Brain Dead aka Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992)

Brain Dead aka Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992)

Brain Dead aka Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992) Peter Jackson, the same Peter Jackson now extending 300 pages of tight fantasy storytelling into over 8 hours of gratuitous frenzied family fun, is a horror hound (the same guy responsible for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit).

He first cut his teeth in feature filming with Bad Taste (1987), a splatter horror comedy sold at the Cannes Film Festival, and then penned several horror scripts including a sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street.

What followed next is the stuff of legend: the zombie exploitation film Dead Alive (1992, aka Braindead).

I daydream that Jackson, today’s most prolific fantasy director, had a simple intent: to make the best, funniest, and goriest (truly) zombie film of all time. And to use a lawnmower in a seriously distasteful fashion. You can still see the indentation in horror’s titanium wall where Jackson’s balls slammed.

Monkey See, Monkey Infectiously Bite Repeatedly

Braindead Rat Monkey

Rat Monkey

The Sumatran Rat-Monkey is a filthy beast from Skull Island with a ferocious bite that carries a deadly disease. So deadly, in fact, that when a New Zealand explorer is bitten while capturing one, the locals promptly take a machete to both of his arms and head. That’s the kind of no-holds-barred impulse we’re working with here, and it’s the tip of the iceberg by far. Aside from some clunky character development (tongue almost always firmly planted in cheek), gore comes at a breakneck pace.

Back to modern day New Zealand, Lionel (Timothy Balme) lives with his overbearing mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) and falls in love with the beautiful Paquita (Diana Peñalver), a shopkeeper’s daughter.

Vera follows the two lovebirds on their date to the zoo, where she is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey and turned into a dead-eyed, flesh-craving, body-rotting zombie. Yowza. Of course, Lionel wants to keep the whole thing secret from Paquita — mothers can be so embarrassing — and as the disease inevitably spreads, we get an inversion of the classic zombie tale: rather than battle to keep all zombies out, Lionel is fighting to keep them locked in his basement, his secret guarded.

You Shall Not Pass… Without Your Intestines Exploding Out Of You

BrainDead 1992

BrainDead 1992

I’d write now on how the zombie fight sequences of Dead Alive are brilliant precursors to the majesty of stage combat and camerawork that is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but then I’d have to be smoking a pipe (I don’t have a pipe) and repeatedly punching myself in the stomach.

All I know is that these 97 minutes could only be assembled by a horror-obsessive. We’re often treated in zombie classics to a handful of screamworthy gross-outs — Zombi 2’s “splinter scene” and Day of the Dead’s disemboweling come to mind — but Dead Alive keeps them coming all the way through (Note: what is it with all the splatter sound effects? Seriously, did Jackson actually want viewers to throw up? Because I threw up three times). You’ve really never seen anything like it. In the second act, it’s like watching Looney Tunes, only every gunshot and anvil drop results in brain splatter and the whole thing was animated in real life by Satan.

Peter Jackson is an Eli Roth fan: Cabin Fever (2002) is after his own heart. Not only did Jackson’s publicity quotes grace the movie’s poster, he stopped production on The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King multiple times to screen the film to the whole crew. But in the context of Dead Alive, Eli Roth’s first feature can’t help but feel at least somewhat derivative and on its level of gore, incomparable. Much of the gore of the past two decades can be seen as territory Jackson already obliterated, from New French Extremity (compare the amazing circular saw scene in High Tension (2003) to his lawnmower sequence) to the recent Evil Dead (2013) remake, where the protagonist is left blood-stained from head-to-toe just like Lionel and Paquita.

It’s likely a lot of folks missed Dead Alive / Brain Dead on its first time around, but regardless, when you see an earlier film echoed in so many successors’ bloody efforts, you know you’re in the presence of something great.

Oh, and it has a great kung-fu fighting Priest in it, who takes on a bunch of zombies in his graveyard – “I kick arse for the Lord!”. Seriously, what’s not to love.

Watch Brain Dead / Dead Alive below:

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Written by: Ben Mueller