We all know that this Halloween will not look like other Halloweens from years past. And yet, the month of October waits for us all the same. It is about time we put the spirit of Halloween back into that abandoned department store that we call the year of 2020. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema have put together a curated, month-long series called Screen Screams. This time, we will be covering all things zombies. For tonight’s program, we have what many consider to be the goriest movie ever made: Braindead.
B-Horror has always had a special place in my heart. I still remember going to the video rental store and stopping by the horror section because the box art there had more creative box art than the action or comedy sections. So why am I discussing this in relation to Braindead? Simply put, the box art for the VHS tape – which included the American title Dead Alive – stuck out to me the most.
The art depicts a woman stretching her mouth open while a skull stares directly at you. It was something my 10-year-old brain couldn’t handle. What could this movie be about? Was it actually about a woman with a monster in her mouth? “Dead alive? how can you be dead and alive?” I don’t know if it was for the sake of keeping the mystery alive, but I never rented it. A while later, I found out that my aunt’s husband owned a copy. I didn’t know it, but just like The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, the movie would change my life forever.
Braindead starts off with explorer Stewart McAlden (Bill Ralston) and his team carrying a Sumatran rat-monkey off of Skull Island. McAlden is bitten by the rat-monkey, resulting in his team dismembering him. Not even 5 minutes into this movie and the body count has started. The gore comes early and heavy. After a cartoony title card, the movie plays out like a standard “boy meets girl” story. Unfortunately for our protagonist, Lionel (Timothy Balme), his mother (Elizabeth Moody) is a little too overprotective.
While on a zoo date with his love interest, Paquita (Diana Penalver), the rat-monkey bites Lionel’s mother. She grows ill and dies from an infection caused by the bite. Because this is a zombie movie, it’s no surprise that she rises from the dead. Unlike other zombie movies, Lionel actually has a funeral for his zombie mom. He pretty much figures “If she’s not gonna be seen around town, there better be a damn good reason.” What better reason than death?
Lionel’s mother soon infects a multitude of the town’s citizens, leaving Lionel to babysit and take care of a house full of zombies. Although it sounds like trouble, Lionel does a decent job of maintaining this newfound lifestyle. Unfortunately, Lionel’s uncle, Les (Ian Watkins), comes into town and discovers his secret. He blackmails Lionel into giving him the house given to him in his mother’s will. This plot point doesn’t last long, as Les becomes careless and lets the zombies out of the room they were being kept in. It’s up to Lionel and Paquita to get rid of the zombies and end the control his mother has over him.
This is something I recommend to every fan of the horror genre. It has everything. The plot sometimes grows dull, but the motivations and plot points change often enough to keep the movie interesting. This is tough with zombie movies because once the movie starts, the motivation is “kill zombies and survive.” While Braindead does follow this formula, it maintains a freshness throughout.
Director Peter Jackson fills this with so many memorable moments. My favorite moment is the graveyard scene. A group of stereotypical punks are hanging out in the church graveyard, making out, and drinking. As zombies attack the teenagers, the priest flips through the air while fighting off the teens and zombies with some form of Kung-Fu. It is here that the priest delivers the best line in all of cinema: “I kick ass for the lord!” And you know what, he really does!
Being a big fan of the splatter genre, gore in movies is pretty easy for me to stomach. However, Braindead is the one movie that makes me reach for the fast forward button. It seems like all great horror films have a “dinner scene.” This one has a “lunch scene.” The lunch scene has nothing but blood, pus, and gurgling sounds. It legitimately makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve seen the movie over a hundred times, but I’ve only seen the full lunch scene twice.
In addition, the practical effects are phenomenally over the top! It certainly helps that the whole film is over the top. If the tone were a little more grounded in reality, the blood can be toned down. Since everything is overdone, the intensity of the effects feels warranted. The lawnmower scene alone has more fake blood than most movies. It’s been said that the blood hose shot out 5 gallons of corn syrup blood per second.
Braindead is a fun slapstick horror film not for the faint of heart. Although people know Jackson best for his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, this one is well worth a watch. It’s a favorite among horror fans and comedy fans. The movie does have its flaws, but given the fact that it’s both a comedy and a horror, it seems excusable. It will forever live on in the hearts of every cult horror fan! – Derek Flores
The film stars Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, and Ian Watkins.
Braindead is available for stream on Amazon and on DVD and VHS.