Braindead – known as Dead Alive – is a 1992 New Zealand zombie horror feature film directed by Peter Jackson (King Kong; Meet the Feebles; Bad Taste) from a screenplay co-written with Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair. The movie stars Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody and Ian Watkin.
Braindead received acclaim from contemporary critics, with some calling it the goriest “splatter film” in history. Although a bomb financially at the time of its release, it has since gained a cult following, with even more attention after Jackson’s success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Sumatran Rat-Monkey is a hybrid creature that resulted from the rape of tree monkeys on Skull Island by plague-carrying rats. In 1957, explorer Stewart McAlden (Bill Ralston), leads his team out of the island with a captured Sumatran Rat-Monkey which is then shipped to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.
Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) lives with his domineering mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody). To Vera’s dismay, Lionel falls in love with a shopkeeper’s daughter, Paquita María Sánchez (Diana Peñalver).
While snooping on the two during a visit to the zoo, Vera is bitten by the rat-monkey. The animal’s bite turns her into a ravenous zombie. Lionel tries keeping her locked in the basement while simultaneously trying to maintain his relationship with the oblivious Paquita. Vera escapes and is hit by a tram.
As the townspeople assume she is dead, Lionel tranquilizes her to keep her still for the funeral. After she is buried, he returns to the graveyard to administer more anesthetic, but encounters a gang of hoodlums. Vera bursts from her grave, and kills the hoodlums, creating more zombies…
“Technically, this is Jackson’s best to date, with state of the art creature and gore effects by Richard Taylor and prosthetics design by Bob McCarron. There’s any amount of dismemberment, disembowelling, beheading, and the like, all of it handled with bloody conviction. Cult audiences should delight in this basically harmless schlock, and the film should quickly generate a worldwide rep.” David Stratton, Variety
“It starts out as a film more gross in its portrayal of the elderly than anything and then devolves from there into one of the grossest, bloodiest films ever made. Every method of zombie mutilation imaginable takes place in just over an hour and a half, including one with a lamp shoved into its skull like a jack-o-lantern. Nothing, though, can compare with the final scene, the infamous lawnmower massacre.” Jim Vorel, Paste magazine
” … one of the most relentlessly, gleefully nasty movies ever released, incorporating mutant monkeys, zombie flesh-eaters, death by lawnmower, kung-fu priests and jokes about ‘The Archers’. It also contains the queasiest dinner scene since La Grande Bouffe, involving spurting blood, dissolving flesh, human ears and bowls of claggy rice pudding.” Tom Huddleston, Time Out
“Like Evil Dead and Re-Animator, the film establishes an unhinged logic, then, having set its grotesque wheels in motion, it charges forward relentlessly breaking new boundaries of bad taste wherever it goes. The slapstick guts and gore are so excessive that they are no longer disgusting. Required viewing for fans of the strong stuff.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide
Cast and characters:
- Timothy Balme as Lionel Cosgrove
- Diana Peñalver as Paquita María Sánchez
- Elizabeth Moody as Vera Cosgrove
- Ian Watkin as Les Kalkon (Lionel’s uncle)
- Brenda Kendall as Emma McTavish
- Stuart Devenie as Father Jon McGruder (The Kung-Fu Priest)
- Jed Brophy as Thomas Jacob “Void” Randell
- Stephen Papps as Zombie Jon McGruder
- Murray Keane as Pete “Scroat” Otis
- Glenis Levestam as Nora Matheson
- Lewis Rowe as Albert Matheson
- Elizabeth Mulfaxe as Rita Bridell
- Harry Sinclair as Roger Tryton
- Davina Whitehouse as Mary Sanchez
- Silvio Famularo as Slaver Don Sanchez
- Daniel Sabic as Baby Zombie Selwyn Matheson
- Bill Ralston as Zoo official Stewart McAlden
- Forrest J Ackerman as Forry – Tourist at Zoo with Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine
- Peter Vere-Jones as the Undertaker
- Tony Hiles as the Zookeeper
- Peter Jackson as the Undertaker’s assistant
The film was released in a number of different versions: In some nations, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the 104-minute film was shown in full.
In countries where the censors balked at the extreme gore, the film was initially banned or left unrated before being heavily cut. In Germany, a 94-minute version was seen with major cuts to some of the film’s grislier scenes, but was widely ignored. A FSK 16 rated version was released in Germany under the American title Dead Alive, omitting almost the entirety of the violence. The uncut version is banned in Germany, though it is still widely available, also under the American title Dead Alive.
In the United States, where the film was released as Dead Alive (because of another film with rights to the practically identical title Brain Dead), the R-rated version is only 85 minutes with most of the gore scenes removed, while the unrated cut is 97 minutes with the gore scenes mostly intact. The US 97-minute version is apparently Jackson’s preferred version, as he was given the opportunity to “apply some additional spit and polish” to it.