Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Halloween Holocaust/SHOCKtober: Braindead/Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992)

Quite possibly Peter Jackson's greatest film, and almost certainly the most spectacular and delightfully outrageous splat-stick rom-zom-com ever made (a whole 12 years before Shaun of the Dead, whose makers were, by their own admission, heavily influenced by it)Braindead feels like it was made by the bastard love child of Ray Harryhausen, Tom Savini and Tex Avery. Despite the frequently jaw-dropping, visceral and cartoonish nature of the events that unfold throughout, there's also a lot more depth and heart to this movie than one might expect when initially approaching it.

Poor Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) lives under the thumb of his tyrannical mother (Elizabeth Moody, who is frankly pretty scary even before she turns into the zombie Queen Bitch). He strikes up a romance with local shop girl Paquita (Diana Penalver), but is unfortunately cockblocked by the jealous and overbearing matriarch. While snooping on the young lovebirds during a date at the zoo, Mum is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey, soon leading to her swift demise and equally rapid resurrection. 

It's not long before a nurse, a priest (who "Kicks arse for the Lord!") and a young greaser are all also infected, and soon keeping her company locked in Lionel's basement. Eventually, the lecherous Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) comes knocking, owing to his presumed entitlement to some of his late sisters estate; he later unashamedly blackmails his grieving nephew, after discovering the new tenants residing downstairs. He takes over the house and, doing what is apparently only natural when supernatural weirdness is afoot (in horror movie land at least), decides to throw a party. As you might expect, things get more than a little out of hand.

I won't attempt to describe the carnage that follows, as the uninitiated really need to see it for themselves. Frequent Jackson collaborator (and Weta workshop co-founder) Richard Taylor and company deserve the highest praise for their contributions to the film. The gore effects they created are astoundingly inventive and arguably represent the zenith of what has been achieved in the splatter film. As one might expect, the movie courted controversy with some ratings boards, but was surprisingly passed uncut when first released in the UK. Whilst some of its contents are admittedly extreme (by conventional standards at least), its hard to see why anyone (apart from young kids and the squeamish, of course) would need protecting from any of the material on offer here as it's so clearly a comedy, through and through.

Probably the goriest comedy of errors ever committed to celluloid, the film has (as suggested earlier) plenty of sub-textual richness that makes it not only tremendously entertaining, but also quite emotionally engaging, and somewhat intellectually interesting. On the domestic level, the story represents a Freudian nightmare taken to horrific and borderline surrealist (yet somehow strangely logical) extremes. And the very first shot of the film (in the version I'm familiar with at least) provides a perhaps not so subtle clue to the sly political allegory that Jackson seems to have planted in the film: it's of Commonwealth matriarch Queen Elizabeth II. This reading is somewhat borne out by Vera's accent, her High Anglican dress, and obsession with the Women's Institute and the keeping up appearances all this entails. Plus, in this context it's interesting that she should view the exotic, foreign beauty enamored with her son with such distrust.

All of this is admittedly speculation, and you can take it or leave it, depending on your predisposition. However, it hopefully serves to illustrate how Braindead can be appreciated on a variety of levels. The same could be said for Jackson's equally unhinged Meet the Feebles (1989), which is like the Muppet Show, but gone horribly, horribly wrong. Funnily enough, a music cue from this earlier film, entitled "Sodomy" (the song and dance number it accompanies is priceless) shows up here as the mourning masses are waiting to enter the church early in the narrative. If you haven't seen either/or both movies then I'd highly recommend you get right on it. Even if you don't enjoy them, I'll be extremely surprised if you ever forget them.

For some more reviews of today's movie, take a trip to these fine blogs:

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