Dead Alive – Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but were afraid to ask (97 minutes New Zealand 1992)
“They’re not dead exactly, they’re just… sort of rotting.”
In the pantheon of horror-comedies, “Dead Alive” easily ranks up there with “Evil Dead: army of Darkness” and “Shaun of the dead”. I’ll say right now that you probably shouldn’t eat custard or strawberry ice cream when watching this early effort from Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”, “King Kong”, “the frighteners”), in the days when special effects included stop motion and gallons of movie blood. Lots of movie blood. So much blood, that “Dead Alive” is reputed to be the bloodiest movie of all time.
1957: the latest acquisition of the Wellington zoo is a rare and dangerous Sumatran rat-monkey, whose bite causes humans to turn into ravenous zombies. The creature looks suspiciously like Kitsune, by the way. Unfortunately for Lionel (Timothy Balme), his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) is intent on sabotage as he tries to enjoy his first date there with Paquita (Diana Penalver). Standing too close to the cage, Vera gets bit and stomps the rat-monkey to squishy bits in her rage. Lionel takes her home and tries to hide her horrific condition from everyone, leading to problems growing as fast as the body count.
Virtually everything in this gem is outrageous and the carnage is way past the top, into the stratosphere. It also provides answers to vital questions about zombies:
– What happens when two zombies fall in love
– Why you shouldn’t take the resulting offspring to the park
– How to feed a captive zombie when its head is halfway off
– How to immobilize a zombie with a garden rake and a vise
– Why animal stimulant shouldn’t be used to poison zombies
And much, much more… Jackson and writers Stephen Sinclair and Frances Walsh (Jackson’s spouse) packed a lot of chuckles and groans in what may be the definitive splatter-fest.
Jackson’s camera work and skillful direction keep things lively and all the efforts spent recreating the look of the fifties, with cars, clothes and even hair styles of the era greatly enhance the movie’s charm. Performances are above the average for the genre, especially from the leads, but Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie) fighting off zombies in his graveyard is a classic (“I kick *** for the Lord!”), well worthy of Bruce Campbell’s best, as is Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) showing a lot of spine as the zombies overrun Lionel’s house. Also keep an eye out for Peter Jackson’s cameo as the undertaker’s assistant pumping Vera with embalming fluid…
The JBoD rating for this movie is 4 jellybeans (out of 5)