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 Dead Alive

Head Injury Theater's 100th Review.

(Sort of.  I got a little delayed.)

Disclaimer:  The images here are super-violent so if you don't fall under the 15 rating (UK) then maybe you should get your parents.  While you're at it, ask them if you can wear big boy pants.

  Oh God, where to begin?  I first saw this movie when it hit rental shelves sometime in the mid-1990s on Halloween night.  My birthday would be the next week, so in my house we'd celebrate Halloween as my birthday, which sort of explains a lot about why I'm the freak I am today.  The other bonus?  I got to pick out whatever movie I wanted to watch.  I ended up picking up Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (memorable due to the "slow motion tassel action" incident).  But, my friend Peter Noonan ended up smuggling in the Holy Grail of the preteen:  The R-rated Movie.  And there you have it.  Dead Alive started up the moment my parents went to bed, and for the next hour and a half me and my friends were reprogrammed.  Dead Alive was like nothing we'd ever seen. (Keep in mind that the Evil Dead series, while awesome, wasn't available to rent/buy until the mid/late 1990's in my neck of the woods so we'd never even heard of that.)   So if I'm already gushing about this movie, what's the point in reviewing it?  I mean, last Halloween season's reviews were already stupid positive...what happened to the snark?

Dead Alive  is an absurdist gore comedy that just melts the brain.  I'm going to do my best to distill exactly why this movie is what it is.  Maybe we should start with the director:  Peter Jackson.  You have no idea how weird it is that right now, Peter Jackson is one of the most acclaimed directors alive.   No really...when I heard Peter Jackson was the guy who made the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, my head broke just a bit.  So yeah, even if you don't know Peter Jackson, you're most likely very familiar with his two infamous projects:  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and quite possibly the first good remake of King Kong (2005) in half a century.  But before this?  Peter Jackson was making movies about evil aliens, drugged-out puppets with AIDS, and pus-spewing zombie mothers.  So this:

...the man behind changing the face of Fantasy in film today...

...used to spend his time making movies about horny hippo puppets who like it dirty.  (And yes, we'll talk about that flick another day.)

I'm not going to pretend to know what happened to the man (read his biography if you must)...but I do think that after Dead Alive, he got pulled into mainstream Hollywood, making Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, films you're probably more familiar with if you're too old to know your Pokemon.  Somewhere along the way the guy went from being in Fangoria and Gorehound to showing up in Time magazine.  If he looked more attractive, I'd accuse him of sleeping with someone important, but...eh.  The man is talented.  He might have turned his back on his gore-cult following of his yesteryears, but we like to know that one of our own can make it big.  (We feel the same way about Sam Raimi.)  I could blather on about the crazy theory and how this movie takes Sam Raimi's horror formula to a new extreme, but it's time to talk about the actual movie.

I can already tell that a few of you are preparing to write me the angriest of emails for not calling this movie "Braindead," the original title.  That's true...the title "Dead Alive" only applies to the United States release of the movie, and fans to this day are pretty rabid in their desire to get everyone to call it by its proper name...sort of in the same vein as "Han shot first," if you get my drift.  So why was the name changed for the colonials and why do I still call it by that title?  To be honest:  Because Peter Jackson named his horror movie after another horror movie that'd come out a few years earlier and was already making its rounds at the rental stores.   Check it out:

More than two years before Peter Jackson came out with Braindead, American audiences were already enjoying ANOTHER crazy horror film called Braindead.  This isn't a no-name flick, either...it's written by one of the writers of the original Twilight Zone  and features stars such as Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, and not-so-big-a-star Lee Arenberg (the chubby comic relief pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean series).   So there was already a legitimate horror film by that name that was being distributed by MGM when Dead Alive (Braindead at the time) came out.  So to fans of BrainDead (the title) I pose this inquiry:  Why did Peter Jackson name his film something that was already out there?  It would be like an Australian director making a movie called "Saw 2" and his fans being pissed that you couldn't use the title in the U.S. of A.  So why do I keep calling it Dead Alive?  Well for one, that's the name I grew up with.  Secondly....there's nothing to do with brains in this movie at all.  It's a zombie film where the zombies eat everything except human brains.  Maybe the title was meant to be more abstract...like the zombies become Brain Dead because they're stupid and....  Honestly speaking, I don't know.  But there are more Dead things that are Alive in Dead Alive than there are Brains that are Dead in Braindead.  Holy crap, I think that last sentence might make sense if you squint at it.  Oh, and I like the Goatse Zombie cover to Dead Alive a lot more than the screen grab of Braindead's cover.  I'm petty and wrong, I know.
(Fans feel free to send their hatemail to Gerid@headinjurytheatre.com)

Enough of this crap, let's get to the plot (and the gore)!

Say hello to Paquita and Lionel.  She's a Hispanic woman living in New Zealand and he's a dainty mother's boy who's apparently never kissed a girl, or so says the box cover.  They're in love, (mostly due to a prophecy that's sort of important, but not interesting enough for me to mention) and nothing can stop them.  Nothing except...mother.

I think a lot of us are familiar with this type of mother...the over-protective overly-dependant mother who demands her child's love all the time.  Or maybe I'm just speaking from personal experience.  (I love you Mom.  Now stop reading my website.) Either way, Mum is a real bitch and controls her son with a combination of threats, guilt, and feigning illness.  Sound familiar?  Let's hope from here on out nothing else does.


The zoo in New Zealand apparently has a rare "Sumatran Rat Monkey" from the infamous Skull Island.  (Trivia Time:  Skull Island is the same place that Peter Jackson's King Kong takes place and the Rat Monkey's box even has a brief cameo in that film.)  Lionel and Paquita are on a date at the zoo until they run across this little bastard who murders another monkey and begins eating its flesh in front of them.  It's hilariously bad claymation, but movies like these are the right place for that kind of thing.  On top of that first date highlight, a grounds keeper tells the origin story of the Rat Monkey:  "The rats came off the ship and RAPED all the little tree monkeys!"  Reminds me of my retirement plan:  If you ever see a weird guy in a trenchcoat near the monkey house at the Zoo, know that it may very well be me, spouting this line at anyone who will listen.  That's right, I plan on going out in psychotic, anti-social style.  But, yeah.  Rats raping monkeys:  It only goes uphill/downhill from here folks (depending on how you look at things).

Lionel's Mum follows him on his date, (to sabotage it or just because she's psycho) when ....

...she gets bitten by the rare and horrible Sumatran Rat Monkey.  Being who she is, she retaliates...

...by squishing its ugly face in.

Now's an appropriate time to ask yourself what version of Dead Alive you might have seen.  I watched a version I got at Wal-mart a while back and the above picture is as gruesome as it got.  Yet, when I watched the special DVD I got as a Halloween gift, I found out something interesting:

THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is how gruesome it really got.  One important thing to remember about movies is the distributor doesn't have to put a warning label on the box if they altered the movie.  Wal-mart is the most notorious offender in this regard, sometimes taking the best lines of dialog and action out of movies to make an R-Movie more "family friendly".  Video Rental places do it all the time...they don't often know if the version they're purchasing is edited for content or not.  It's really annoying and  amazing to find out, years later, that a movie you loved was actually intensely censored when you originally watched it.  So, if you don't recognize some of the shots I share with you today, get a real copy and re-watch the damn thing.  When I sat down to review this I was amazed at the fact that at least 5 minutes of gore had been edited out of what I "thought" was Dead Alive. 

I also want to point out that while I'll be walking you through the plot...that plot is pretty loose from here on out.  For example, Lionel's Mum wakes up the next day as a muttering half-zombie.  This is where the movie slips into gore comedy...which pretty much means it speaks to the slime-loving ten-year-old in all of us.

How better to fix your mother's shedding face than to simply use rubber cement to put it back together?  This begins Lionel's descent into acceptance of the zombie condition, something that's not really addressed until the final half-hour of the film.  So yeah, Lionel just "goes along" with the zombie thing for most of the movie, not asking questions.  It's funny.  Not realistic or scary, but fun.

Peter Jackson's a big fan of gross-out close-ups that gross you out (hence why I called them gross-out close-ups and was stupid redundant).  For instance, please enjoy the above picture of Mum eating her own ear with pudding.

Mmmm.  Even our houseguest loves the taste of Mom's pus. 

Just to to put some spin on this, I was watching this movie with my older woman and she had to leave the room gagging when this scene came up.  She's a bit of a lightweight, but that should let you know how sickening this film can be for those not dulled to the blade of disgusting things. 

So, Paquita visits the house with her pet dog...who weirdly enough runs upstairs and meets Lionel's zombie mother.  It's typical early relationship drama.  I mean really, who hasn't had to explain that their mother....

...just ate his girlfriend's dog in an orgy of zombie violence?  That's what makes Dead Alive such a great film...it's got things in it that relate to the normal man.

Seriously, who hasn't gone to a Nazi doctor for tranquilizers to keep your zombie mother from moving around?  And, Nazi aside, that's really Lionel's plan for most of the film.  He buys tranquilizers in bulk and, as the zombie cast grows, he continues to inject sleeping sauce into the brains of his undead friends and family.  I have to say he's taking the whole introduction of the undead into his life much better than I would have. 

Such a loving son.  Anyway, he continues to drug his mother secretly after she runs into the street and gets hit by a car.  It's a bit convoluted, but point is she's kind of still unalive but he wants to bury her.  This involves him sneaking into the mortuary and giving her another injection of tranquilizer (pictured above) so that she doesn't crawl out of the coffin during the funeral.  Makes sense.   There's also a little mishap that's amazing with the embalming machine.  Let's watch!

"I say I'm the funeral director and I'm not too happy with the look of that increasingly bloating corpse."

Oh my.

I...I holy crap is that disgusting.

"Well, as long as we remember to shove her eyeballs back into her skull everything will be fine.  Pass me the wet-dry vac, won't you?"

God, I love this movie.  I swear it's like some sort of fountain you'd see in a city square only it's green and coming out of a fat lady's corpse.  Well, fine.  It's not like a fountain at all but damn it's awesome in that DEAR GOD WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON way.  And, for better or for worse, that mentality is going to take over for the rest of the movie.

So Mother (Vera Cosgrove) is dead and buried.  And look, some random punk's pissing on her grave!  (This tombstone also somehow makes us think that this movie was meant to take place back in the 1950's I guess, though, well, that's neither here nor there.)

I say.  Nothing bad could happen...

...except a zombie mother grabbing me by my junk and turning me into a zombie. 

Mother turns all the punks into zombies, who then turn to attack Lionel, (who's there at the cemetery; don't ask) when, from atop the cemetery wall, we hear what may well be the best line ever spoken in any film.

What follows may well be one of the most amazing things ever recorded:  A Kung Fu priest uses spin kicks and tiger claw attacks to fend off the zombies.  He knocks their heads off and, well, is generally one of the most bad ass things I've ever seen.  I think it seems so cool because it's so freaking out of place.  It's like watching a ballet and in the middle of it a guy comes out dressed as Rambo and starts blowing away "swans" with an assault rifle.  There's a foil there, and it's golden.

In the end, though, the Kung Fu Priest ends up getting bitten and zombified.  Cut to Lionel serving dinner:

Oh Peter Jackson, you know comedic timing so well.  Here we have Lionel serving oatmeal filled with tranquilizers to his new zombie family.  (Which now is made up of Mother, Kung Fu Priest, A Nurse, and the Pissing Punk from before.)  It's a strangely domestic turn after the karate cemetery scene and, equally bizarre. 

"Oh I'm sorry Zombie Nurse, your head kind of got knocked off so you can't swallow so let me spoon the oatmeal directly into your pus-dripping neckhole.  There's a good girl."

(Disclaimer:  Jared does not condone anyone putting anything in anyone's pus-dripping neckhole.  Just saying.)

I wonder how this scene could get more mind-smashing?

Oh god.  The Zombie Nurse is horny.

...and that means banging/eating the face off the Kung Fu Priest Zombie.

And they have a baby together.  In, like, a day, the child comes to full term and becomes either the most hated or loved zombie of all time, depending on what kind of person you are.  Even more disturbing (besides zombie sex, which sadly is featured in a dozen porn films that I can think of) is how Lionel accepts that the child must have some sort of normal upbringing.  So he takes the little rotting meatsack, dressed up as Dennis the Menace to the best place for parents to take their kids:

The Park.  This scene is mostly slapstick comedy (Lionel gets hit in the balls like a hundred times) which is why a lot of folks hate it, but it is amazing. 

Sure, it's got an annoying zombie baby that has the most annoying (zombie) laugh you've ever heard.

But it also has Lionel beating the living poop out of Baby in front of many disturbed mothers.

How many movies have you seen where the protagonist gets to curbstomp infants? 

I also want to point out that Lionel's got an uncle blackmailing him.  Uncle's kind of a douche and exists in the film to have someone annoying eaten by zombies, but also to invite like a bajillion houseguests over so that the zombie party of the final act can really get underway. 

Oh, and Peter Jackson is a cock for close-ups such as the one above.  Thanks, Peter.  I really needed a first person perspective on someone orally servicing Dick Cheney.  Classy.

So upstairs a crazy party is happening, hosted by Uncle, but what's happening downstairs?

I'll tell you what's happening:  Possibly the most touching "I'm sorry I have to inject poison into your brain, Mother, but you're a zombie and I love you too much to see you like this" scene ever, that's what.  It's all very sad. 

Until Lionel realizes that he accidentally just injected "Berserk Animal Adrenaline" or some such crap into the zombies, making them super-zombies.  Immediately the undead jump out the ground Thriller-style, and the carnage begins.  There's nothing much else to report at this point, plot-wise.  The rest of the movie is, quite literally, just a bunch of horrible things happening one after the other.  That describes a lot of movies, but really:  The Gore is on.  Let's dance around some highlights, shall we?

Disclaimer Again:  Seriously.  I made my Editor sick by just showing them these pictures.  If you have delicate sensibilities, then turn away from the oncoming awesome that is headed your way.  Sadly it means you'll never know what my GZVA bracelet means.

Awesome #1:  Zombie pulls a guy's ribcage out of his body while he's still alive.  The best part?  Him trying to wrestle it back in.

Awesome #2:  Guy has his face ripped off.  Who knew it was as easy as just grabbing and pulling? 

Awesome #3:  Zombies are like Pirhanas and can devour a grown man's legs in under 10 seconds.

Awesome #4-6:  A zombie killing a woman by driving his fist though the back of her skull's pretty hardcore.  But now that that's done, how do you raise the bar?

If you said "attacking other people while keeping the flailing dying woman on your arm as a wristwatch," you get 10 points.  Of course the woman here becomes a zombie with the back of her head missing.  I wonder if Peter Jackson could do anything with...

Oh right.  She gets pushed back onto a lightbulb/outlet, and ...

...becomes a zombie jack-o-lantern.

I said it before, but I'll repeat myself.  I love this movie.

Awesome #7:  Baby in a Blender.

That is all.

One thing to point out is that there's a weird unique zombie in this movie that I've yet to see appear in any other undead film to date.  So what is it?  Can it beat Kung Fu Priest Zombie?

I don't know about you but I think "zombie intestines that are animated and can have facial expressions" wins.  Hell, they even anthropomorphise the damn thing to give it eyes and a mouth.  I don't know if it's possible to anthropomorphise something that's "part" of a human but, well, you get what I mean:

In the above picture you are looking at someone's zombified internal organs looking at themselves in a mirror.  The hell.

Weirdly enough, the thing is almost cute, begging for its life near the end of the movie.

But wait, there's more awesome.

How about the best weapon ever in a zombie movie?  Sure, Evil Dead/Army of Darkness had the wrist mounted chainsaw (which is pretty keen) but how does that compare to:

Awesome #9:  Man Kills Zombie horde with Lawnmower.

Now you might not think this beats a chainsaw but just look at the....aftermath of using such a thing.

What was it I was saying about fountains?

For what feels like an eternity we get to watch zombies get mulched one after the other.  I'm reminded of playing a game on God-Mode where the enemies can't hurt me so I just pick the messiest weapon I can find and go buck wild.

So yeah.  I stand by the fact that the lawnmower may well be the best zombie-killer around. 

Awesome #10:  Peek-a-Boo

"Uh-Oh, I seem to feel something hitting the back of my head."

"Oh No (Home Alone style)!"

"This is not good for me"

"Oh god is that."

"I say I seem to have an extremely happy baby jumping out of my skull."

This movie is just amaaaaaazing.  First off the woman wasn't dead until the baby split her face.  Only...the baby was obviously already inside her head without her noticing.  It doesn't have to make sense in Dead Alive, it just has to be awesome.  And Awesome it is.

Now you might think that I've run out of awesome things or, at the very least, if I have any more they can't possibly be better (worse, so much worse) than what I've mentioned already.  Well, let's see how Mom's doing.

Mom's come back as a GIANT zombie that's half giant Sumatran Rat-Monkey (because she's the Alpha Queen zombie, I guess).  She's also nude, so if you needed to see giant Triple H breast on a malformed old woman, now's your chance.

There was an old cartoon on Icebox called Rock and Roll Dad that had the best line a father can speak to his child:  "You came from my BALLS and I can put you back there.  In. MY.  BAAAAAAALLLLS."  It was the only good line from the cartoon, but it's stuck with me.  Why do I mention it?  Because Zombie Mom opens up her zombie womb (zomb?) and swallows Lionel whole.  Read that sentence again until you really get it. 



Jesus Christ.

I can't even say anything after that.  It's just too....amazing.

In the end Zombie Mom gets knocked off the roof and the building burns down.  Lionel and Paquita (who survived) walk off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

Dead Alive/Braindead is one of those movies you really have to see to believe.  I've glossed over the highlights because parts of this film are just too special to not talk about, but there's no way I could cover all of it.  It's just jam-packed with too much stuff to get all in one review. 

And there you go.  Sorry this review took so long to get out to you guys, but it feels good to get it over and done with...there's so much that I want to share but, well, recovering from last Halloween's doom really took longer than I thought.  Thanks for understanding and, um, keep on trucking?

(Oh and please know that while I could talk about the GIANT ZOMBIE VAGINA ATTACK I really think it'd be healthier to just purge that from my memory as soon as possible.  The more I talk about the GIANT ZOMBIE VAGINA ATTACK the more I know it's going to haunt me.  Soon I'll start having nightmares about GIANT ZOMBIE VAGINA ATTACKS and then I'll randomly start talking to strangers in bars about GIANT ZOMBIE VAGINA ATTACKS and no good can come of that.  As such, I think it's best to keep the discussion of GIANT ZOMBIE VAGINA ATTACKS to a bar minimum.







Copyright 2008 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman.  It depends.  Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.

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