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Lionel, an innocent young man, is forced to care for domineering mother and finds the task a whole lot more demanding after she's bitten by the cursed Sumatran rat monkey. Passing the point of death, Lionel's mother sucks friends and family into her gruesome existence among the living dead and Lionel is sent spiraling into a ghoulish nightmare.
For more about Dead Alive and the Dead Alive Blu-ray release, see Dead Alive Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 2, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody
Director: Peter Jackson
» See full cast & crew
Dead Alive Blu-ray Review
Gored of the rings.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 2, 2011
Peter Jackson is on record as stating that at least part of the genesis for his decision to attempt the Lord of the Rings trilogy was the fact that he had a roomful (maybe two rooms-ful) of high end computers sitting around after he finished The Frighteners, and he had to figure out a way to make his investment in all that processing power pay off. One has to wonder if anything similar may have inspired his early gore-fest Dead Alive, originally released under the title Brain Dead. This is certainly the effort of a director "still in training," as it were, and while it's often a riot of visual invention, it's haphazard at best and often amateurishly chaotic at worst, which is not to say that the film isn't insanely enjoyable. This weird mix of Alien and Psycho within the confines of a typical zombie film has more blood and guts than had probably ever been seen in New Zealand before, and in fact in its completely unexpurgated version Dead Alive is still banned it at least one European country. This United States cut (no pun intended) of the film is only slightly edited, and retains most of what has brought the film its peculiar acclaim, acclaim centered around the film's undeniable manic comic energy as well as its nonstop profusion of dismemberments, deaths, decapitations and other "d"'s too numerous to mention. If the film may never quite escape its "not ready for prime time" feeling, it's a fascinating early exercise for Jackson as a co-writer and director, and it proves that even early on, Jackson was trying to stretch the envelope in terms of visual effects (many if not most of them practical in this film) as well as a very inventive directorial style.
The main plot of Dead Alive deals with submissive young male Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Cosgrove), whose domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) controls every aspect of the hapless male's life. That of course includes any nascent romantic efforts he may undertake, and when the Hispanic daughter of the local grocer, Paquita (Diana Peñalver) shows some interest in Lionel, Mrs. Cosgrove will have nothing of it, following the pair to the local zoo, where she is promptly bitten by a vicious Sumatran Rat Monkey, a creature which has been shown in a funny prologue to have mythic consequences arising from its bite. Those consequences turn out to be the zombiefication of Mrs. Cosgrove, much to Lionel's dismay. Mrs. Cosgrove of course goes on a tear through the late 1950's New Zealand town where the film is set, and soon Lionel (and later Paquita) are dealing with all sorts of ramifications as more and more people fall under the spell of the "not quite dead yet." Added into this spectacular cascading of misfortune is the arrival of Lionel's nefarious Uncle Les (Ian Watkin), who (along with the rest of the still living town) has been led to believe Mrs. Cosgrove is well and truly dead and is wanting a piece of her estate to his very nasty self.
Jackson's rather outré sense of humor never really was utilized to much effect in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, though it's nicely on display, albeit in a relatively restrained form (at least relative to the insane levels of Dead Alive, in The Frighteners. Aside from a number of just plain daffy physical comedy liberally sprinkled throughout Dead Alive, the film also draws copious laughs just from the outright ridiculousness of some of the "special effects," notably the hilarious old school Sumatran Rat Monkey, a supposed hybrid life form born of carnal relations (forced carnal relations, if you catch my drift) between rats and monkeys, which in Jackson's film looks like a reject from Ray Harryhausen's earliest efforts at stop motion. Just about as looney-tunes is the mutant growth of the main "villain" in the piece, the imperious mother of Lionel, who grows to monstrous proportions as the film ends, ending up looking like a female Sta-Puft Marshmallow creature, only nowhere near as cute and lovable.
Nothing can probably quite prepare a newcomer for the blood and guts on display throughout Dead Alive. One can only surmise that, as with The Frighteners's computers leading to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson must have come into copious supplies of tomato sauce and similar gooey liquids, for Dead Alive features one funny-gross dismemberment after another, usually filled with oozing liquids, popping gastrointestinal items and various other yukky bits that are usually kept hidden beneath several layers of epidermis and other containing structures. Jackson simply goes for broke in several sequences, including the absolutely unbelievable closing segment, which goes on for some time and has one insanely gory moment after another.
This is a problematic film on several levels, aside from its pure gross out factor which will certainly turn off the faint of stomach. As inventive as Jackson undeniably is (who else would foreshadow the use of a lawnmower late in the film with an early shot taken from the lawn's point of view, or indeed who else would close his film with a literally Freudian interpretation of postpartum separation anxiety), the film is hobbled by some pretty amateurish acting and some frankly stupid-silly sequences that go on for much too long. But for those who often think of iconic directors as somehow springing fully formed from a filmic half-shell, Venus style, Dead Alive is an instructive enterprise that shows even the greatest filmmakers had to start somewhere (though of course this wasn't Jackson's first film).
Dead Alive Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dead Alive oozes onto Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. This was obviously about as far from the mega-budgets of Lord of the Rings as might be possible, and it shows. The print here is very grainy, soft and offers fairly substandard color a lot of the time, with an overall milky quality that deprives the image of suitably strong contrast. Some of the close-ups reveal some excellent fine detail, but it's usually within the context of a wider, all inclusive softness that never really lets up for the bulk of the film. The worst element here is mosquito noise, which dots several sequences, especially the fantastic "ass kicking" segment in the graveyard at night. I never owned the DVD release of Dead Alive, and so can't offer an authoritative opinion about how this Blu-ray compares to that release, but my hunch is there is a decent if not overwhelming uptick in saturation (no pun intended, considering this film's proclivities) but a perhaps less than overwhelming uptick in sharpness and clarity.
Dead Alive Blu-ray, Audio Quality
No towering Howard Shore score on this Blu-ray, which features audio in a decent lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. Instead there's a kind of cheesy (one assumes intentionally so) piano and synth score by Peter Dasent, who was Jackson's frequent collaborator in his early films. Otherwise the film consists of lots of gooey sound effects mixed in with various other more aggressive sounds (like that lawnmower mentioned above) that add up to a fairly raucous sonic experience, despite the obvious narrowness of the track. Fidelity is excellent here, though the film basically has only two approaches, fairly quiet and then completely boisterously over the top loudness. Effects and dialogue are decently prioritized, but this film could have really popped (again, no pun intended, considering what goes on in several sequences) with a surround repurposing.
Dead Alive Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:49)
Dead Alive Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Dead Alive is undeniably laugh out loud funny a lot of the time, but it's also just plain stupid at other times. It is in fact somewhat reminiscent of any given episode of Saturday Night Live where really inventive bits will smash up against stinkers with fair regularity. But the film is a really interesting look at a director still in learning mode, and for historical reasons it may be more important than for any intrinsic value it may hold. This Blu-ray has a less than stellar image, due no doubt to the low budget source elements, but it also misses the mark on a couple of other scores. First of all, there's the longer, original version of the film which is (as unbelievable as it may sound) even gorier than this version. Second, and more importantly, this film is crying out for a Jackson commentary, which is nowhere to be found. All of that said, there's something inarguably charming (in a very bloody way) about Dead Alive, and for Jackson completists if for no one else, this release (with caveats noted) comes Recommended.
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Dead Alive Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Dead Alive (Braindead) Blu-ray - July 13, 2011
One of Peter Jackson's earliest directing efforts, Dead Alive (also known as Braindead) has been confirmed for Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate. The 1992 gore-fest, which has since become a cult classic, will street just in time for Halloween on October 4th with a ...
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