Dead Alive

Dead Alive (1992)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Timothy Balme, Elizabeth Moody, Diana Peñalver, Ian Watkin
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

He may be best known for creating the mega-epic "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy that broke box office records around the globe, but there once was a time when Peter Jackson was a small, upcoming filmmaker from somewhere down under in New Zealand, far removed from the glitz of Hollywood, far removed from the shackles of the industry, just doing his thing, wacky as it may have been.

There are many different incarnations of "Dead Alive," in part because with it, Jackson had 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", the movie was renamed to "Dead Alive" for American audiences and was fiercely edited to achieve an R rating, drawing howls of dismay from horror fans who, of course, wanted to see the film's original version. While it has been available on DVD for quite some time, it is great to see that Lionsgate Home Entertainment has now prepared a Blu-Ray version of the film in its uncut, unrated version.

Just a quick word of warning, however. Although it is a horror comedy, the film is certainly a contender for the most extreme splatter movie ever created and certainly nothing for the squeamish. 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 where he shares a mansion with his mother (Elizabeth Moody). She has 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 that might pop into her mean little head.

The young man has no social life and is severely struck with an inferiority complex through the unwavering influence of his furious mother. Meanwhile, Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver) is on a search for the man of her life and 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. At the zoo, they enjoy each other's company when Lionel's mother spies on them from behind trees, ensuring the girl isn't getting too close to her beloved son.

It is the, that, by accident, she is bitten by a ferocious and rare "rat monkey". Although the wound doesn't look severe at first, animal carries a strange disease that quickly spreads through her body. Within a day, the mother decays and dies. Soon after her demise, however, Lionel notices that, although dead, his mother won't stay that way. She has turned into a zombie, eager for human flesh.

In an attempt to hide the horrific evidence, Lionel locks her in the basement, but not before his mother also infects and "zombifies" a local nurse, along with a few other people. More and more zombies turn up and Lionel has greater problems hiding the undead bodies in his basement and keeping them under lock and key… and that's when his uncle appears.

The uncle is a scheming low-life who's mainly interested in wresting away the boy's inheritance. He turns the mansion into a party ballroom, and soon Lionel can't control the zombies in his basement any longer. They have picked up the scent of blood and 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 — and I have left out a lot of the zany highlights as not to spoil the fun for you. It might be a turn-off for fans of serious horror, but if you enjoy black humor, this movie will simply floor you with unexpected laughter.

The film very consciously digs up every cliché created in the genre and makes a caricature of it. It even goes in a takes many of the "How does that even make sense?" moments that are so prevalent in the genre and supercharges them into parody. Jackson masterfully 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. In all honesty, even in all the years I've been reviewing movies, I have not seen many films that manage to combine these two elements as masterfully as "Dead Alive." This film continuously jolts the viewer between laughter, shock, giggles and chokes, which in the end makes this film an exceedingly entertaining experience.

Apart from the genre clash, which is executed in a rather radical and refreshing fashion, the film 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 jugular.

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 as much as flinches. There is not a missed opportunity in this film, a very thick, believable world of the bizarre, disgusting, and funny.

Available in high definition for the first time, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has prepared a 1080p high definition transfer for the film. The image is generally clean and clear, but there is some grain notable in many scenes. It doesn't throw off the presentation but reminds viewers that this film does have its limitations. Nonetheless, the transfer is leaps and bounds above the DVD release of years ago and well worth the upgrade.
Crisp and sharp, with more detail than has ever been evident in this film before, the movie certainly benefits from the new treatment. Whether it's the interior shots with the intricate details, or the dark basement shots that are so atmospherically lit, "Dead Alive" is a feast for the eyes. Colors are vivid and rich, with naturally rendered fleshtones and strong, contrasting hues that do not exhibit the slightest signs of chroma noise or bleeding.

"Dead Alive" contains a DTS HD stereo track that is 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.

"Dead Alive" rocks! It is a horrific joyride to watch the film on this new Blu-Ray version and it will make you forget any previous incarnation of the film that you might have owned. It reveals the full beauty of Jackson's work with its high definition resolution and the powerful 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.