Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992)

Rated R for gore and language.

Back in 2016, I reviewed a little movie called Bad Taste which happens to be the first film that a young Peter Jackson made. It was absolutely fantastic in a similar style to the Troma style of horror movies. Lots of wildly fake but gross gore and plenty of silly comedy. The thing is, the general public mostly knows Peter Jackson as “the guy who made Lord of the Rings”. Except, the Lord of the Rings franchise was the second phase of his career. Before that, he made three horror movies that are still celebrated today even if one of them is not technically ‘good’. In 1983 (when I was not yet one year old) he joined together with his friends to make a goofy, crazy horror movie called Bad Taste. It took them four years filming on weekends in their little town in New Zealand. Still, it was his ticket to show business and nine years later (1989) he released The Frighteners, a fun horror comedy starring Michael J Fox. In between, he directed his second film to get a wide release in the United States called Braindead (renamed Dead Alive for American audiences). I am so excited to watch this last movie in his horror trilogy.

As long as I can remember, I have been afraid of contagion. I think that is a natural response to learning that out there are things that you cannot see that can kill you. I used to dread visiting hospitals because I just knew I was going to catch something. I still get skeeved out in them. When I was a preteen, my mom’s best friend got cancer and my first fear was that my mom would catch it consoling her. Obviously, I am not alone in my fear. The media is rife with stories about one contagion or another. Since I was a kid there have been tons of outbreaks of Mad Cow Disease. There have been some potential Ebola outbreaks a little too close to home but now they seem to have developed a cure. That is why the anti-vax movement scares me so much because it causes outbreaks of diseases we thought we already defeated. It makes me worry about how the United States and the world would do in a real global pandemic with too many stupid people on Earth.

What I first noticed was that this movie is every bit as goofy and zany as Bad Taste but with a slightly higher budget. Everything is done with practical effects and the gore starts flowing within minutes of the beginning. In keeping with the same wacky atmosphere as his previous movies, the camera lurches from dramatic angle to dramatic angle like an episode of 1960s Batman. Still, I feel like all of this services the movie really well as it heightens the comedy as it shifts to horror. Everything keeps high energy and almost never stops building toward a conclusion. As I said, the blood definitely flows and the aforementioned contagion and rot definitely rears its head. Those effects are so gross but again, good for the movie. There is a reason that this movie holds the record for most fake blood used in a movie. I also love the stop motion animation. Stop motion has a lot of potential for being absolutely terrifying (see The Ghoulies, The Gate, Evil Dead, and Puppet Master).

The acting is over the top but also fantastic. Timothy Balme is perfect as the nerdy, put upon guy who is thrust into a horrible situation.  He feels like Charlie Chaplin stuck in a horror movie. Diana Peñalver is great as the sunny and naive Hispanic immigrant who falls in love with Balme for better or worse. Elizabeth Moody plays Balme’s horrible mother who is horrible to be with even before everything goes to Hell. The rest of the movie is populated by plenty of zany character actors who get into a lot of terrifying but comically violent situations. It is once again set in New Zealand with a mostly New Zealand cast. A lot of the acting is purposefully exaggerated as it was in Bad Taste. It is like watching a horror movie made by the Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers in the best way. Almost everybody mugs for the camera and makes sure every word is over annunciated. Over the top was the only way to do this movie and it really works for me.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It made me cringe and wince over and over but its outrageousness kept me wondering what would happen next. It is full of plenty of surprises but all of the surprises are definitely earned instead of just for cheap scares. While the movie is still pretty rough, it shows clearly how good Peter Jackson is at putting a movie together. Everything works together in service of the movie and nothing clashes. Everything works toward wacky, bloody horror and nothing pauses the action unnecessarily. I definitely recommend it for people with strong stomachs.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992)”

  1. rolandclarke Says:

    The seeds of the Peter Jackson most people know were sown back then – and as you say, ‘it shows clearly how good Peter Jackson is at putting a movie together’.
    When it announced he was to make LOTR, critics pointed to his horror movies and failed to see the talent at work. And they forgot what came next – his first masterpiece ‘Heavenly Creatures’. So, the team already gathering delivered a brilliant image of Middle Earth – from horrific orcs and Nazgul to heavenly elves and hobbits.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: