Oct. 8: Dead Alive (1992)
Everyone knows director Peter Jackson from the massively successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, but far less well known are his early films made in New Zealand. The best of Jackson'92s early genre films is this gleefully over-the-top zombie comedy that doesn'92t skimp on anything: big laughs, big action and gore by the bucketful.
Lionel (Timothy Balme) is a shy young man who lives in New Zealand with his overbearing shrew of a mother. He falls in love with sweet shopgirl Paquita (Diana Pe'f1alver), but his mother will hear nothing of it. When Lionel takes Paquita to the zoo, his mother follows them, only to be bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey imported from Skull Island. After she dies and becomes a zombie, Lionel again has to take care of her, this time keeping her a secret from the world. But he gets a chance to assert his independence when he must avert the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
Dead Alive is indeed horrific, but it is almost purely comedy. The movie plays like a screwball farce as Lionel tries to keep up appearances while the zombie infestation grows steadily worse. There are a number of classic scenes, such as one in which Lionel tries to host guests for lunch while hiding the fact that his mother isn'92t currently alive, or the terrific set piece in which Lionel takes a zombie baby to the park, only to have to chase it around and keep it from biting anyone. And who can forget the kung-fu priest who takes on the zombies, saying, '93I kick ass for the Lord!'94
Despite all the comedy, Dead Alive is probably the bloodiest movie of all time. The over-the-top gore is so plentiful that it reaches a level of sublime surrealism and ridiculousness that it enhances the movie'92s farcical tone. In this movie zombies don'92t die if you shoot them in the head. If you cut them into pieces, all their parts will keep coming after you. By the end of the movie, Lionel has to go after the zombies with a lawnmower. The final sequence, with a house full of zombies that go apeshit, must be seen to be believed. Jackson stages these sequences with the technical skill that came to maturity in Lord of the Rings.
Dead Alive isn'92t subtle, nor is it particularly scary, but you'92ll be too busy giggling at all the blood and guts to care. It'92s an incredibly silly, rollicking good time, an outrageous experience that every horror fan should have.
If you like this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 Bad Taste (1987): Jackson'92s debut feature shares Dead Alive'92s goofy sense of humor as it tells the story of a small, coastal New Zealand town whose residents are all sliced and diced by evil aliens who want to serve them in an intergalactic fast-food restaurant.
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Frighteners (1996): Jackson'92s underrated Hollywood debut is this horror-comedy that stars Michael J. Fox as a psychic ghostbuster who can see ghosts, and gets them to haunt houses so he can come in and pretend to exorcise them. But when a murderous ghost comes to town, Fox must save the day. Check out the DVD with the director'92s cut and a four-hour (!) making-of documentary.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Heavenly Creatures (1994): Horror of an entirely different sort here, as Jackson changes gears to tell the haunting, horrific true-life story of two New Zealand teenagers (Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey) who form an unhealthily intense friendship, complete with an imaginary world they create to hide themselves from the outside. When Lynskey'92s mother tries to move her away, the two kill her.