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Featured Blu-ray Review: Dead Alive

October 3rd, 2011

Dead Alive - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Dead Alive, a.k.a., Brain Dead, was only the third feature film from Peter Jackson. His previous two films were Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles and he was quickly developing a reputation for making low budget gorefests, but also infusing his films with a twisted sense of humor. People who only discovered him after he started making Hollywood productions, especially his Lord of the Rings trilogy, might be shocked at his earlier work. But perhaps in a good way?

The Extra

The film begins on Skull Island (southwest of Sumatra) in 1957 where a New Zealand zoo official and his underling have captured a rat monkey and are bringing it back to Newtown, at gunpoint if he has to. (Do zoo officials normally carry submachine guns? Maybe it's a New Zealand thing.) Despite being attacked by angry natives, they get the rat monkey, but when it bites the official his fellow explorers amputate every part of him that was bit, which includes his forehead. The monkey still makes it to Wellington Zoo.

Back in Wellington, we meet Paquita, the daughter of a shopkeeper. She's got a thing for one of the delivery men, Roger, but a soothsayer says Roger is not her soulmate. She will meet her soulmate, and soon. She will know by the sign of the star. Just then, Lionel walks into the store to pick up an order for his mother. Lionel is not exactly romantic material; he's what people would call a Momma's Boy. But when Paquita sees the sign of the star, she's convinced and begins aggressively wooing Lionel and manages to manipulate him into asking her to the zoo. He likely would have never done this on his own, but he's quite happy it happened.

His mother, Vera, on the other hand, is very upset.

The next day while Lionel and Paquita go to the zoo, Vera follows them to spy on the couple. While hiding in the bushes, she's attacked and bitten by the Sumatran Rat Monkey, and while she kills it, it's too late. She quickly becomes ill and turns into a ravenous zombie. Despite what him mother has become, Lionel tries to take care of her, even after she attacks and kills a couple of their neighbors. He also tries to maintain a normal relationship with Paquita. But eventually the zombie problems gets out of hand, and Lionel has to deal with what his mother has done.

Horror / comedies are really, really hard to get right. This film manages to do it well by ramping up the gore so much that is moves from horror to humorous. It is so over-the-top that it satisfies the comedy aspect, but it is well done enough that gorehounds will also enjoy the film. There is so much gore, that it does cut down on the film's potential audience, so keep that in mind. Also, it does have a slow beginning and the three main leads were inexperienced actors, and that does have an effect, especially early on. This was Timothy Balme's first film and Diana Penalver's first English-Language film. Then again, the acting is better than in most low-budget horror films, so fans of these films will hardly be turned off by that. Even with this obvious issue, it is still worth sticking around for the climactic party scene.

On a side note, this is the unrated 97-minute version, not the R-rated 80-minute version or the 104-minute European version. However, this is the version Peter Jackson liked the best, so while it would have been nice to see both of the longer versions, at least we get the best.

The Extras

There are no real special features, just the theatrical trailer. Also, the film looks very rough on Blu-ray. It's a low budget film from nearly 20 years ago, and it shows. The film has a soft look to it, the colors a muted, there are numerous signs of print damage, etc. That said, it is a step-up from the DVD releases. The audio track is just 2.0 stereo, so don't expect anything complicated, but at least the dialog is clear. Finally, the price is just $10.49, which is acceptable for this type of release.

The Verdict

The Blu-ray release for Dead Alive isn't going to win awards for the quality of extras of the strength of is audio / video presentation, but the movie itself is worth owning for fans of gory horror / comedies. Unless there's a special edition released for its upcoming anniversary, it won't get any better for a long time.

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Filed under: Video Review, Dead Alive