Peter JacksonzombiesJed Brophy
Medium: film
Year: 1992
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Keywords: horror, zombies, low-budget
Country: New Zealand
Actor: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie, Jed Brophy
Format: 104 minutes
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 31 October 2002
Oh my God. The director of Bad Taste strikes again.
This is probably the goriest movie I'll ever see in my life, at least in terms of sheer visual invention. The imagination and creativity on display... well, it's bloody hilarious. By the time a zombie's sucked-out innards wave their sphincter at the camera and perform a rudimentary bodily function, you've worked out what kind of movie you're watching. Sometimes you can only applaud in admiration, such as with Lightbulb Girl. It's all so gleefully over the top that it's not even slightly horrifying; instead it's a buckets-of-blood farce, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre crossed with Airplane!.
Mind you, the gore takes a while to get going. Braindead follows the pattern of Peter Jackson's previous films, Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles. Gross-out visual jokes and wild silliness are concluded with an orgy of violence, except that here it's courtesy of zombies instead of machine-guns. He was probably wise to try something else with his fourth film (Heavenly Creatures) but for these three films the formula works. Meet the Feebles is probably the weakest of 'em, largely because it's hard to care about the characters. Bad Taste is unparalleled entertainment in its "blokes larking around with a camera" way, but I adored Braindead if only for its dedication to subverting everything we know about the zombie genre.
The plot isn't what you think. There's zombie family life (huh?). There's the weirdest plot twist in the world, so improbable that it took me a while to get my head around how this new arrival had come onto the scene. There's even a romance, which to my surprise was well done. 'Wobert' in Meet the Feebles had me praying for Heidi to gun him down and throw him off a motorway bridge, but Braindead's Lionel and Paquita are charming. Peter Jackson gives us romantic comedy scenes which are genuinely funny, a feat which seems to evade 99% of movies in any genre, ever. Lionel is a momma's boy and Paquita is daft as a brush (never trust your mother to run your love life, especially if she gets her information from Tarot readings) but despite the general low standard of acting they're endearing anyway.
Paquita looks lovely, too. A few camera angles make her chin look as big as Judge Dredd's, but the rest of the time she's damn sexy.
The other characters are stereotypes, cartoons and/or acted by rank amateurs, but they're always fun to watch. Why is there a mad Nazi vet? And the killer vicar... "I kick arse for the Lord," indeed! Lionel's relatives are monsters too - the uncle's a sleazeball and the mother's a stifling harridan who looks like a man in drag. Seriously, she looks like Dame Edna Everage.
I love the little details. The Sumatran Rat Monkey is one of the worst pieces of stop-motion animation I've ever seen, but in our modern CGI age it's delightful for exactly that reason. (And is it just me, or was Peter Jackson referring to Sherlock Holmes's Giant Rat of Sumatra?) I like the piano music in the romantic scenes. I like the touches of New Zealand Englishness, e.g. English accents, The Archers on the radio and portraits of the Queen. I like the dialogue, which is full of great lines that I won't mention for fear of spoilers. And I laughed my head off at the "sengaya!" scene at the beginning.
Oh, and listen carefully to the song being played by the church organist. That's "Sodomy, It's Odd Of Me", from Meet the Feebles.
But all that's incidental. Despite the entertaining characters and romantic subplot, Braindead is an excuse for Peter Jackson to cram an outrageous number of gross-out gags into 100 minutes. After watching this movie, you won't want to sit down at a dinner table ever again. There's fun with a semi-severed head (those gags never get old). Horrible facial injuries don't need stitches, just a glue stick. And rat monkey bites don't just fester, they shoot cupfuls of pus through a bandage to hit the opposite wall.
This movie is for everyone who ever wanted to see a syringe get yanked from an eyeball and then shoved up a nostril. I know I'm not the only one.