Dead Alive (1992)Posted: May 29, 2011
If I had seen Peter Jackson’s film, “Dead Alive,” in 1992 and been told that Jackson would go on to direct 3 “Lord of the Rings” movies that would weigh in at a hefty 9 or so hours and make a gazillion dollars plus spawn a New Zealand tourist industry where people went to see the sets and locations where the film was made, I would have never believed you.
“Dead Alive” is a hilarious zombie movie, having more in common with Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Tom & Jerry cartoons and Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” than the psuedo-profundity of Romero’s Zombie films. To give you an idea of the aesthetic: In one scene a zombie baby gets slapped in the face with a frying pan and the pan malforms into the shape of the baby’s face — bonnnnnnng!!! It makes me wonder if between making “Dead Alive” and “LOTR,” Jackson had a brain transplant.
I don’t know what to call this film, but “slapstick horror comedy” comes close. The film starts with an explorer meeting a messy end while capturing a ‘Sumatran Rat Monkey.’ The rat monkey is shipped off to a zoo in New Zealand (where we later learn that the Sumatran Rat Monkeys are the result of tree monkeys being raped by plague infected rats). Lionel, a timid momma’s boy, slips out of the house to go on a date at the zoo with a Spanish girl named “Paquita” who works in the local grocery. Paquita’s elderly grandmother has done a card reading and convinced Paquita that Lionel is destined to be her one true love, so, despite an unpromising beginning to their relationship, she pursues Lionel with enthusiasm. Lionel’s mother, however, does not approve and follows them to spy on the couple and attempt to break up the relationship. Is it important that I tell you that this takes place in the 1950s New Zealand? So Lionel wears a sweater vest. Poodle skirts, petticoats, pompadours and rhinestone studded glasses abound.
While attempting to spy on the couple, Lionel’s mother is bitten on the arm by the Sumatran Rat Monkey (which looks like a naked muppet rat with a skin condition… see pic at left) and she demands that Lionel take her home to care for her. Lionel blows off Paquita and rushes home to care for his mother but her wound becomes infected and begins spurting pus that looks like melted raspberry sorbet.
His mother dies only to rise again as a zombie and kills the nurse as she is attempting to explain to the hapless Lionel that he is now an orphan. Now Lionel has 2 zombies to take care of… which he attempts to hide in the basement of his home and ‘keep down’ with tranquilizers… but they keep escaping and making more zombies. A dead clergyman zombie impregnates the nurse zombie and she gives birth to a baby zombie that looks like an evil Howdy Doody doll. Things continue on in this vein until Lionel is reunited Paquita and they are forced to battle the zombies together.
One needs to understand that half of the film, ‘Dead Alive,’ consists of slapstick battles with zombies involving lawn mowers, food processors, meat cleavers and other household items employed as weapons against an ever-growing horde of zombies. Thousands of gallons of blood (that looks like tomato paste) are spilled and body parts fly all over the place. Zombie entrails crawl across the floor or snake up Lionel’s pant leg like boa constrictors. In the final battle with “Mother” (she has now grown to gigantic size), Lionel is actually sucked back into her womb at one point. I suppose some people would find it very disgusting but it is not even remotely realistic. If gore were a regular part of the Muppet Show, it might look something like this.
I enjoyed the movie but need to warn viewers that it is a lowbrow splatter comedy where the film maker goes well beyond the frontiers of ‘good taste.’ In one scene, Lionel takes the baby zombie to the park in a baby carriage where he ends up kicking it like a football, ramming it’s head into a steel pole, etc., as horrified onlookers gasp. I’m not sure everyone would find playful ‘child abuse’ to be in good taste.