Dead Alive

1992, Movie, R, 97 mins

Review

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An almost unrelenting barrage of gore, DEAD ALIVE is also a constant assault on the funnybone, a film in which the graphic blood-spilling is taken so far over the top that it becomes hilarious instead of disgusting.

Our hero is Lionel (Timothy Balme), a young man in 1957 New Zealand who lives with his domineering mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody). While shopping at a Spanish-owned grocery where the attractive Paquita (Diana Penalver) works, he accidentally knocks several items onto a counter; they land in a pattern that Paquita's grandmother has told her will indicate the man with whom she will fall in love. The shy, awkward Lionel is convinced by Paquita to go to the zoo with her, but they are followed by the suspicious Vera, who in the course of her spying is bitten by a vicious Sumatran rat monkey. Lionel helps her home, but she becomes increasingly sick and her behavior becomes grotesque, climaxing with her devouring Paquita's dog when the young woman stops by for a visit.

After falling down a flight of stairs, Vera is declared dead by local Nurse McTavish, but soon rises as a zombie and kills her; Lionel is forced to confine his mother and the subsequently reanimated nurse in the cellar. Vera escapes, however, and is hit by a trolley car and "killed." She revives again during her funeral, but Lionel manages to sedate her with drugs. After she's buried, Lionel goes to her grave to insure she won't rise again, but is set upon by Void (Jed Brophy) and his gang of punks. Vera rises from her grave and zombifies the punks, and the commotion wakes Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie), who uses martial arts to subdue the ghouls before Void kills him.

Soon the undead Void and McGruder have joined Vera and McTavish in Lionel's basement, and the former priest and nurse have sex that results in a zombie baby. Then Lionel's sleazy uncle Les (Ian Watkin) comes to call, and Lionel is unable to hide the sedated creatures from him; believing Lionel has been digging up bodies, Les blackmails him into handing over the estate he's inherited. To celebrate, Les throws a party in the house, but despite the efforts of Lionel and Paquita to kill the zombies once and for all, the creatures escape from the cellar and attack the party guests. The result is an army of infected ghouls that set upon Lionel, Paquita and Les. While Lionel is busy chopping the zombies into bloody bits with a hoisted lawnmower, Les is killed by Vera, now swollen up to become an enormous monster. The Vera monster confronts Lionel and Paquita on the roof, where she pulls her son back into her womb before attempting to kill his girlfriend. But Lionel manages to hack his way out with a pendant given him by Paquita's grandmother, and the creature falls into the now burning house as Lionel and Paquita escape to safety.

DEAD ALIVE represents the absolute zenith of director and co-writer Peter Jackson's comedy-horror style. Starting with his first feature, the aptly titled BAD TASTE, and continuing through the bizarre puppet spoof MEET THE FEEBLES (so far unreleased in the U.S.), Jackson has brought a sense of outrageous humor to graphically violent material without stinting on the violence itself. This film is absolutely the last word in gory zombie movies, piling one hysterically disgusting setpiece atop another until a climactic half-hour blowout that drenches the screen and everybody on it with blood and viscera. It makes such previous gore landmarks as THE EVIL DEAD and RE-ANIMATOR look like Disney films by comparison, and yet the movie rarely becomes repulsive. Instead, Jackson choreographs the mayhem into a bizarre form of slapstick, while ensuring that the gore is never the sole point; rather, he peoples the movie with engaging characters who are funny even when they're not splattering or being splattered.

As played by Balme and Penalver, Lionel and Paquita are a likable pair of protagonists, and their attempts to hold their romance together even as everyone around them is literally falling apart has a great deal of charm. Equally memorable is Watkin as Uncle Les, a rude force of nature who turns his perverted energies against the zombies at the climax and almost manages to hold his own. Among the supporting characters, the most memorable is Devenie's kung-fu priest, who proclaims, "I kick ass for the Lord!" before leaping into the fray and dispatching the punk zombies in an Asian-style martial arts assault.

Throughout the film, Jackson consistently honors the B-movie conventions he's sending up, playing the outrageous material straight and never condescending to his audience. The copious makeup effects, while often wacky in their conception (like a living, breathing, farting pile of ambulatory intestines), are just as convincing as those in a straight horror film. Although the film (titled BRAINDEAD in its native New Zealand) was slightly edited for U.S. release, none of the gore was lost; instead, the cuts were made to tighten up the few slow points in Jackson's visceral, intensely paced movie. (Graphic violence, sexual situations, profanity.) leave a comment

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