Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Braindead AKA Dead Alive (1992)

Despite the fact that he already had a number of films under his belt at this time, it's hard to argue against the fact that Braindead put Peter Jackson firmly on the road to great success (though few could envision just HOW great that success would be). Other films from him would have more importance (Bad Taste being his debut feature and The Frighteners being the film that led to the creation of WETA and that work that would help make The Lord Of The Rings movies) but Braindead will always have the blood and guts. And more blood. And more guts. And LOTS more blood.

The story is a simple one, set in New Zealand in the 1950s. Lionel (Timothy Balme) lives at home with his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) and doesn't really get to enjoy life as he should. This looks set to change when he somehow ends up taking the lovely Paquita (Diana Penalver) on a date to the zoo. Unfortunately, Lionel's mother is following them and she ends up being bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. It's not long until she gets very sick and then dies. Then comes back to life. Poor Lionel can't bring himself to kill his zombie mother so he tries to control the situation, even when the bodies start to pile up and things get more and more dangerous. And bloody. It's important to mention that because Braindead actually held the record for the most fake blood used in a movie for many years.

Anyway, the above description might help you know what the core of the movie is about, but it doesn't even begin to describe the various, gory pleasures available throughout. From the opening sequence showing the Sumatran rat-monkey being collected by a New Zealand zoo official to a nauseating and memorable dinner scene to a priest who can do more than just pray for help when faced with trouble to another nauseating and memorable dinner scene to every bit of physical trauma and bloodshed in the second half of the movie, this is just one spoonful of gory goofiness after the next. And I've STILL not mentioned the best bits.

There is actually a bit more to it than just the zombie carnage, including some sneaky behaviour by Lionel's lecherous Uncle Les (Ian Watkin), but only a bit. The film is most concerned with getting from one pile of gore to the next and the singular focus is somewhat impressive. Having said that, Balme, Penalver and everyone else onscreen do great work, even when acting alongside some of the more outrageous practical effects or under heavy make-up.

Jackson also helped to co-write the screenplay with Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair and it's wonderfully economical in places while leaving plenty of room for the scenes that don't really focus on the dialogue (aka about 3/4 of the film). It's just a shame that, as is often the case with Peter Jackson movies, the rest of the film isn't as neat and concise. Of course I don't begrudge the man his scenes of bloody excess, but it's a shame that so many moments tend to overstay their welcome by a minute or two, leaving the whole thing feeling just a bit too much like overkill. It's hard to argue the point, however, when so many moments during the blood-drenched finale leave a big smile on my face, but there's just a slight imbalance somewhere that stops the movie from being as perfect as the younger version of me used to think it was (before I'd exposed myself to a fuller range of crazy horror movies out there).

I can't imagine any horror fan who likes to see a bit of the red stuff thrown around onscreen disliking Braindead. If you like your horror movies to be more restrained and/or psychological then don't rush to see this one, but if you like zombies, inventive practical gore gags and more fake blood than you'll see in almost any other film . . . . . . ever, then this is for you.



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