Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
1992/ New Zealand
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Watkin, Ian Moody
Back in 1992, before he was helming multi-million dollar epics like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Peter Jackson made low-budget splatterfest Braindead (or Dead Alive in the US). A zombie outbreak is started in New Zealand – kicked off when a ‘Sumatran Rat Monkey’ bites a (thoroughly unpleasant) old woman, who then dies and comes back to life only to begin eating people. The woman’s son, Lionel (Timothy Balme), finds himself trying to keep tabs on his flesh-hungry mother while protecting the woman he loves, Paquita (Diana Peñalver). Pretty soon, as the infection spreads, mild mannered Lionel has to turn zombie slayer. There will be blood (seriously, a lot of it).
Widely considered to be at least one of the goriest films ever made, Braindead is an offal-caked delight which really earns the plaudits heaped upon it by gorehound horror fans. Impressively creative and over-the-top violence aside, the film crackles with raucous energy and a sense of absurd, wide-eyed, ‘what the fuck am I watching’ humour – the equivalent of the little kid who eats worms because he knows it grosses out mum and dad, and delights in seeing their horrified reactions.
Its noticeably low budget gives it all the more charm, and the film is proof that you don’t need a huge amount of cash to make something worthwhile. There are films with budgets several times larger than that of Braindead, which despite all the money at hand still end up less inventive, less interesting and nowhere near as much sheer fun as the goofily excessive carnage onscreen here. The film’s ‘extreme gore as slapstick’ approach makes for moments which are genuinely funny even as you watch, cringing, through your fingers. It seems intent on topping itself, constantly throwing in more blood, more ridiculous character moments, until by the time an arse-kicking kung fu priest shows up, and the zombies become closely acquainted with a lawnmower, you’ll either be joyfully lost in the blood and guts, or throwing up. Or both. Either way, fair warning… after watching Braindead, you may never be able to look at custard ever again.