'Dead Alive' Review - Adulthood According to Jackson's Splatstick

Updated on September 20, 2018
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Long before being an Oscar-winning director, Peter Jackson was a young New Zealander filmmaker dedicated to the splatter horror comedy. And he was very good at his job.

Braindead (AKA Dead Alive in North America) is his third film and by far the best in his splatstick years. This is a satire of a piece of conservative New Zealand society, set in an exaggerated 1957 Wellington, full of exaggerated hairstyles and uncomfortable dresses.

Dead Alive is the love story between Lionel (Timothy Balme) and Paquita (Diana Peñalver) that develops between hostile social dynamics, family betrayals, and the bite of a Sumatran Rat-Monkey that kills and revives humans into bloody zombies. This of course unleashes a festival of murders, mutilations, and many cartoonish reactions.

Of course, like the best zombie films, underneath all the insanity of organs, blood, pus, and screams, there is also an entertaining story about the beginning of true adulthood, the one that begins when you assume the commitment of a loving relationship, disconnect from the maternal nest, and dealing with the different aspects of the society that surrounds you.

Lionel is practically a man-child who, after meeting Paquita, must deal with the overprotective jealousy of that monster that is his mother. He must also deal with cheating entrepreneurs, church priests, biker thugs, etc. There is even a monster-zombie baby under Lionel's care, thus fulfilling the allegorical checklist of responsible parenthood. All those zombies are, of course, exaggerated versions of their social roles. And what is Lionel's weapon of choice to dismember and liquefy all these monsters? Perhaps the most adult and daily item possible; a lawnmower.

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The 50s retro setting opens the possibility of exploiting further stereotypes, such as the horny church priest, the mad nurse, or the conservative racist mother. With a disturbing kitsch score that reminds you of the most nostalgic Richard Clayderman’s cheap restaurant tunes and with continuous zoom-ins and Dutch angles, Peter Jackson creates an unstable and volatile atmosphere where all the characters seem to be taken from Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" music video.

Of course, Dead Alive is primarily a splatter festival. It has been said that this is the film that has used the most amount of fake blood of all time (the last sequence used 300 liters alone, at a rate of five gallons per second in the lawnmower scene), and it shows. Dead Alive is Evil Dead magnified by 20. The second half of the movie is a grotesque and awesome progression that doesn't stop for even a moment, with a more bizarre, funny, and exaggerated sequence following the previous one.

Peter Jackson is a master at selecting frames and cuts to enhance the comedy of absurd situations. Not only that, but each scene seemed to include an extra bonus for our entertainment. For example, out of nowhere, an expert Kung Fu priest performs elaborate martial arts choreography against some thugs. In another sequence (perhaps the funniest one of the entire movie), Lionel takes a baby-monster out to a public playground, and Peter Jackson mixes a lot of practical effects to achieve it.

Unless you are a movie snob with little tolerance for gross things, laughter, and splatter, Dead Alive is a unique experience that everyone should experience at least once.

Movie Details

Title: Dead Alive / Braindead

Release Year: 1992

Director(s): Peter Jackson

Actors: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Stuart Devenie a.o.

4 stars for Dead Alive


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