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Dead Alive

Reviewed by Alex Strickland
Posted November 16, 2001

Braindead, better known as Dead Alive, is a delightfully twisted and slightly off-kilter film from New Zealand born writer/director Peter Jackson. In this, his take on the zombie genre more or less started by George A. Romero, we follow the character of Lionel Cosgrove (Balme, in a hilarious performance) as he tries to keep his neighbors and friends from finding out just exactly what’s happened to his beloved Mum, Vera Cosgrove (Moody). You see, Mum’s been bitten by the rare and dangerous Sumatran rat monkey, and not only has this killed her, it’s brought her back. Except this time, she’s a little bit more hungry.

As the film progresses, the late Mrs. Cosgrove manages to infect others, causing the little circle of flesh-eating ghouls to grow. Lionel has a hard time keeping it secret, especially from his would-be girlfriend, Paquita (the lovely Peñalver) and his conniving boozer uncle Les (Watkin), who’s after a spot in Mum’s will. It all builds to a hilarious, gore-filled climax as Les’ partying friends get brought into the world of the undead, with Lionel attempting to stop the madness once and for all.

The plot may sound a bit silly at first, and in a way it’s intended to be, but it all plays out wonderfully in the film, thanks in no small part to Jackson’s directing. The camera work is superb, although you’ll most likely never notice it, as it’s unobtrusive and flows from scene to scene smoothly, aiding the film immensely. Not only that, the performances are great too, the highlight being Timothy Balme. I’m surprised Balme hasn’t done more since this, as his use of facial expressions can go from hilarious to serious and still be believable. He takes the character of Lionel, who could have been quite annoying and whiny at the beginning, and makes the audience like him immediately. The rest of the cast fares well, too, in particular Peñalver and Watkins. And then there’s Devenie’s ass-kicking priest, a hilarious character, to be sure.

And of course, who could forget the effects? Quite possibly the goriest movie I’ve ever laughed, smiled, and had so much fun with, Dead Alive’s SFX are quite amazing, considering it was made in 1992 on a mere $3 million dollar budget (at that time, it was Jackson’s highest budget for a film). Let’s see, you’ve got the creepy stop-motion rat monkey, lawnmower dismemberments, intelligent and hostile intestines, zombie babies, a kung-fu priest who kicks ass for the Lord, hands through-the-face-fu, fist-through-the-head-fu, a garden hoe to the cranium, angel statue impalings, ribcages being pulled out, face-being-ripped-off-fu, neck bitings, pus shootings, illuminated-skulls-via-lightbulb, and, oh, I couldn’t possibly remember them all.

That being said, the film is most likely not for everyone. It is extremely gory, though in an entirely different manner from films like Saving Private Ryan. The film is so absurdly over the top, no one should be able to take the violence that seriously. But then again, people, if they want to, can find an excuse to be offended by anything. But anyone who’s even remotely interested should seek this film out. I’m sure you’ll have an enjoyable experience. Sure, there’s blood and gore, but you can’t help but smile when Lionel walks in with his lawnmower, ready to mow down the undead.


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Peter Jackson

Stephen Sinclair
Frances Walsh
Peter Jackson

February 12, 1993 (U.S.)

Timothy Balme
Diana Peñalver
Elizabeth Moody
Ian Watkin
Stuart Devenie

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD

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