by Ryan Arthur
Let's get this right out in the open: Dead Alive (a/k/a Braindead) is not for the squeamish, jumpy or easily shaken. I'm jumpy. Almost to an extreme - whether it's horror films, gunshots, small woodland creatures (animated or otherwise), bank openings, scantily clad women or any combination thereof, odds are I'm gonna be surprised and jump right out of my seat. What's more, I've never been a fan of horror films; they're just not my cup of tea. But a friend of mine convinced me that the opportunity to see Dead Alive on the big screen (and at a midnight showing, no less), just wasn't something I should pass up. Oddly enough, I'm glad I didn't.The quick and dirty in regards to Dead Alive is as simple as this: Boy meets girl. Girl is destined to fall for boy. Boy loves girl. Boy's mom is overbearing and manipulative, and isn't all that keen on boy exercising some independence from his good ol' mother. While spying on boy and girl at the zoo, boy's mom is bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey. Mom becomes flesh-eating zombie. Boy must prevent everyone else from seeing zombie mom, which becomes more and more difficult each time zombie mom escapes to bite someone else and infect them.
What follows is one of the grossest, most disgusting movies I've ever seen. Still, I honestly loved every minute of it.
From the moment the aforementioned Sumatran rat monkey's introduced, you know you're in for a treat. The monkey's removed from its island home and promptly scratches the would-be monkey-napper Steve Irwin-type in three different places. When the monkey hunter's guides see the marks of potential infection, the machete comes out, and the guy doesn't go home. See, it's rumored that Sumatran rat monkey bites turn victims into zombies, and natives don't want to take chances. So, off come various limbs and body parts. The rat monkey ends up in a New Zealand zoo. Monkey hunter does not.
So you've got a death by dismemberment and beheading in the first seven minutes. It's that kinda flick.
We're then introduced to Paquita (the lovely Diana Peñalver), who works in her family's corner store. She's dreaming of falling in love, and her mother just happens to be a gypsy sort, so she reads Paquita's future in the tarot cards. She'll know love, instantly, but that love will also come with pain, suffering and death. To her disappointment, it's not with the handsome deliveryman who often stops by the store. Instead, it's Lionel (Timothy Balme), a nervous type still loving at home with his mum, Vera (Elizabeth Moody, playing her role to the hilt). But Diana, and her love, won't be swayed. She eventually gets Lionel alone, where they end up on what passes for a date at the local zoo. Vera, overbearing and possessive woman that she is, isn't a fan of her boy starting to think and live for himself. She follows the couple to the zoo and is promptly bitten by the hideous rat monkey. She screams, Lionel freaks and abandons Paquita at the zoo, rushing mum home to the nurse, who advises rest. Vera's concerned: she's due to have a luncheon the next day with the local Women's League that she absolutely has to make it to. Lionel offers to assist the next morning, following a good night's rest, although not for him...Paquita sneaks in through the window and the relationship is consummated.
While all this is happening, bad stuff is happening to mom. The wound seems to be growing and/or pulsing, and the pus is just plain nastay. She's also got peeling skin and can't seem to be able to talk above a grunting level. The luncheon doesn't go over well, and Lionel sends his mom back to bed, trying to put out of his mind that his rapidly deteriorating mum squirted pus from her wound into one of her guest's bowls of pudding. Lionel isn't exactly oblivious, he just kind of turns a blind eye to things. That poses a problem when his mother ends up eating Paquita's dog. Soon, Lionel's down with what's going on. Mom's a zombie. Her nurse shows up to try to figure things out, and she becomes a zombie. But rather than off them both (despite a nifty struggle involving a Chinese throwing knickknack), and prevent further zombiefication, Lionel shoves them both down into his cellar and tries doping them with animal tranquilizers to dull the homicidal and brain-gnawing tendencies.
It snowballs from there. Before it's all said and done, Lionel accidentally replace his animal tranqs with animal stimulants, and he'll end up with a house full of zombies. How he gets through it all...let's just say Bruce Campbell would be proud. Lionel's the new Lawnmower Man.
Balme was actually my favorite part of the film. The way he acted, spoke, moved, virtually everything about the character evoked a hybrid of Chaplin and Keaton. He's a comic figure stuck in a highly incredible position: he can't bring himself to off his dear old mum, because after all, he loves her. Even when she's in an advanced state of brain-chomping decomposition, he can't bring himself to do it. He's forced to hide his awful secrets from Paquita, which ultimately leads to bad things getting worse (as they always do in movies like this), and despite all of the stupid decisions that Lionel makes (it wouldn't be a horror movie otherwise), you can't help but root for the character. He's also the strongest actor of the bunch, who are all decent, which you generally wouldn't expect from what basically amounts to B-movie schlock.
Now the gore...it's bad. As I've said, I'm not a horror fan, and I'm no gorehound. And Dead Alive delights in finding ways to gross the audience out. But the sheer splatter factor of this movie was so over the top, so obviously played for laughs (and scares, too, since no one in my capacity audience screamed in terror, because they were doubled over with laughter), I couldn't help but love it. Obviously, it may not be for everyone. Zombies eat it countless different ways in Dead Alive, so if you go to horror movies to see new and exciting ways for characters to die (and come back, and then die again), then by all means, this is the movie for you. But if you're easily offended (zombie child abuse? a kung-fu priest? zombie coitus?) or squeamish, then you may want to pass.That said, any fan of Peter Jackson's take on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy should probably see this, if only for posterity's sake. You'll see Jackson tip his hat often to influences before him (most notably in Balme's Chaplin-esque performance) and you'll see a pre-Lord Of The Rings WETA Workshop's Richard Taylor hone his craft with some shitty to halfway decent creature effects (the stop-motion rat monkey is on the shitty side of things, looking like a strung out version of Henson's Salacious Crumb). Decent performances and a generally solid execution made this a hell of a lot of fun.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4011&reviewer=7
originally posted: 10/24/03 16:07:50