There’s an alarming trend in Zombie related media these days. It seems that in recent years, Zombies are getting more and more serious. I love a good, serious Zombie story as much as the next Fat Guy With Glasses, and I’ve been around the zombie block enough times to know that all this observation of the human condition that’s been taking place on shows like “The Walking Dead” and movies like “World War Z” is actually the genre returning to its preachy horror suspense roots. None of that, however, keeps me from missing the comedy gore fests that dominated the 80s and 90s.
“Dead-Alive”, or “Braindead” depending on your location, is in this FGWG’s not-always-that-humble opinion, the pinnacle of the horror comedy genre.
First let’s set some guidelines, and at the same time explain the naming confusion. The North American release of this movie is called “Dead-Alive”. Everywhere else in the world, this movie is called “Braindead”. This is because here, there was already a 1990 movie named “Brain Dead” which starred Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton, which I do not remember in the least, even though I know I watched it. I presume it had something to do with them combining their twin Bill-Mecha into MEGABILL and defeating a giant evil robot that was hell-bent on destroying the Earth’s supply of character actors.
Since I’m a self-centred North American, I’ll be using our title for the duration of the review, thank you very much.
“Dead-Alive” was directed by some guy named Peter Jackson, and released here in ’93 with 2 different cuts: The “R-Rated” and the ever so popular “Unrated”. This was back when the “Unrated” tag still meant something, and it wasn’t used on every shitty teen comedy to come down the pipe. I’ve watched both versions, and the “R-Rated” one is barely worth watching. The tagline for this movie is “The goriest fright film of all time.” The Unrated version probably still holds that trophy, even though it is not a fright film in the least. This is gory slapstick comedy at its best. We’re talking “Evil Dead 2” on crack.
I could summarize the story for you, but there’s really no need. You only really need to know that this film has everything your awful B-movie comedy needs. Zombies, Kung Fu Priest, Zombie Baby, crazy amounts of gore, zombie-on-zombie sex scene, loser-to-hero protagonist, asshole relative who ruins everything, lawnmower massacre, ridiculous one liners (including what I believe to be the single greatest one liner of all time), tarot card weilding Grandmother… the list goes on.
But it’s not just that the movie is gory and hilarious that makes it work. Jackson is definitely not afraid to experiment. There’s some real technical brilliance at work here too. Outside of extreme close-ups being used a bit too often, there is some really nifty camera work going on here. All of the gore is through practical special effects, as well, which is another thing I’ve been missing in modern media lately. I’m not saying I don’t love CGI effects, I do, and I respect them. Just like music on vinyl, though, there’s something about corn syrup that manages to feel more real on screen.
In the sea of zombie movies out there these days, this movie really does float to the top. It’s the yardstick to gauge your less than serious zombie movie against. I wish I could watch it for the first time again.
P.S. The stars and planets aligned for this review to take place. Recently, while Peter Jackson’s latest epic was chugging along its hype machine, I figured it would be a good time for me to review one of the two movies I’ve seen that he’s directed. Also recently, I happened upon a VHS copy of Dead-Alive at a local thrift store. Since I sold my old, worn out, watched-an-unreasonable-number-of-times copy about 13 years ago, while VHS tapes were still worth something, along with a bunch of others, to get gas money for a road trip to visit my then-new girlfriend. Since I haven’t watched the movie since that day, I was excited.
P.P.S. I’m starting to think I might have a Zombie Problem. Between all the Walking Dead media I’m currently consuming, and the fact that I think the next movie I want to re-watch is 28 Days Later… Is there a Zombies Anonymous? Oh shit… that was a movie I watched once on Netflix. Oh God, that was terrible. Why did I have to remind myself of that? Gah. Now I really need to watch 28 Days Later to wash the awful away.