What's not to love in a movie with two zombies going at it on the dinner table, giving birth a few hours later, and then taking the ugly abomination for a lovely stroll in the park. But if such gross-out visuals are not the type to tickle your funny bone, then that's okay, too. 'Dead Alive,' or 'Braindead' as it is known in other parts of the world, is not the type of comedy to please everybody. In its attempts to make audiences laugh so hard that they'll puke — or puke then laugh, or probably just puke and wish they had never watched this repulsive mess — the movie goes intentionally overboard with the gags, often tickling the gag-reflex itself.
The absurdly disgusting splatstick feature from New Zealand marked Peter Jackson's third motion picture, right after the equally disturbing black comedies 'Bad Taste' and 'Meet the Feebles.' It's actually kind of funny looking back at Jackson's earlier career now that's he's a well-respected Academy Award-winning director. They seem like the work of two vastly different individuals — one, a creative and an admirable storyteller, while the other the work a depraved man with questionable morals and a truly distorted sense of humor. It's weird thinking they come from the same person. But then again, there's also clear evidence of the filmmaker we now know, showing many of the same stylistic techniques he still uses today.
In 'Dead Alive,' Jackson puts together a mishmash of his favorite ideas and inspirations into one gigantic ultra-violent spectacle of gore — a "gore-tacular" maybe? The first scene takes place in the exotically fictional Skull Island, which is actually the Putangirua Pinnacles which he would later re-use for 'Return of the King,' where a nerdy traveler tries to make-off with the dangerous Sumatran Rat-Monkey. It's a comical splatter sequence that immediately recalls Jackson's all-time favorite movie 'King Kong,' but it also hints at Sherlock Holmes stories with the mention of the giant rat as well as the explorer possibly being the laughable antithesis of Indiana Jones.
The captured creature finally lands in the Wellington Zoo, circa late 1950s, where Jackson calls to mind elements of Hitchcock's 'Psycho' in the relationship of wimpy Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) and his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody). When accosted by amorous immigrant Paquita (Diana Peñalver), tension mounts as Lionel struggles between his devotion to his hard-to-please mother and his desire for independence. It's the perfect setup for when dear-ole mum falls ill after her attack by the carnivorous rat-monkey, with laughter quickly ensuing. She literally falls to pieces, having to reattach her skin with glue, eating her right ear from a bowl of custard, and then not wanting to stay dead. What's a doting son to do?
'Dead Alive' is often called the goriest movie ever made, which is essentially an affectionate way of admiring the special effects while also trying to raise awareness and its reputation. I'm still not sure if the label is all that deserved, but if ever there were a competition and someone took to the time to compare several movies, I'm certain Jackson's little horror pic would land top marks. The film's blood-drenched pièce de résistance towards the end, where Lionel is forced to reduce the zombie count with his lawnmower, will definitely play a major factor in the decision. It's also the best example of what Jackson aims for — an absurd, oddball splatter flick full of clownish goofiness.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Home Entertainment is promoting this Blu-ray edition of 'Dead Alive' as the unrated cut, but then that would make it the 104-minute 'Braindead' version seen internationally. No, this Region Free, BD25 disc is the 97-minute cut of the movie which Peter Jackson has called his preferred version. It's housed inside a blue eco-case and commences with a long series of skippable trailers from other horror movies within the Lionsgate catalog. Afterwards, we have the usual menu options and a large still with a small hole showing full-motion clips.
'Dead Alive' splatters and spatters Blu-ray with all the blood and entrails it can afford. Unfortunately, it doesn't look all that good, as this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer was clearly struck from an older master — possibly the same one used for the DVD release.
White specks and dirt are almost always present throughout the 1.78:1 window frame, and noise creeps up in several nighttime scenes. In fact, black levels waver noticeably from scene to scene, sometimes true and other times murky, occasionally obscuring shadow details.
The picture quality is an improvement nonetheless with much better resolution and fine object detailing. Grandma's face is visibly more wrinkled than ever before, and fans can better make out all the gore and special effects. Many of the daylights exteriors display sharper definition and clarity, especially the one sequence with zombie baby in the park. Contrast seems slightly brighter than before, but thankfully doesn't appear to cause any significant damage. Colors definitely receive the biggest improvement with a boost in saturation, particularly reds and greens, though it never feels too exaggerated or artificial.
Ultimately, the movie is need of a remaster and a light touchup. This could definitely look a bit better.
The audio isn't much of an improvement either, with a DTS-HD Master Audio that does what it's supposed to but feels generally glum and flat.
Presented in stereo, the mix offers very little movement as it spreads across the soundstage evenly, including the vocals. Listeners can clearly hear every sentence and frightful scream, there's no problem in that area. But it also feels rather lifeless since dynamic range shows little excitement or differentiation between the frequencies. The whole presentation is simply there which is not good or engaging for a movie with so much cartoon silliness and gory action. The only perceptible moment of some light bass is towards the end with the lawnmower and the house fire.
Altogether, this isn't a terrible lossless track, but like the video, it could certainly be better.
The only supplements made available for fans are one theatrical preview for the film and the same series of trailers seen at the start.
'Dead Alive' is Peter Jackson's third motion picture after two other darkly bizarre comedies, but he livens things up with more blood, entrails and absurd goofiness. Loved as one of the goriest movies made, it offers lots of laughs amongst all the gross-out gags, but it's not the type of movie to please everyone. You have to come in with a warped sense of humor to appreciate the silliness and never take it serious — simply enjoy the show. The Blu-ray sadly arrives with some drawbacks in the video although it's still an improvement over previous releases, and the audio presentation is pretty average though not disappointing. Supplements are terribly lacking, however, making this bare-bones edition easy to ignore asyou wait for something better in the future.