(aka Dead-Alive, Peter Jackson, New Zealand, 1992)


The gory horror-comedy is a B movie invention of the 1980s, brought to a height of frenetic bad taste in films such as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series and the hundreds of operatically gruesome creepshows made in Italy. The merrily undead zombies who populate these films are more likely to be fixated on shopping, partying, loud music or sex than the old fashioned activity of tormenting the living.

Just when one thought this genre had well and truly exhausted itself, along comes Peter Jackson’s Braindead from New Zealand. Jackson is well known among gorehounds for his rough but game films Bad Taste (1987) and Meet the Feebles (1989). His ability to tell a tale with style and verve has improved dramatically since those early efforts.

Braindead milks many laughs from the daggy ordinariness of its setting (suburban New Zealand in the 1950s) and its characters. Lionel (Timothy Balme) is a gawky, shy lad torn between his unlovely, possessive mother (Elizabeth Moody), and his Latin love Paquita (Diana Penalver). All three get to reveal their true colours once Lionel’s home has been overrun by droves of frantic zombies intent on devouring every bodily part in sight.

It has become commonplace for commentators on the horror genre to regard all its violent, erotic and supernatural happenings as expressions of a deep malaise within western civilisation – particularly the nuclear family. Jackson takes this idea as the basis for his knowing comedy, as the lecherous Uncle Les (Ian Watkin), and finally Mum herself, become extravagantly mutated monsters. Can the innocent love of Lionel and Paquita conquer all zombies? Watch Braindead and find out.

MORE Jackson: The Frighteners, King Kong, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

© Adrian Martin February 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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