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DEAD-ALIVE (a.k.a. BRAINDEAD)

1992, dir. Peter Jackson
104 min. Not Rated.
Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin.

Review by Justin Patterson

Halloween is approaching, and I've begun on my customary week-long immersion in the world that is (usually bad) horror films. It's fun, keeps me centered, and generally makes me into a horrible driver for several weeks to come. Last night, I sat down to watch one of the all-time great horror films, and I sat down to watch it with two women who admittedly can't handle horror films. They get nightmares, squirm and squeak a lot, and wind up curled into little balls by midway through the films. Knowing that, I was pleased to be able to subject them to Peter Jackson's greatest work. He did NOT spring to life fully grown with LOTR, like some cinematic Pallas Athena. No, before Frodo gave Gollum the finger, before Michael J. Fox saw dead people, before even Meet the Feebles, there was the masterpiece that is Dead Alive.

This isn't a classic-style film noir with eight back plots and edgy camera work. This isn't even some low-key crap like Jason or Freddy. No, this is a fucking gore-fest extraordinaire! We're not supposed to cringe at a madman with a machete. Instead, we're treated to the finest collection of special effects bloodbaths ever imagined.

Here's the gist of it. Lionel is a mama's boy in Wellington, New Zealand, some time in the early 60s. Incidentally, he falls for a girl. He also takes his mother to the zoo, where she is savagely bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey from Skull Island (not unlike the Mexican Staring Frog of Sri Lanka). Boy buries mother when she dies. Boy's girl's grandmother (who just happens to be a fortune teller) warns boy that dark forces are massing against him. Mother comes back as a freakin' zombie whose only purposes in life are to eat the flesh of the living and to re-assert her authority over her son. She bites other people, and they bite other people, until there's this beautiful house chock full o'nuts and Lionel has to take care of things Once And For All.

There's no sex. There's very little foul language. Instead, there is just a smorgasbord of gore the likes of which I've not seen before or since. Heads are punctured and crushed with high heeled shoes. Limbs are ripped off. Lips and cheeks are gnawed. Intestines are pulled out, only to re-form later as a liver and backside with intestines that propel them along, with the backside graciously passing gas with alarming frequency. There's a zombie priest having sex with a zombie nurse and having a zombie baby, which is wrong on a whole lot of levels. There are many other examples of the disgusting and absurd, but there is one that sets this film out ahead of any other film in the world: YOU GET TO SEE A MAN TRY TO KILL A HOUSEFUL OF ZOMBIES BY WADING INTO THEM WHILE WAVING A RUNNING LAWNMOWER IN FRONT OF HIM.

It's addictive. It's almost like a train wreck, or the Seann William Scott/Jason Biggs kiss. You know it's going to be ugly, and you know that you'll regret it, but you are compelled to watch. Plus, the accents are cute. Sounds like they all finished watching Whale Rider, or something.

Anyway, it all worked out. Daughter wound up curled into a ball on the end of the sofa with a pillow over her head, begging me to mute the television so that she couldn't hear the body parts in the blender. Mother wasn't quite as curled up, but had the neck of her sweater pulled over her face while saying, "Nononononono. . . ." Mother summed up the evening as simply and eloquently as Gene Siskel ever could have. While walking down the hall, she suddenly stopped and looked at me and said vehemently, "Holy shit! That was a lot of blood!"

Mission accomplished.

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