Friday, November 05, 2010

Dead Alive

(1992) ****1/2



Peter Jackson’s splatstick zombie yarn grossed its way to becoming a king among midnight movies. Taking cues from Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator, Jackson’s obvious intention was to create the most over the top, gratuitously gory B-movie in history. It’s definitely a worthy contender; ribcages are torn out, blood flows like water, and dismemberments are never more than a few moments away. Why chop off one limb when you can chop off three? Why not leave the head connected to the body by a flap of skin to make things slightly more revolting? 300 liters of blood per minute were pumped out during the gruesome climax, pretty much cementing Dead Alive’s cult movie legend status.

Jackson’s unyielding dedication to splatter is more than Dead Alive’s greatest strength. It is the slimy intestines, the stomach lining and twitching organs that hold the film together. Had he exercised even a trace of restraint then the delicate balance of horror and campiness would have been upset. The vomit inducing cartoon violence isn’t the only reason to love it however. Behind the nasty lies an entertaining story of a timid man’s struggle to break free from the control his overbearing mother exerts on his life. Mum’s domineering and passive aggression is difficult enough to combat when she’s alive but that’s nothing compared to what she’s capable of as a flesh eating zombie. This is where the trajectory strays from the regular zombie movie course. Rather than dispose of Mum (after brief deliberation) with a bullet to the head, Lionel hides her in the basement and continues to eat dinner with her as usual. (Ok, not quite usual.) But, as we all know, zombies can’t be contained...

It all adds up to manic fun and required zombie viewing but I don’t consider it a masterpiece. The stop motion animation effects range from charming to cringeworthy. (I suspect that if the movie was made today with the same relative budget, the CGI effects would be far more convincing but not quite perfect and I’d complain anyway.) The baby zombie (who resembles a Garbage Pail Kid) generates a few laughs but grows tiresome by the end. The humor falls flat on more than one occasion. Regardless, Dead Alive is a spectacle to behold and its sheer outrageousness has yet to be matched.

7 comments:

Catfreeek said...

I love this film and I'm so glad to see it get so much attention this year. My favorite line in the film is the preacher declaring, "I kick ass for the Lord!"

Octopunk said...

I can't believe this is the first time you've seen this unrated. Well I can, actually, because life is like that.

I saw this in the theater for the pre-blog Horrorthon 2004. Here's what that involved:

"I had the distinct pleasure of seeing this on Saturday as a feature for Midnight Mass, a weekly tribute to various film themes at the Bridge Theater in San Francisco. This month's theme is horror, naturally. Half the audience was dressed in their zombie best, and the hostess of Midnight Mass, a lanky drag queen known as Peaches Christ, officiated the pre-show in a Sumatran Rat-Monkey wig.

The pre-show consisted of a mock debate to determine the Goriest Horror Movie ever (voting was by screaming loud and Dead Alive won hands down) and a gore-eating contest, in which three of the zombies took turns chowing down on bowls of spaghetti rigged to look like it was coming out of another drag queen's guts. (Peaches admitted that they'd used the same contest prior to Suspiria during their tribute to Italian horror, but that all the goths in the audience were completely humorless and sat there with their arms folded.)

To say that this audience was rowdy barely covers it. Remember in the opening scene, where those guys yell "Singaya!" every time they spot a rat-monkey bite? Well, every single zombie bite that happened earned a "Singayaaaaa!" from the audience. Every meeting between Lionel and Paquita evoked a torrent of catcalls, and during the scenes of mega-gore, well, I was yelling too loud myself to make out what anyone was saying. It was a freakin' blast and a half, let me tell you. I was so amped to see that flick on the big screen surrounded by fellow horror-heads. A perfect counterpoint to the forty-odd movies I've watched so far by myself in my room."

Catfreeek said...

I'm so envious *sigh*

Octopunk said...

Johnny, did you bump your rating up a half star? I approve. Or I'm hallucinating.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Yeah, you busted me Octo. (Why you gotta embarrass me like that in front of everybody?) I try to avoid the ****1/2 rating for some reason but Dead Alive deserves it.

That midnight showing sounds like a blast!

Octopunk said...

I only asked because I was gonna call you out on the low rating in my earlier comment and then I changed my mind. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't going crazy, which is difficult because I swear there are even more creepy characters on the masthead image today than there were yesterday.

Whirlygirl said...

Love, love this movie! I'm having a craving for it now.