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.