In a perverse way, the almost cartoonish violence of Peter Jackson’s 1992 film Braindead (aka Dead Alive) is absolutely hilarious. This is certainly one of the most violent films you’re likely to experience, from a man with a lawnmower strapped to his chest walking into a sea of the infected to a recurring set of seemingly anthropomorphic entrails to a literally explosive climax. Dead Alive, however, surpasses fellow ultraviolent films with its compelling story and enjoyable troupe of characters, and a healthy dosage of gore and laughs. That being said, it’s certainly not a film for the faint of heart or the squeamish; in fact, the first scene of the film is pretty graphic, so if squeamishness is a problem for you, it’s best to take your chances with another one of my Halloween special recommendations this holiday season.
The plot revolves around Lionel, a likeable young New Zealander who lives under the oppression of his domineering mother. He falls in love with a young woman named Paquita and, while enjoying a nice little date at the zoo, his mother intervenes and is attacked and bitten by the dreaded Sumatran Rat Monkey. She starts a wicked, hideous transformation and begins to enjoy the taste of human flesh. It’s only a matter of time, of course, before the whole town’s infected and Lionel has to deal with them.
Dead Alive is far from being generic, however. The film is full of charm and it’s delightfully creative. As well, it highlights Peter Jackson’s early ingenuity and his passion for splatterfest comedy, featuring a baby zombie and an ass-kicking preacher, among other things. The film culminates in one of the most bizarre climaxes in cinematic history (I won’t spoil it, but I will say that its resolution is strangely satisfying).
What makes Dead Alive infinitely more entertaining and enjoyable than the amateurishness of Bad Taste is that Braindead (call it what you will) forms a much more coherent picture and feels much more realized. The humour, of course, is as perverse and raunchy as his other early films, such as the wonderful Meet the Feebles.
Dead Alive is undoubtedly my personal favourite Peter Jackson. Many of his early films are overlooked in favour of The Lord of the Rings and everything after, but his splatterfest comedies pre-LOTR are his heart (no pun intended). Despite the constant inflation of his Hollywood grandeur, I really hope that he returns to raw splatterfest comedy at some point, which is unlikely, but given the right circumstances, you never know. Either way, Dead Alive is a classic of its kind, and Peter Jackson will always be a master of splatterfest comedy.