Dead Alive (1993)
Release Date: February 12th, 1993 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Peter Jackson Actors: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie, Glenis Levestam, Elizabeth Mulfaxe
n Skull Island in the 1950s, a New Zealand zoo official nabs the legendary, cursed Sumatran rat-monkey, spawned by the ludicrously described rape of simians by plagued rodents. Although the explorer doesn’t make it out with his life, the monstrosity is safely transported back into town. Some time later, in the city of Wellington, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) resides in a massive estate with his controlling old mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody), whom he waits on hand and foot. In his spare time, he tirelessly maintains the substantial property and awkwardly skirts romantic pursuits by a local shopkeeper named Paquita (Diana Penalver), who is convinced by her fortunetelling grandmother that Lionel is destined to be an amorous entanglement. Paquita’s interests upset Cosgrove’s mum, who resents the potential loss of attention from her son.
When Lionel and Paquita go on a date to the zoo, the spying, prying Vera follows them there, only to be accidentally bitten by the imprisoned rat-monkey. Her health rapidly deteriorates until she eventually dies – but she supernaturally comes back to life to attack anything within reach. After tearing apart a nurse, who in turn transforms into a zombie, various other townspeople fall prey to Vera’s bloodlust – forcing Lionel to desperately try to keep the whole ordeal a secret. Unable to completely abandon his mother, but struggling with a quickly amassing horde of undead minions, he must pump the woman – and her accompanying, carelessly contained, re-animated victims – with powerful sedatives.
“Dead Alive” (originally titled “Braindead”) is easily the goriest movie ever made (the finale is simply jaw-dropping); no other project even comes close to second place. Despite a very campy, rugged, low-budget look, complete with nervous, ramshackle techniques – such as irregular zooms, awkward close-ups, skewed camera angles, hilariously offbeat and contrasting music, blatant symbolism, and loads of cheesy bloodshed (much of which is not far removed from red-tinged yogurt) – the movie is extremely graphic, with literal buckets of blood gushing throughout the sets. Director Peter Jackson includes slaughterous stop-motion animation, some of the most impressive practical makeup effects and animatronics (which age admirably), and even food gore, grossly incorporating a scene with quivering custard and watery scrambled eggs.
Not a stranger to the notion of humor complementing horror, Jackson goes to great lengths to fuse plenty of comedy into the carnage. Mid-strangulation by his zombified mother, Lionel still finishes a conversation with Paquita; an off-the-wall martial arts fight unfolds in a graveyard; painful urination is demonstrated through a toilet-cam shot; zombies make love; Lionel attempts to play “father” and takes a zombie baby to the park for a stroll; Lionel’s stop at a taxidermist for illegal tranquilizers reveals a slobbering Nazi doctor; and embalmers have a terrible time preserving Vera’s throbbing, mutating corpse (a scene featuring a cameo by Jackson himself). And yet, despite all of these moments of jet black comedy, the film is still very much an action-packed thriller.
Many supporting characters are also colorfully illustrated with drollness, including Uncle Les (Ian Watkin), sporting facial sores, a bloated groin, and a matted, dangling hairpiece, and Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie), who delivers a loud, preachy sermon, cinematically juxtaposed with the resurrected, gruesomely slime-saturated Vera bursting through a coffin to attack her son. Additionally, audiences are treated to scenes of needles penetrating eyes or shoved up nostrils, blood and pus spewing from open wounds, and all sorts of severed limbs and animated entrails lashing out at screaming bystanders. These sensational grotesqueries lend to an intricately orchestrated, wondrously choreographed bloodbath that is one of the funniest – and most fun – of all horror flicks, and arguably the greatest zombie movie ever made.
– Mike Massie