Brain Dead aka Dead Alive (1992)
One of the greatest horror films ever made is Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Originally or alternately titled Brain Dead, this is Peter Jackson’s third film after BAD TASTE (1987) and Meet the Feebles (1989).
Starring – Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Stuart Devenie and more with a screenplay written by Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Distributed by Trimark Pictures (Warlock, Return of the Living Dead 3, Deadfall, Love and a .45, The Stoned Age, Swimming with Sharks, The Doom Generation, Eve’s Bayou).
The first time I ever seen this film was in 8th grade, back in the year 1996. I was part of the biggest class of slackers you’d ever imagine. The class was divided down the middle with black electrical tape by our scheduled teacher. He was an alcoholic; sometimes gym and basketball team coach for the school, we’ll call him Mr. W. See that year, he had returned to teaching just for the opportunity to oversee the younger siblings of his former students – I guess we couldn’t graduate into high school without his blessings. His rules were simple: Do homework and you get to sit on the good side, Pay attention and you get to sit on the good side, Act accordingly and give him respect and you get to sit on the good side.
If any of these rules were not followed even if just once then you and your desk must relocate to the bad side. Needless to say, this lead to 70 percent of the class becoming sycophants and enjoying the leisure of being on the blessed side of the classroom with its relaxed restrictions and Laissez-faire attitudes. My side was type casted. Eventually, the teacher crossed some line and was removed from work sometime after Christmas break. Soon after that we went through a rotation of substitutes before the Vice Principle settled in as our replacement teacher. He was our teacher and accomplice. Our vice principle and new teacher only taught us the three lessons: French which consisted of learning the Hail Mary in French, some algebra and a short religion sermon about the devil being a liar and we must do well or be sent to Hell High School. Those three lessons took up only the first two hours of our day. The rest of the day was recess. Recess all day; we did so little yet so much. Our teacher became our look out. We removed the tape from our borders but continued the segregation. We stopped participating in school lunch. Instead we took advantage of the fire exit by sending out a courier from the class ranks with a shopping list down the fire escape through the courtyard and out the back alley to the nearest Chinese take-out restaurant a block away. We ate Won-tons, we ate Lo-Mein, sweet & sour, BBQ tips and lots of ripped up soy sauce packets, everyday. We would run through the hallways during a school day throwing wet paper towels at the girls and each other. We even hijacked the analog television that every school had on hand for educational films; we used it to play our Super Nintendo games and watch R-rated films. Films like Street Fighter the animated movie, Desperado, Above the Rim and DEAD ALIVE.
Now I said that little personal history lesson to point out that when you’re eating lo-mein and fried rice with Chicken Wings or your upcoming Thanksgiving meal, nothing hits that gross nerve like Dead Alive. I have vivid memories of my classmates spitting out their beef and broccoli during the pudding scene.
Set in 1957, an explorer and/or grave robber is seen deep in the jungles of Sumatra in search of the Sumatran Rat Monkey. When blocked by the local indigenous tribe forbidding him from removing the evil animal from the island, the explorer whips out a grease gun and empties his clip in their direction. He makes his escape with the help of some minion locals who are willing to help him until it is apparent that the rat monkey has bitten the explorer. After the three hired henchmen use a large tree cutter to dissect the explorers before some infection takes place and after his head is removed, they transport the monkey to the airfield and collect their earnings by packing the damn creature on a cargo plan to New Zealand were it is to be housed at a local zoo.
Enter Lionel our films protagonist. Lionel is a self-deprecating, pathetic, mama’s boy. His mother is old, grey and cruel. He’s her hand maid, her butler and foot stool. He has no life outside of his duty to his mother. That is until the stars aligned and his soul mate appears named Paquita. Too bad, the stars also predicted that the forces of evil will assemble to destroy Lionel and the town after his mother is bitten by the Sumatran Rat Monkey.
At the time of its release, David Stratton of Variety gave a positive review, calling it "Jackson's best film to date" and praising its humor, acting, and technical qualities (gore effects, makeup). He stated "Kiwi gore specialist Peter Jackson, who goes for broke with an orgy of bad taste and splatter humor. Some will recoil from the gore, but Braindead wasn't made for them."
Simon Pegg, actor, comedian, and friend of Jackson, wrote in his 2012 book “Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy's Journey to Becoming a Big Kid” that the film Braindeadis one of the main influences on his 2004 zombie film Shaun of the Dead.
The winner of numerous awards for special effects in its native New Zealand with a current Rotten Tomato rating of 86% with a runtime of either 87 or 97 minutes – Dead Alive is the best thing to sit your kids in front of while you and your fellow adults sip your drinks eat your turkey and pretend to do your Christmas shopping list with Bamboo rolling paper.
Now get your holiday sweaters, heat your cocoa and beware the bite but, whatever you do… Do not take your damn finger off that rewind button.