Originally released as Braindead, Dead Alive was Peter Jackson’s fourth film, and considered by many to be the goriest movie of all time. My own feelings toward the project went a little something like this.
Reaction #1) Curious but impatient:
The movie begins on an island, where a zoologist is making attempts to capture a monkey. The cinematography takes awhile to get used to, with askew zooms and close-ups, for no immediately obvious reason except to establish a style. When the zoologist is bitten by the chimp, his guides immediately stop what they’re doing to dismember him. This is the first of countless bursts of violence, and sets the tone for the kind of gratuitous gore that will follow.
Once we get into the main story, the film mellows out for awhile so that we can meet our protagonists, Leonard and Paquita. We also briefly meet Paquita (who is Spanish)’s grandmother (who is inexplicably English or Kiwi, but is nonetheless a gypsy of some kind), who tells us, by way of Tarot cards, that Paquita will soon meet her true love, but that the road is going to get mighty bumpy mighty quick. Leonard and Paquita agree to go on a date, despite the displeasure of Leonard’s over-bearing mother, and decide to head to the zoo. There, Leonard’s mom, who is stalking them, is bitten by the evil, stop-motion monkey.
Reaction #2) Amused, blood-thirsty joy:
We already know that monkey-bites are bad, so, with baited breath, we wait to see just what’s going to happen. As it turns out, it’s better than anything I expected, as mother gradually develops serious dermatological issues as well as a taste for live flesh. To get an idea of exactly how this plays out, imagine if Mrs. Bates from Psycho wasn’t actually Norman but was, in fact, a zombie. Are you getting an idea of how good this could get? From there on, the movie doesn’t look back to its quaint romantic beginnings. Instead, it transcends into a hilarious, gory slapstick free-for-all, that you can’t even begin to anticipate. It takes turns that make me question Peter Jackson’s ability to raise well-adjusted children. Until the last ten minutes, it more than makes up for any feelings of tedium that we’ve experienced during the opening. I very much want to tell you about little things that are just so twisted and incredible, but you really have to see them for yourselves.
Reaction #3) I wonder what I had for dinner, oh wait, I remember now, I had chili. Want to know how I know? Because I didn’t have enough time to cover my mouth, and it’s dripping off my computer screen.
When Leonard resolves to take out a room full of zombies, the gore gets out of control. I cannot remember any other time that I have actually felt uncomfortable with blood and guts, but this was incomprehensible. I simply cannot describe to you how messed up it gets. Up until now, I had been able to enjoy myself, taking twisted pleasure in seeing limbs go flying, zombiefied organs stalking their prey independently of a body, and a zombie baby birth itself from a girl’s skull, but the finale made me queasy. Queasy enough that I lost the ability to enjoy myself, feeling a similar kind of revulsion as I felt watching Freddy Got Fingered. If you want to see it for yourself, I found it over at Ebaum’s world, and you can check it out here.