Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead) (1992)
Reviewed on 2006 December 6
This was one of the sickest, most disgusting movies I’ve ever seen and I loved it. It’s hard to believe that this nasty little gem came from the same man who did such a reverent job of bringing Tolkein’s Ring trilogy to life, but Peter Jackson created one of the funniest and most innovative zombie movies ever made.
Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) is a timid mother’s boy, stuck in a huge house in 1950s New Zealand with his Mum (Elizabeth Moody). The house is pretty, even if it looks kind of like what Norman Bates would have done if he had more money, and Mum always needs Lionel to do things around the homestead. Mum makes Mommie Dearest look like a pussycat. She’s a widow who thinks her poor son’s sole mission in life is to look after her hand and foot, and while you get impatient with Lionel and want him to leave the hag, you never lose all sympathy for him. Mum is an artist whose medium is guilt. She scolds, nags, and butts in on a rare moment of fun for Lionel: a date at the zoo with pretty shopkeeper Pequita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver). Mum is so busy meddling that she gets too close to a cage containing a Sumatran Rat Monkey, and the thing bites her. I don’t know if Mum infected the monkey, but its venom infected Mum, turning her into a zombie. Now she scolds, nags, and eats people and pets. It simply wouldn’t be proper for the garden clubs and other leagues to find out his snobbish Mum is now a flesh-eating ghoul, so poor Lionel tries keeping her concealed and spending time with his beloved Pequita. Of course Mum gets harder and harder to control.
The sense of humor is nice and dark here; we're treated to zombie Mum, zombie priests and zombie babies (don’t ask, just watch). Jackson pulls out all the stops for this ride by taking Stephen Sinclair’s in-your-face script and hosing it down with gallons of Karo® syrup. A lesser director or writer could have made the catalyst a regular monkey, but Jackson and company decided that wasn’t good enough and gave us a big, freaking, hairy, Sumatran Rat Monkey. And it was a great decision, because the Sumatran Rat Monkey is hilarious. It’s very gory but if you're a sick puppy you’ll be laughing too hard to be offended.
Three chocolate morsels. Don’t eat them while you're watching.