Dead Alive

Dead Alive (1992)
Trimark Home Video
Cast: Timothy Balme, Elizabeth Moody, Diana Penalver, Ian Watkin
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

There are many different incarnations of Peter Jackson’s film "Dead Alive". The New Zealand filmmaker created a film that was so controversial and extreme that there are literally different versions for nearly every country in the world. Originally known as "Braindead", this film was renamed to "Dead Alive" for American audiences and was fiercely edited to achieve an R rating, drawing cries of dismay from horror fans who, of course, wanted to see the film’s original version. Trimark Home Entertainment has now released "Dead Alive" in its uncut, unrated version in a brand spanking new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer. The film is certainly a contender for the most extreme splatter movie ever created and certainly nothing for the weak. What starts out seeming like a whimsical romantic comedy quickly turns into a gorefest that almost drowns the viewer in blood and gore. You have been warned!

Lionel (Timothy Balme) is a slow, geeky character in a New Zealand small town. He and his mother (Elizabeth Moody) share a huge house; she made him her servant a long time ago, using and abusing the boy as she deems fit, and forces him to clean and fix up the house, as well as run any other errand she deems necessary. The young man has no social life and is severely struck with an inferiority complex through the unwavering influence of his furious mother. In the meanwhile, Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver) is on a search for the man of her life according to her grandmother’s Tarot cards, Lionel is the chosen one. Known as the local idiot, Lionel is elusive and shy, but Paquita woos him successfully, and soon the two go out on their first date. In the zoo, the two enjoy each other’s company and Lionel’s mother spies on them from behind trees, ensuring the girl isn’t getting too close to her beloved son. Then, by accident, she is bitten by a ferocious and rare "rat monkey". Although the wound doesn’t look severe – at first – the animal carries a strange disease that quickly spreads through her body. Within a day, the mother decays and dies. Soon after her demise, Lionel notices that, although dead, his mother won’t stay that way. She has turned into a zombie, eager for flesh. In an attempt to hide the horrific evidence, Lionel locks her in the basement, but not before his mother also infected and "zombified" a local nurse and a few other people. More zombies turn up and Lionel has greater problems hiding the undead bodies in his basement and keeping them under lock and key… and then his uncle appears. The uncle is a scheming low-life who’s looking out mainly for the boy’s inheritance. He turns the place into a party ballroom, and soon Lionel can’t control the zombies in his basement any longer. They have smelled the scent of fresh meat, and decide that it is time to feed on the party guests.

As you can tell from the plot summary, "Dead Alive" is not what you would call a serious horror movie. It might be a huge turn-off for serious horror fans, but if you enjoy black humor, this movie will floor you with unexpected laughter. The film consciously digs up every cliché created in the horror genre and makes a caricature of it. Jackson mixes these strong humorous elements with serious horror and gore to create a film that is so far over the top that it actually makes fun of itself. I have not seen many films that manage to combine these two elements as masterfully as "Dead Alive" does. This film continuously tosses the viewer between laughter, shock, giggles and chokes, which in the end makes this film an exceedingly entertaining experience.

Apart from this genre clash, which is executed in a rather radical fashion, it contains numerous scenes and elements that made it an instant classic, showing just how aware the director was of what he was doing and how focused he went for the goal. You simply have to see the abdomen that comes to life, the lawnmower scene, zombies making out at a dinner table, or the climactic reincarnation of the evil mother to understand to what extremes a truly visionary and original filmmaker can go – and get away with. It clearly displays Peter Jackson’s love for filmmaking and his ambitions to make them right; not a single detail is missed, and whenever there is a chance to break another taboo he never flinches from it. There is not a missed opportunity in this film, a very thick, believable world of the bizarre, disgusting, and funny.

As I mentioned earlier, Trimark Home Entertainment have released "Dead Alive" in a brand new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer and present it in its unrated version to the delight of all lovers of this extraordinary horror film. The transfer is stunningly crisp and sharp, with more detail than has ever been evident in this film before. The interior shots benefit from this new treatment as they now reveal the more intricate details of the set design, which were mostly hidden in the murky shadows. The transfer is flawless and the print used for the transfer doesn’t exhibit any signs of wear or tear. The colors are vivid and rich, with naturally rendered fleshtones and strong, contrasting hues that do not exhibit the slightest signs of <$chroma,chroma noise> or bleeding.

"Dead Alive" contains a stereo <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that is very well transferred to this disc and presents itself quite dynamically. The music is as wicked as the film itself, toying with themes and motives just as the images and the story do with established clichés. It can be dead serious in one moment and then slowly fall back into a playful mood to make room for and underscore Jackson’s wacky fantasy. The film comes dubbed in English and contains selectable Spanish subtitles.

"Dead Alive" rocks! It is a horrific joyride to watch the film on this new DVD and it will make you forget any previous incarnation of the film you might have owned. It reveals the full beauty of Jackson’s work with its enhanced resolution and the faithful color reproduction. It is a film that is a little hard to swallow for many. It masterfully blends scurrilous humor with horror, and if you can take plenty of gore, you have to check out "Dead Alive". It is a hilarious film that sheds more blood than ten regular splatter movies together, and makes you laugh all the while.