Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - Braindead, a.k.a. Dead-Alive

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.

Today, Peter Jackson's 1992 zombie movie Braindead, known in the U.S. as Dead-Alive.

Peter Jackson was sort of like a one man New Zealand-based Troma back in his early days, before he hit the bigs and went all Oscary. He started off as a low budget filmmaker with a wickedly irreverent sense of humor, a penchant for horror, and an approach that didn't just push the limits of good taste but actually disregarded it entirely. He even chose Bad Taste as the title for his first film, a sci-fi horror/comedy about an invasion of human-eating, vomit-swilling aliens that took him four years to complete. He followed that up with a puppet movie called Meet the Feebles, basically mixing the Muppets with a world of porn, drug addiction and murder.

For his third feature, Jackson made his own version of a zombie film and delivered what many viewers consider to be the goriest movie they've ever seen, with around 80 gallons of blood being used for the climactic sequence alone.

Set in 1957, the story centers on an awkward, bumbling twenty-something man named Lionel Cosgrove, who still lives at home with his demanding, dependent, extremely unpleasant mother. His life revolves around his mum, and she does everything she can to make sure that his life doesn't progress enough that he move out and leave her. His mum's worst fears begin to come true when Paquita, the adorable young Spanish girl whose family runs the local market, begins pursuing Lionel in a very forward way because a Tarot card reading has told her that she and Lionel are a match made in the stars.

When Lionel verbally stumbles his way into taking Paquita on a date to the Newtown Zoo, Mrs. Cosgrove follows them and spies on them from the bushes. She gets too close to the cage containing the "Simian Raticus", the Sumatran Rat-Monkey, and fate gives her a better way to sabotage Lionel's love life than she ever could've thought up on her own.

The Rat-Monkey, a nasty little claymation bugger, was recently acquired for the zoo from Skull Island, Peter Jackson giving a nod to King Kong several years before he was able to make a three hour long remake of the 1933 classic. So not only does Skull Island contain a giant ape and dinosaurs, but also these vicious little creatures, which the islanders use in black magic rituals and are the result of the island's tree monkeys being raped and impregnated by large rats that scuttled ashore from slave ships. The bite and scratch of the rat-monkeys are highly infectious, and the islanders are so afraid of the infection that any part of a person's body that gets bitten or scratched is immediately amputated.

That island wisdom has not reached New Zealand, so when Mrs. Cosgrove is bitten by the caged Rat-Monkey, Lionel ditches Paquita and takes his mum home so he can take care of her. The infection quickly wreaks havoc on Mrs. Cosgrove, affecting her motor functions, causing her to spew pus, makes her skin start to peel off, drives her to eat (most of) Paquita's German Shepherd, and soon kills her... sort of. She's now one of the living dead, but even though she's become a violent, ravenous zombie, she's still Lionel's mum, so he still feels he has to take care of her.

Lionel does his best to keep his zombie mum contained, but his best is not very good at all, and soon many more people have been infected. People that Lionel also has to take care of, still cleaning up his mother's messes. Lionel becomes a zombie hoarder, keeping the growing number of the living dead in the cellar of his home... Adding complications to Lionel's life along the way is his slimeball uncle, who unwittingly sets the stage for the third act bloodbath, a zombie house party massacre.

Jackson's zombies are quite unique, you can't say they're exactly like any zombies that came before them. If you put the zombies of Romero's films, Return of the Living Dead, and Re-Animator in a blender with the Evil Dead deadites and Looney Tunes cartoons, you might end up with something close to Jackson's repugnant creatures. Putting them in a blender (or, say, in the path of a lawnmower) is pretty much the only way you can destroy them as well, as not even simple bodily dismemberment will put them down, their individual pieces will continue to attack you, whether it's severed hands or guts.

Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh (also his wife, who would go on to share a screenwriting Academy Award win with him and Philippa Boyens for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and Stephen Sinclair came up with some genius setpieces, like a nighttime graveyard sequence involving a martial arts-skilled priest who delivers the greatest line in the film, some very inventive ways to damage their zombies, and entertaining situations to put them through.

At one point, a couple of the zombies mate. The gestation period is extremely quick, leading to a zombie baby being born within a day or so. This maniacal little creature, played by a puppet at times and a little person in costume at others, is the star of my favorite scene in the movie, a brief tangent in which Lionel takes the kid out to play in the park. Apparently this scene was added late in production, when Jackson found that he had come in under budget and could do some additional photography. According to the internet, my favorite scene is also Jackson's. A bum's reaction to the sight of Lionel bashing the zombie baby into the side of a swingset is what really puts it over the top for me.

Braindead/Dead-Alive is a highly entertaining film, a lot of fun for any horror fan in the mood to watch zombies, laugh out loud, and get disgusted all during the course of one movie.

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