Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dead Alive (Braindead) - review

1992 (New Zealand)

Contains spoilers.

Dead Alive, or Braindead as it's known outside the US is the brainchild of Peter Jackson and comes with, now I've seen it, a quite justifiable reputation of being one of the goriest films ever made. I've had a few days mull it over now too, and I'm happy to add: daftest, most ludicrous and outrageously brilliant to this.

It's the 1950's and the film starts with explorer Stewart (Bill Ralston) and his team trying to retrieve a Sumatran Rat-Monkey from Skull Island, very much against the wishes of the indigenous tribes' folk. During the desperate chase out of the country he gets bit and well aware of the danger this puts them all in, his companions take it on themselves to swiftly cut off the offending bitten appendages which ultimately includes his head. Jackson fully embraces the brutality and comedy of the scene with hacks, slashes and a lot of blood on show; if we didn't know what we were getting into we do now.

Anxious socially inept Lionel Cosgrove played brilliantly by star of the show Timothy Balme lives in the prominent house on the hill with his cantankerous totally domineering old mother (Elizabeth Moody). When Lionel attracts the attentions of local shopkeeper's daughter, Paquita (Diana Peñalver), who believes him to be the man of her destiny (as proclaimed by her fortune telling old granny), his disapproving mother take it on herself to follow them on their date to Wellington Zoo where said revolting rabid hairless vicious rat-monkey has been freshly put out for display.

While spying on the young couple the old dear gets attacked and bitten by the monkey but gets free crushing it's head under her boot. As the bite festers she deteriorates quickly and before you know it she's a hideous undead zombie and a sign of things to come. Lionel, the ever doting son, manages to suppress her with the constant administering of veterinary sedative but his efforts are futile and she escapes, kills a few townsfolk, gets hit by a tram and is buried with a funeral. Still believing he can keep things under wraps Lionel is set upon by some local ruffians whilst attempting to dig her up before the last sedative runs out; before we know it she's popped out the grave and the ruffians and the local priest, alerted to the commotion are all dead or undead too.

I normally try and critique how the films creatures fit into zombie myth and canon but I'm going to take a pass this time. The zombies can be sedated, they'll eat food just as much as people, sometimes their separated body parts, including their intestines can reanimate to the point of seeming to have awareness, they can have sex and babies; I could go on and there's not much rhyme and reason to any of it. But that's the point, each new obscenely shocking over the top sequence merely acts to drive laughs and disturb the viewer. Everything about this film is ludicrously over the top; the characterisation, the acting, the narrative, the special effects and puppetry, the music and sound effects, even the directing and production. It constantly ramps up, each scene trumping the one that came before for gore, blood and imagination. It's juvenile, vulgar and deviant; it's like they stuck a white board up in at a drunken frat party asking people to write down their most shocking ideas then decided to include them all.

It all works though. Each scene meticulously slots into place expanding upon what has come before. The narrative never gets lost behind the daftness and you genuinely find yourself wondering what they'll come up with next, and you're never disappointed. It's brilliantly crafted cinema with believable fantastically acted characters and it oozes atmosphere. I bought the US Blu-ray import and despite having a region A only on the sleeve and disc I can confirm it is region free. There aren't any extras on the disc which was disappointing but the picture and sound are clean and for an 80s b-movie it looks great.

With Lionel fighting a losing battle to keep the increasing number of zombies, now including a hilarious zombie baby, under wraps while simultaneously trying to maintain his relationship with Paquita, his obnoxious and self-serving uncle Les (Ian Watkin) uncovers what Lionel has been up to and blackmails him into handing over the house. When Les's friends take it upon themselves to celebrate his good fortune and arrive to party before Lionel can dispose of the zombies in the basement Jackson puts everything in place for probably the goriest, sickest and over the top cinematic finale ever.

Dead Alive knows what its trying to do and goes for it. It holds no punches, nothing is off the table despite how vulgar, obscene or crazy. It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense or contradicts something else that has happened before; if it works and gets a laugh, it's in. Dead Alive holds the notion that very idea of zombies is absurd anyway; so why not run with this as far as you can. What Jackson has achieved is a remarkable piece of cinema full of imagination and energy; full of memorable scenes and ideas and it's a joy to watch. It is the goriest film I think I've ever seen and I'm not sure I'd show this to my mother but for all this, its lack of seriousness means that it's never really that intense and you'll remember it more for its laughs than the carnage. It's a true farce and I loved it, 8/10.


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