It is always fascinating to find out what big-budget filmmakers were doing before their ascension to Hollywood fame and fortune, but surely there’s nobody as fascinating in that regard as Peter Jackson? This is the man we all know for Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit and King Kong, but when you take a look at what he did before all that, it almost seems unreal.
There was a time when Peter Jackson made some of the most deranged and bloody horror films ever imaginable and one of those is Braindead, released as Dead Alive in the US. It is just so deliciously violent and so lovably mean-spirited that you cannot help but adore its sick imagination, and being carried by an amusing and quirky protagonist makes it even more fun.
Reciting the synopsis alone is hysterical. “A young man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbors.” To elaborate: an awkward fella by the name Lionel (Timothy Blame) brings his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) along to the zoo, where she has a nasty encounter with said rat-monkey. ‘Tis a beuatifully ugly stop-motion critter. Getting bit by it causes her body to slowly decay and fall apart as she develops murderous urges and starts spreading her infection amongst the rest of the citizens of Wellington, where the film is set. Basically: she turns them into zombies and particularly ravenous and indestructable ones at that.
Lionel tries to keep both her mother and the other zombies locked away in his house, all whilst attempting to get together with a pretty shopkeeper (Diana Peñalver). And I don’t know what to tell you; the movie just gets progressively more insane and mind-blowingly violent the more it goes on. We get to see a kung fu pastor who “kicks ass for the Lord” and provides multiple zombies with a massive whooping. We get to see zombies get torn to a thousand bits by lawnmowers, knives, guns and kitchen appliances. We get to see a mutated baby burst through a person’s skull. We get to see our bumbling lead try to take said baby for a walk before having enough and beating it up. We get to see a deformed monster that looks like something out of a singularly perverted fantasy. Long story short: we get to see old-school Peter Jackson’s madness at its very finest.
The film came out in the year 1990, and since Peter Jackson wasn’t the rich Hollywood A-lister he is today when he made this, some of the effects aren’t exactly top-notch, but some old-fashioned, practical gore effects still get the job done and it still looks so much more wonderfully disgusting than any of the digital blood effects from more modern films such as The Expendables or Mutant Chronicles. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, even the bad gore effects were, as far as I am concerned, still pretty damn good.
Most of the violence in Braindead, though, is well done and impressive, especially in how far it dares to go. There is also some good make-up work and nice-looking costumes. Sure enough, it is by no means on par with Gollum in The Two Towers but I don’t believe that the special effects of a movie like Braindead necessarily need to look realistic in order to look good. In fact, I dare say that even more depraved creativity is allowed if you don’t worry so much about making it look real or plausible. Most of the effects in this film are appealing simply because they make the film so much more psychotic and hilarious and when you’re making a deranged horror comedy that is a pretty important feel to get right. Jackson does. Big time.
If you’re as much of a hopelessly disturbed sicko as I am and you need something truly special to show your friends on Halloween this year, Braindead is one of my primary recommendations. It is a hilarious, creative and beautifully morbid gore-fest and it represents a time when Peter Jackson made silly things on purpose. You see, I bought a DVD of The Lovely Bones from a very small but very cheap local home movie boutique recently and, well, that’s another story for another time. Hopefully I’ll find time to review it some day.
From that same movie store, which has now sadly been moved to Gothenburg, I tried to buy myself some more copies of Peter Jackson’s earlier work, like Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles. I only found a documentary about Bad Taste but hopefully I will find time to watch all of his early work soon enough. If any of it is even nearly as insane and unforgettable as Braindead, ho boy sonny, it is a must!
If my review’s not enough for you, the trailer is also very funny: