Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dead Alive (1992): or, Kicking Arse for the Lord

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 12!

Young Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) meets cute with Spanish Gypsy babe Paquita (Diana Peñalver) after her second-sighted mother reads romance in her cards. Lionel's own Mum (Elizabeth Moody)--a domineering harpy of a woman--is none too pleased with the new relationship, and spies on the couple to ensure that she remains the only woman in her son's life. When she follows Lionel and Paquita to the zoo and is bitten by the only Sumatran Rat Monkey in captivity, however, Mum picks up a rather nasty zoonitic bug--she runs a fever, bursts into cold sweats, and parts of her body start falling off into her custard. Soon Mum has passed the disease on to several local residents, and Lionel is sent scrambling trying to contain the mess. And what a mess it is...

Come on, do I really have to summarize this one?

One of the most over-the-top, silly, and gory movies of all time, Peter Jackson's Dead Alive is a flick that just keeps topping itself. You think it's got as crazy as it's going to get when it introduces the flip-top nurse zombie...then it throws in the famous Kung-Fu Priest (Stuart Devenie), bodies ripped in half, an animated (and strangely adorable) set of roving internal organs, and a skull-bursting Zombie Baby. By the time we get to the famous end party scene (Oh Crikey! It's Lawnmower Deth!), the viewer might rightly believe he's seen it all...but as Lionel warns his girlfriend, "I haven't seen Mum this evening..."

This is the movie I believe the term "splatstick comedy" was coined for, and imo the one to which it applies most perfectly. Jackson's movie is full of brilliant physical comedy and sight gags that would not be out of place in a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton one-reeler--only without all the dismemberment and copious bodily fluids. Timothy Balme is a gifted physical comedian of the Charlie Chaplin school, and the way his Lionel goes to greater and greater extremes to maintain some semblance of normalcy while the world literally goes to pieces around him is both hilarious and affecting.

The special effects are as funny as they are disgusting--from faces being ripped off, legs being stripped to bone, multiple impalements (on grave markers, splintered wood, and memorably a still-blazing light bulb), to of course the show-stopping stop-motion Rat Monkey. Jackson also works in a nod to his touchstone flick King Kong (1931), and the early scenes in Sumatra starkly prefigure the scenes with the savage tribe in the director's 2005 remake.

For a justly celebrated horror-comedy classic, my rating of Dead Alive is a no-brainer: 3 thumbs way up!

"♫ FEELINGS! Whoa-whoa-whoa....♫"


Andrew said...

I'll never forget the cover art for this one....
It always used to catch my ye at the video store. Now, I think it's time to finally check it out.

Samuel Wilson said...

Vicar, I think Sean of the Dead surpassed this as a zombie comedy, but it's still a must-see riot. It reminds me more of Mack Sennett in its Jacksonian over-the-topness than the elegant gagging of Keaton or Lloyd, but I could definitely imagine either of them doing a zombie comedy were they with us today.

Verification word is "latte." Does Blogger mean that in the conventional or Idiocracy sense of the word?

Kev D. said...

Pound for pound, in my opinion, it is THE best horror comedy.

It's my favorite zombie movie of all time as well.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Andrew--Indeed, the time has come! Just don't watch while eating. :)

@Samuel--I see Shaun as more a screwball-type zombie movie versus Dead Alive's slapstick. Both are brilliant, but the comedy styles quite different. And you're right about Sennet! But I would love to see Keaton deadpan his way through a bunch of near-miss zombie attacks. That would be amazing.

@Kev D.--Rock on!

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