Friday, 6 November 2015

Undead or Alive - review

2007 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Undead or Alive is the zombie genres nod to Blazing Saddles and The Three Amigos. It's a Western cinematic farce, full of slapstick and silly one-liners; it's a film of unlikely friendship, full of warmth, loyalty; it's an over the top action flick, indulgent and excessive, and it's a film with really great moustaches. It's also a movie that could easily have gone awry, but under the direction of Glasgow Phillips, and this may be personal, I genuinely believe it accomplished all it set out to.

The great frontier was sparse, brutal and life was painfully simple and great Westerns understand the need for a narrative that matches it's barren home. Unlikely companions Elmer Windslow (James Denton) and Luke Rudd (Chris Kattan) find themselves teamed up, and on the run from corrupt Sheriff Claypool (Matt Besser) and his posse. It's simple, straight-forward and the whys and wheres aren't particularly important, though the preamble is light, airy and fun. What is important, and the only extra layer or complexity, is that New Mexican el-supremo hunter is now quite the undead gut muncher and his hunger for retrieving the money the boys stole, is as insatiable as it is for their brains.

What elevates Undead or Alive from being dismissed as just another low budget comedy, cashing in on the zombie fad, is the quality of the dialogue and acting, and the rather witty and satisfying story. Windslow and Rudd who are soon joined by the entirely endearing Sioux Sue (Navi Rawat) are a joy to watch. As they all come together there's genuine on-screen warmth and aided by a clever script they very quickly become characters you feel invested in. Likewise Claypool and his incompetent Deputy Cletus (Chris Coppola) play the western villain caricatures convincingly with just the right amount of intimidation and ham. For the reasonably low budget it's all very professionally put together, with great scene composition, good camera work and actors who seem more than willing to go that extra mile knowing the script and story are solid. I also especially enjoyed the switches back to the town long after it was ever going to be relevant again, to see it descend further and further down the zombie rabbit hole with as much humour as they could get away with. These interludes, again, despite being superfluous to the main story, helped cement the world and demonstrate a real enthusiasm that can't help but rub off on the viewer.

Sheriff Claypool, Cletus, their posse and the unfortunate collateral damage (townsfolk, army, etc.) have Native Indian Geronimo to thank for their Zombification, or White Man's Curse. How farmer Ben first contracted the infection is a mystery; the last and world famous Apache medicine man waved his magic sticks, spoke some powerful ancient words and the next thing poor old Ben was groaning, shuffling and tucking into a chicken aperitif before turning to his wife and daughter. The zombie infection despite starting as a curse soon turns into the tried and tested one bite and you're it infection game and before you can say Geronimo's your uncle, Ben's back at town and the majority are queueing up to join the brain eating club.

Now Glasgow Phillips doesn't hold back when it comes to gore, blood and the general excessive zombie silliness when it comes to either them despatching their victims or their prey getting the axe in first. He also doesn't hold back from genre disruption by allowing the recently departed their full cognitive abilities. They can talk, ride horses; they 're really just red eyed decaying versions of themselves though maybe now with less empathy, and the ever present yearning to eat people which dictates their behaviour. If one was to over-think them, sure there are inconsistencies and choices that would make the genre-purist shudder, but it's a comedy, and a farcical one, and there should be some licence to play.

Undead or alive might be cheesy, and it might all be a bit amateurish and silly, but it's charming, darn well likeable and can't fail to maintain a smile on your face. Well shot with a great sound track it has everything you'd want from Western Zom-rom-com; well-choreographed shoot-outs, immature and excessive slapstick and throwaway one-liners from two actors who play cowboy dumb and dumber to perfection. It's well-paced, thoroughly entertaining and hard not to recommend. Also, that there was found a genuinely consistent and cohesive reason for someone to wear a comedy arrow through the head prop for almost the entirety of the film is Oscar worthy and reason enough to give it a - 7/10.


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