Before Lord of the Rings, before King Kong, before any of his wild commercial success, Peter Jackson was one hell of an entertainingly sick fuck. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, Jackson blessed us with a trio of three genius films: Bad Taste (’87), Meet the Feebles (’89), and Braindead (’92).
All three had their own unique essences. Bad Taste pulled the classic sci-fi trope of military vs. martian with an alien invasion gone bad. Meet the Feebles was a weirdo musical starring an anthropomorphic theater troupe with all the problems of the way-too-real world and more. But Braindead–released as Dead Alive in North America–was the real clincher.
I’ve always had a problematic relationship with zombie movies; they always seem to leave me wanting so much more than what they’re able to deliver. Don’t get me wrong: classics like Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, White Zombie, Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2, and Re-Animator are pure gold in my eyes. I could ramble about the classics all day long. Modern leg-draggers, however, have little room to play in my heart. There’ve definitely been a few standouts: Planet Terror, Dead Snow, Shaun of the Dead, the 28 movies (soon to be a trilogy!), and the exquisitely original Pontypool (dir. Bruce McDonald, who birthed the beautiful ’89 flick Roadkill, which I highly recommend).
While all of the classics I mentioned (pre-1986) are amazing in both direction and execution, they’re all ultimately very ‘serious’ zombie movies–with, perhaps, the exception of the punk injections present throughout Return.
So, what does an undead-lover do when they love truly gory camp? This one turns to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive.
Without a doubt, this movie is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Of the ‘splatstick‘ variety, it channels the bright, body-heavy funny of all the best camp and sloshes it into a grimy, red-flecked bucket with an absolute endless fountain of fantastical gore.
From the opening scene, wherein an explorer goes to none other than Skull Island to capture a Sumatran Rat-Monkey (yeah…), laughter is an easy bedfellow alongside the perpetual queasiness and what-the-fuck-ing. After the squealing beast bites the explorer and the native warrior tribe reacts in kind (by lopping the explorer to pieces), the Rat-Monkey gets packed up and shipped to the quiet little Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.
Lionel, our neurotic-ass hero, has one of the more infuriating mothers in screen history. Our muddling matriarch Vera is overbearing, under-appreciative, psychologically abusive; a real winner. After she angrily tries to snoop on Lionel during his quaint little date at the zoo with newfound love interest Paquita, mama gets bitten by the highly-deformed Rat-Monkey. Which, y’know, with all the death curses and the whole turning-people-into-frothing-demons bit it pulled, is a perfect addition for a zoo.
Needless to say, mother Vera falls into a bit of disarray. Namely, a wild fever sets in, body parts start flying off–see the custard dinner scene for a lovely bit of stomach churn–and she eventually dies. But not for long!
Yada-yada-bing-bang-boom, shit goes down and during a house party, the crunchy zombie violence erupts in a veritable blood-and-guts shitstorm.
Thrown into the usual mix of endless hack-and-slash you get a lawnmower-induced blood orgy, an ass-kicking priest, a lightbulb pushed through the back of someone’s skull, and a PCP-laced giggling chucklefuck of a bulbous-headed zombie baby that just won’t die and seems to be channeling a more sinister Three Stooges. What more could you ask for?
The finale is such an unexpected twist, even in the deranged whirlwind leading up to it, that when I first watched this back when I was about 10 or 11–thanks, dad–I had to rewind a few times just to take in the gory grandiosity of it all.
For when I need my explosive zombie camp fix, I will always return to Dead Alive; because sometimes, you want the groans to be coming from your side of the TV.
BRAINDEAD (DEAD ALIVE) / PETER JACKSON / 1992
Plucking a pick from the bottom of the media barrel, Cult of Trash focuses on books and films where the takeaway is ultimate cheese that leaves you wondering why and then asking for more. Giallo, pulp, sci-fi schlock, exploitation, and so much more garbage. Cult of Trash is a guest-post from the blog Kiss Of The Witch.