Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dead Alive

Dead Alive screens at the Toronto Underground Cinema on Thursday, December 16th at 9:30pm and on Friday, December 17th at 7:00pm.

It takes a lot to gross me out or offend me. Even as a young man I could sit through the craziest of gore flicks and not bat so much as an eyelash. It was also, at the time, very easy to make me laugh. Movies that I laughed at when I was younger embarrass me now that I know they were terrible movies. Even the worst of them were able to elicit chuckles from me. I really didn't have the most discriminating of tastes, but by the age of 14 nothing even shocked me anymore.

I watched Dead Alive of the first time that fateful year with my arch conservative father reading a newspaper in the same room. My father couldn't last in the same room as Peter Jackson's delirious zombie film for more than 45 minutes because I was howling with laughter. He stormed out of the room, folding his newspaper under his arm and exclaiming "It's not fucking funny." It was the first film to ever become a favourite of mine before the plot even had a chance to get going. Also, by it's conclusion, it became a film that shocked me like no other before or since.

Poor mother's boy Lionel (Timothy Balme) has his hands full with his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) even before she is bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey and turned into a rapidly decomposing zombie. Having known nothing other than the hellish cloistered life his mother has crafted for him, Lionel is now determined to care for his now bloodthirsty mother. Eventually, however, thanks to his own bumbling and the actions of his lecherous Uncle Les, the town of Wellington, New Zealand is overtaken by a horde of newly sprung zombies that only Lionel, Les, and Lionel's love interest, Paquita, can stop.

Dead Alive (known as Braindead everywhere else but North America to avoid confusion with a Roger Corman film released two years earlier) is a delirious theme park ride of gore effects the likes of which I had never seen and have not been replicated since. The final 20 minutes of Dead Alive shocked me to no end. I wasn't scared in the slightest, but the film is so visually inventive that the images of zombies having sex and others being cut down en masse by a lawnmower were forever burned into my memory. My father reentered that room during the film's grotesque Freudian grand finale. It was the only time he after told me he was ready to shut off a movie I had been watching. It was the only film I ever got yelled at for bringing home. This coming from a man who had recently watched Videodrome when I rented it the year before. I guess I wasn't the only one affected.

Despite having already made Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles (which, in my eyes, is the ultimate in bad taste outside of an early John Waters film), Dead Alive firmly established Peter Jackson as a visually powerful filmmaker with a quick wit. He has an ear for comedy, a heart built for tragedy, and an eye for gore. Dead Alive plays like a live action Tex Avery cartoon without a filter. Dead Alive is beyond cartoonish, boundary pushing, and one of the most entertaining zombie films ever created.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up in Newfoundland in the mid-90s, Dead-Alive was like the holy grail of gory horror movies that I could never quite track down. Or, more accurately, I could only find the severely edited R-rated version of the film at Blockbuster, and refused to even dignify it with a watch.
    Finally I scraped up enough cash to purchase a VHS copy of the totally uncut version taped from a Japanese Laserdisc, and I pretty much wore out the tape from watching it. While some were shocked when Jackson eventually made such a restrained (and wonderful) film with Heavenly Creatures, the seeds for that film's attention to period detail are planted in this film - which recreates the streetcars and products of the era.
    I was lucky enough to finally see it on the big screen at one of Dion Conflict's Shock and Awe all-nighters, and I can only say that anyone who is getting to see this for the first time is in for just a huge treat. The definition of the film as 'a slapstick comedy with blood and guts instead of custard pies' is gleefully accurate.