Undead is an ambitious 2003 sci-fi horror film centered around a ragtag group of Aussies trying to escape a zombie infection brought upon their small town through a series of crashed meteorites. This debut feature from Peter and Michael Spierig begins as an excellent low-budget genre throwback but quickly loses coherency after an alien invasion sabotages the narrative. Filled with practical gore effects and genre tropes the film is an entertaining romp inspired by Peter Jackson’s early works. The Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment through Vinegar Syndrome’s partner label collection offers a solid A/V presentation and loads of features for fans including a CD soundtrack. Recommended.
“Crazy has definitely come to this town for a visit.”
In the sleepy fishing town of Berkeley, Queensland the reigning beauty pageant queen Rene (Felicity Mason, A Predator’s Obsession) is settling her affairs after the death of her parents. Eager to leave the small town, she hires a driver and sets out for the big city. As she is leaving small meteor particles rain down from the sky striking residents and turning them into zombies. Soon she joins with doomsday prepper Marion (Mungo McKay, Daybreakers) and a group of frightened locals to combat the undead and survive the onslaught of strange occurrences hoping to find safety.
As Rene escapes with Marion to his underground bunker they are joined by bush pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, Predestination) and his pregnant girlfriend Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham, Daybreakers). Frightened cops Sergeant Harrison (Dirk Hunter, Rain Fall) and newbie Molly (Emma Randall, Australiens) bust in looking for refuge and explanations. The dynamics change rapidly as Marion combats the living dead with Gun-Fu moves straight out of Equilibrium while Rene blasts away the baddies with more confidence than any other beauty queen (or local police officer). However, as the group tackles the walking dead supernatural forces from beyond seem to enter the fray and complicate matters. Sadly, this is where Undead shifts from a classic zombie throwback to an alien invasion morality tale. Hoping to shoehorn in every genre element their imaginations can muster, the Spierig Brothers attempt to meld numerous sci-fi elements into the narrative with the assistance of digital effects leaving the driving force of the film out to dry.
Undead smartly begins as a straightforward zombie infection film with moments of surprisingly good practical gore effects, action, and comedy. Inspired by horror comedies of the ’80s the film draws on established tropes from Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. The brothers shot the feature on 16mm which gives the film a textured look though with the later addition of digital effects the image and tone veer away from the intended aesthetic. Scenes featuring a walking spinal column and organs pouring out infected bodies look damn good. Knowing that this feature was essentially a DIY effort their results are spectacular. It's amazing what grit and determination can do, right?
Performances in the film are memorable though once the plot becomes convoluted the actors become puppets to the unfolding insanity leaving behind unrealized layers. Felicity Mason is brilliant here as beauty queen Rene takes back her life against all odds. Mungo McKay channels his inner stoic warrior for Marion giving us an unlikely hero through the film. Supporting performances are over-the-top genre staples but everyone commits to the bit no matter how weird. I’m glad to see that most of the Australian cast returned in other projects with the Spierig Brothers including Daybreakers and Predestination.
What Undead does well is working in the playground built by Romero and numerous Aussie filmmakers pushing the envelope of genre filmmaking. 2002 was a big year for zombie horror flicks so breaking away from expectations was a smart move, but without attention to tone and narrative cohesion, the film became messier than the unfurling bowels of a reanimated corpse. However, ravenous genre fanatics of splatterhouse gore and trippy sci-fi weirdness will find plenty to enjoy here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Undead is brought to Region Free Blu-ray thanks to Umbrella Entertainment through Vinegar Syndrome. The BD-50 disc shares a case with the CD Soundtrack of the film and an insert booklet. Loading the disc presents the Umbrella Entertainment logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with scenes from the film playing above typical navigation options.
Undead arrives with an AVC-encoded 1080p image in 1.77:1 that is heavily altered throughout to achieve certain genre aesthetics. Daytime shots bookending the film favor yellows and whites giving the scenes a layer of golden nostalgia in the color grading. Nighttime scenes during the zombie battles lean blue with only yellows and reds peeking through when required in set dressing or costuming elements. The detail is relatively sharp in closeups and medium shots however a softness pervades the image at times. Black levels are solid though most detail is lost in shadow during indoor nighttime scenes. Contrast varies wildly between scenes, especially those with digital effects. Depth and texture are surprisingly good thanks to the 16mm film stock breathing life into the feature. Those collectors with the Beyond Genres edition of the film from Umbrella Entertainment will find no discernible difference in the picture quality with this release.
Undead unleashes hell on Earth with a confident DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix paired with a solid DTS 2.0 track. The 5.1 track offers clear dialogue exchanges paired with a driving score and thunderous effects from gunshots and bone-crunching gore. Surrounds are generously applied in the mix giving this horror comedy plenty of atmospherics. LFE is punchy in weapon blasts and scoring elements. Not to worry mate, if you choose the 2.0 mix you’ll still get an exciting experience as well.
Umbrella Entertainment ports over the special feature set from its Beyond Genres sub-label in Australia for this North American release of the film. Start with the commentary track before moving through the features. Those with the Lionsgate DVD will find a wealth of bonus features not found on either the Umbrella Beyond Genres edition or this release through Vinegar Syndrome. Special features junkies should hold on to those editions.
Sadly Undead struggles to maintain coherency and genre stability once the aliens arrive shifting the tone off-center and leaving us out to dry and confused. As a low-budget zombie film, it's a textbook example of how grit and determination can fuel creative success. I found it highly entertaining and rife with memorable moments and performances. While not a cult classic yet, the film is a must-see for Ozploitaiton fans and those looking for the next genre-bending midnight movie. The Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment through Vinegar Syndrome's partner label collection arrives with a solid A/V package and plenty of bonus features for fans of the film. Recommended.