Long before Peter Jackson's involvement in all things Tolkien made him a household name along the lines of Lucas or Spielberg, the man cut his teeth practicing the art of b-grade horror and cult cinema. Early salvos such as Bad Taste and the uniquely wicked Meet the Feebles might have prepared the few that saw them for Dead Alive (released as Braindead in Jackson's homeland of New Zealand), but let's be honest here, most fans in the U.S. were directed to the early works after seeing Dead Alive for the first time.
What to say of Dead Alive twenty years after its release? Time has shown it to be among the very best of a particularly humorous breed of splattercore cinema, the equal of (or possibly even better than) Sam Raimi's 1987 classic Evil Dead II and far above other pretenders to the throne such as Cemetary Man or even (and I know I'm gonna get some flack for this) the quite excellent Re-Animator.
The film has plenty of guffaw-inducing moments on hand, from the crazy monkey-rat creature to the famous use of a lawnmower as a weapon, but it's also among the bloodiest of horror films. Jackson gleefully doles out the gore like someone who just got a deep discount at the fake blood shop, enough so that it still retains the power to shock the uninitiated even as it simultaneously inspires convulsive laughter. Oddly, the newly released, meta-rom-com Ruby Sparks (from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine) features a few choice moments from Dead Alive and, sure enough, the audience for that film recoiled when those bloody images filled the screen.
Combining the supernatural, a love story, and one hell of a Freudian obstacle (you thought Norman Bates' mother was overbearing) to its protagonist's happiness, Dead Alive has it all. And whether you've heard it once or a thousand times, "I kick ass for the lord," remains one of cinema's funniest battle cries. Dead Alive is a film that deserves to be seen again and again. Don't miss the chance to see it with a packed audience at Top Down.
The NW Film Center's Top Down Rooftop Cinema series presents Dead Alive (aka Braindead) on Thursday, August 16th at 8pm. More info available here.
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