Horror Flick of the Week: Dead Alive/Braindead

Firing up my DVD player today, I thought back to when I first watched this movie. My mom was an avid horror fan, and she’d helped me pick this rental out at Hastings. I couldn’t have been more than maybe 9. This was the day my mom also gave me one of the best bits of advice I’ve ever received: do not eat and watch this film. Do not think of food while watching this film. Avoid consumption of anything before watching this…film. For those of you who may not have seen this or any of Peter Jackson’s other works, I’d advise you to heed these words.

Of course as a proud member of Nickelodeon’s first generation, I disregarded her wisdom. I thought I could handle it. I ate a chili dog the first time I saw Dead Alive (or Braindead to you non-American folks.)  I did pretty well until the custard scene…

I spent most of my childhood in small-town Texas. This may not mean much to a lot of you, but to others…you might also remember the small video rental shops tucked away at the back of those aging grocery stores. The mysterious collections of films I’d find there, I’ve yet to see at any regular video store. What attracted me to this movie was the video cover. It’s…well it’s pretty freaking awesome. It’s also pretty disturbing. The only reason my mom let me go ahead and rent it after walking past this little gem a thousand times, was because she’d seen it. A normal parent would probably have just been even more averse to letting his or her daughter watch Dead Alive alone after actually seeing the film, but go figure.

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I scoff at most modern ‘zombie’ pictures, when I think of Dead Alive. Oh, so a virus got out and infected the populace? It’s doomsday? There was a mad monkey? PLEASE. Be a bit more creative, people! I mean…this movie had rat monkeys. Ugly little bastard rat monkeys…apparently the offspring of rapist rats and innocent tree monkeys. RAT. MONKEYS.

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He’s got his father’s charm…

So it opens with a man actually trying to transport one of these suckers to a zoo. The rat monkey gets there, unfortunately it bit off a bit more than it could chew. Wait, no. It bit off a bit more than the guy could handle. The guy bit off more than he could chew? There’s a joke here somewhere.

It’s the late 50s, so of course our hero has an overbearing bitch mother when we meet him. But first we meet Paquita, who’s sweet on a deliveryman until her gypsy grandma reads her fortune. Might I just say that whenever Tarot cards are used in a movie, I squeal a little? There really is something epic about employing occult symbols in a horror flick. It adds to the supernatural feel of a picture.

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Her fate lies not with he who brings the boxes, but he who spills the stationary.

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Of course I’m taking about Lionel, the mama’s boy protagonist. I’d also like to mention at this point that even though this film may have a much lower budget than LOTR or even Frighteners, it’s already apparent that no matter what his funds…Peter Jackson is a damn good director and a damn good storyteller. Every angle in this film, the way the camera travels, the link from one scene to the next…it’s incredibly streamlined, and quite pretty (even the wet bits with the blood and goo have their merits.)

Now that he’s met Piquita, Lionel’s life will never be the same. His mother thoroughly establishes herself as a control-freak before this becomes apparent, but it isn’t long before the two destined lovers have a lovely trip to the zoo. Oh wait, not so lovely…because this happens to Lionel’s mom before things get too steamy…

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Things don’t seem to be looking up for the budding romance. And just when things seem to be going back to normal for Lionel and his mother, she becomes ill…and the custard scene. The…custard scene. Honestly, I’m getting a little sick just finding good screenshots from it, so instead I’ll just let your imaginations do the work. It’s already spoiled enough, frankly, I don’t think I need to spoil the custard further.

As the infection from the rat monkey spreads, Piquita struggles to pursue Lionel. She eats her dog. Lionel’s mom…eats Piquita’s mom. Could the Tarot reading have been wrong? From this moment on, it’s a bumpy ride. Zombie nurse. Zombie priest. Zombie baby. Zombie bikers. Zombie intestines. Zombie lamp. Zombie pervert. Zombie party…It’s a gory, gross, green smorgasbord. That, my friends, is why Dead Alive/Braindead is the horror flick of the week. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go throw up…

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