Bad Taste), and it has yet to be topped.
But the best part about it is that the gore and the humor all develop organically from a rather touching love story ambitiously set in 1957 between put-upon wimp Lionel (Timothy Balme) and feisty store clerk Paquita (Diana Peñalver). Lionel’s overbearing mum (Elizabeth Moody) keeps him in line through a combination of guilt and lies, but Paquita’s grandmother (Davina Whitehouse) has seen their romance in her tarot cards, so Paquita is convinced they are supposed to be together forever.
Enter the Sumatran Rat-Monkey.
According to legend, the Sumatran Rat-Monkey is the end result of plague rats raping tree monkeys on the mysterious Skull Island (a reference to the film that inspired Jackson to become a director, and a movie he would eventually remake: King Kong). This particular Rat-Monkey is sold to the Wellington Zoo by unscrupulous poachers, where no one realizes that the creature’s bite will turn the bitten into an undead creature.
After failing to keep his zombified mum under wraps, Lionel must go through with a funeral service and then try to retrieve her from the grave before the tranquilizers wear off.
Enter the Kung-Fu Priest.
In a creative twist on the standard zombie film scenario, where a group of people try to keep the undead horde from getting into their refuge, in Braindead, Lionel does everything he can to keep the zombies in the house. Tied up and tranquilized in the basement, to be exact.
Because of the slapstick approach to the film’s humor, Jackson doesn’t concern himself with believability or achieving life-like zombie effects. He’s all about the gross-out and uses a combination of miniatures, stop-motion animation, puppets, and gallons upon gallons of blood, pus, and viscera. Eyeballs pop out and are shoved back in, entrails snake around on their own — its rectum face is extremely expressive — and some sweet zombie love-making spawns a hideously mischievous zombaby named Selwyn.
Through it all, Jackson maintains the romantic comedy angle and works in a family mystery and a slimy uncle (Ian Watkin) who wants his share of the family fortune Lionel is set to inherit. Finally, once all these plotlines are set to converge, the film climaxes with a thirty-five minute non-stop zombie attack that raises the bar on gross-out zombie killing effects so high that it may never be reached again.
I’m not going to even try to read a political message or social satire into Braindead. Some critics have and I don’t fault them for it. I’m sure there’s some sort of commentary being made on the conservative nature of a repressive culture, or something to do with being a colony in a largely post-colonial world, but I have no real knowledge of New Zealand’s history or politics. Especially not enough to make any of those claims in the same manner I can for American films. All I can really say is that Braindead is extremely funny.
And it features an ending that has to be seen to be believed. Just when you thought Jackson had gone as far as he could with insane gross-outs… Re-enter Mum.
It’s easy to see why the film is still banned in some countries, and the American release (Jackson’s preferred cut, apparently) is nearly ten minutes shorter than the original. Not that the film is readily available. The DVD is out of print and going for ridiculous prices, although there are some affordable used copies floating about. The Blu-ray is long gone and not even cheap used.