Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Dead Alive (aka Braindead) (1992) Early Peter Jackson Insanity
A Sumatran rat-monkey. A domineering mother-monster. A kung-fu priest. A delinquent's entrails that have a life of their own. A cheery demon baby. A lawnmower shield.
All this and lots more is what you'll find in one of Peter Jackson's early films, the energetic cult classic known as Dead Alive here on our side of the world, and Braindead everywhere else. You may know Jackson as the high-powered director behind the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies of recent years. He's won Academy Awards, produced several huge hits, and is generally one of the most well-known directors in the modern era. But before all that, Jackson cut his teeth on wacky, blood-splattered craziness like this movie, or his first feature film, Bad Taste. This was the first Peter Jackson movie I ever saw, and it remains near and dear to my heart.
Taking place in Jackson's native New Zealand during the 50's, the story follows sad-sack mama's boy Lionel (Timothy Balme) as he balances falling for a local gypsy girl, Paquita (Diana Peñalver), and following his mean mom's wishes and commands. When mommy dearest is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and dies, things get a little bit crazy. Old Vera reanimates as a blood-crazed zombie, turning a gang of ne'er-do-wells and her own nurse into ghouls like her. Even the local priest, who put the beatdown on the zombie gang while delivering one of the best lines of dialogue ever ("I kick ass for the LORD!"), is eventually turned as well. Poor Lionel has to keep the monsters hidden in his basement and deal with his lecherous Uncle Les, who wants the house for himself. Before long, Les throws a rockin' party and Lionel tries to sever ties with his mother by using what he thinks is poison to kill her once and for all. Unfortunately, the poison turns out to be what equates to super-steroids for animals and the zombie outbreak is seriously on. The party degenerates into one of THE most gory, insane, and manic sequences in the history of film. Seriously, Dead Alive is still considered one of the goriest movies ever made.
Still, the gore is played for laughs, and after a while, it becomes less "gore" and more "slapstick." All those weird things I mentioned in the beginning are there. What happens when two infected zombies have "relations"? A demon baby that Lionel actually takes for a day out in a way to return to normalcy.
Balme's Lionel is a hero who grows through the movie, and it's not hard to cheer for the guy. Paquita gives him enough confidence to cut the umbilical cord...among a few other things. The movie is absolutely in-your-face, wild, and energetic with kinetic camera angles, quick editing, and a narrative that never slows down.
Dead Alive is a favorite among horror fans, always thought of with a smile or a chuckle. It's definitely horror, but the comedy shines through alongside its darker genre cousin seamlessly. If you have a weak stomach, yeah, you might have a little trouble with things like Lionel's lawnmower shield among many other things. But the movie's hilarious and drive-in-style fun, as well as being a bit of a history lesson about one of the world's top directors.
Until next time, don't visit the Sumatran rat-monkey at your local zoo...