Dead Alive (1992) Film Review 4/5

“Dead Alive” is a touching story about a man and his love for his mother. That do anything for ya? No? That’s what I thought. Let’s try this.

“Dead Alive” is a touching story about a man and his love for a beautiful mystery foreigner. How’s that? No, she doesn’t get naked, but she is very pretty. Still no? All right, one more time.

“Dead Alive” is the touching story of a man who has to save the town he lives in from his zombie mother, who gets bitten by a Claymation rat-monkey thing from the zoo and who turns out to be nicer as an evil, flesh-ripping zombie than she ever was as a living, breathing bitch in heels. Do you feel better knowing there are zombies? I thought you would. Let’s roll, gang, and keep your vomit bags at the ready.

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) is a 30-something nebbish who lives with his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) in the massive, crumbling family house on the outskirts of some random city in New Zealand. I’m not sure where it is, but we’ll say New Zealand because, why not? That’s as good a place as any, considering the setting is the least important aspect of the film.

The important aspects in this film are Lionel’s relationship with his Mum, Lionel’s relationship with his cute little mystery-race girlfriend Paquita (Diana Penalver), who looks Hispanic but apparently has Romanian grandparents, and Lionel’s relationship with his uncle Les (Ian Watkin). But who gives a fuck about relationships when you’ve got zombies and gore by the gallon? If I wanted a story, I’d watch soap operas with my mother.

That’s the only thing this movie is known for, really. Spectacularly disgusting splatter effects, a creepy Freud moment or two, and of course, an ass-kicking kung-fu Anglican priest who goes medieval on some zombie ass. If the final two reels of this movie don’t do something for you, then you’re already a member of the shambling undead, because this movie starts off slow only to really gouge you in the ass with its awesomeness when the ball starts rolling down hill.

The film resembles “Audition” in a way, in that it starts off completely different from how it ends, but Miike’s pacing and story really struck home with me, whereas aside from the deft light comedy performed by Timothy Balme and a pleasantly bitchy performance from Elizabeth Moody, this film dragged a bit. Not that the first section should be excised, but it could benefit from a few snips here and there, just to speed things along without cranking the entire picture up to the frenetic pace of the final hour. Really, I can see the point of structuring a film that way, because an hour and a half of that level of action would really just kill everyone watching the movie, but damn if it’s not totally worth the breathless exhilaration you earn once you get there.

I’m not a person who cringes easily (apparently I’m a bit of a hard cunt, as the English say… well, they say “’ard cunt,” but you get the point) but this movie had me laughing out loud one minute and cringing in disgusted horror the next. Sometimes, I did both at the same time, which I hear puts you at risk for spontaneous combustion; it’s totally worth the risk, though. Just make sure you get a doctor’s note.

As some one who knew who Peter Jackson was before “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” I feel pretty confident in saying that his New Zealand films are better than even his masterful Hollywood-financed work, though he did a damn fine job filming the unfilmable works of Tolkien. I could just be biased, though. After all, there aren’t many roles in the LotR that require splattering pus or balding 1950’s rockabilly uncles with the clap.


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