31 Days Of Hell: Braindead (Dead Alive)

Lee covers himself in a gooey mess for this review of Braindead.

Years before Peter Jackson lead legions of fans across Middle Earth to destroy the One Ring, he wrote and directed one of the funniest zombie films ever made. Preceding our modern watered down zombie crazed society, Braindead (1992) is a smorgasbord of humor and gore. As was Jackson's trademark early in his pre-CGI career, this film is wildly creative, using a variety of classic techniques, such as claymation, puppets, and prosthetic makeup. And as if that wasn't enough, he threw in some full blown '70s style Kung-Fu action for good measure. That scene alone delivers a tag line that you'll remember till the end of time.

Produced by Wingnut Films and shot entirely in New Zealand, Braindead's plot falls somewhere between Psycho and Shaun of the Dead. Timothy Balme stars as Lionel Cosgrove, a young man struggling to care for his sick mother Vera after she is bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey. Unfortunately for Vera, the bite has terrible side effects. Balme's memorable quirky performance fits well with the film's wide assortment of grotesque and humorous scenarios. Paired with Diana Panalver's cute and feisty performance as Lionel's girlfriend Paquita, Braindead is a horror lover's delight. The spectacular special effects range from hilarious to disgusting, resulting in several memorable scenes. Much of the credit goes to the imagination of prosthetics makeup artist Bob McCarron. While the film is gory, all the characters have a cartoonish quality, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s more the opposite. The exaggerated personalities give the human performances an animation that meshes well with the films multiple mutilations. At times it shuts off the gross factor and lets viewers just take it all in, creating that classic horror/ comedy balance that isn’t too one sided or domineering.

Humor is a great companion to horror, as the later often fails to please. Yet combined it creates a bizarre harmony of enjoyment which lends horror a more acceptable and forgiving quality. With Braindead (or Dead Alive, as it is more commonly known in New Zealand), viewers get a film that is equally pleasing on both levels. One scene involving a mischievous zombie baby actually came about due to the fact Jackson finished shooting two day ahead of schedule and still had budget money left over. The spontaneous shoot ended up being one of the more hilarious scenes in the film. Braindead was a commercial failure at the box office, but after the success of Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy, it gained a cult following, especially with North American audiences. 

The film is hard to find for fans looking to obtain a physical copy. A limited edition blu-ray was released in 2011, but copies are scarce and the price reflects the limited availability, averaging over $100. Braindead is a gooey slime filled gore fest to be marveled, and it's the perfect example of what can be accomplished the good old fashion way. Blood and guts created with prosthetics and makeup are rarely duplicated with green screens, and drag and drop post production blood splatters just end up giving films a cheap video game quality. It’s the equivalent of autotune for movies. Nothing beats a creative and skilled special effects team. If laughs, blood, and fun with lawn mowers are your thing, then grab your blood splatter goggles and check out this cult horror comedy masterpiece.


- Lee L. Lind

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