On a quiet street, in a small town, pure evil has come to stay. Lionel, an innocent young man, is forced to care for domineering mother and finds the task a whole lot more demanding after she’s bitten by the cursed Sumatran rat monkey. Passing the point of death, Lionel’s mother sucks friends and family into her gruesome existence among the living dead and Lionel is sent spiraling into a ghoulish nightmare.
eyelights: The oddball humour, ingenious gore effects, out-of-the-box camerawork, kick-@$$ karate priest.
eyesores: The puppet work.
Woah. I don’t know if I have ever seen a gorier movie in my life. ‘Braindead’ is likely the messiest, grossest picture I’ll ever see. Having said this, it’s not realistic enough to truly be disturbing – it’s meant to be over-the-top, cartoonish, outrageous, comical. But it could nonetheless disturb some viewers, especially those with a weak stomach.
The gore effects reminded me of Tom Savini’s work, but on steroids. It’s ingenious, extremely creative, and quite effective – and it was all done with a low budget. I suspect that all extra cash went to the effects, and it shows – there’s so much on the screen that it’s impossible to doubt this. Oh sure, it doesn’t rival the realism of the best Hollywood productions, but who cares: it’s not meant to.
In fact, ‘Braindead’ is obvious meant as camp (or splatstick as the gore/comedy hybrid is also called) – in the greatest sense of the term, much like the ‘Evil Dead’ series is. In fact, it would be quite at home with ‘Evil Dead 2’, perhaps even ‘Army of Darkness’ (although the latter is more comedy than horror). The quirky camera angles, the cheap-looking puppet work, the rampaging crazies, the über-ridiculous violence and blood-soaked sets make them peers of the best kind.
I had seen all of Peter Jackson’s feature-length films thus far but this one and ‘The Lovely Bones’, and have all of them, but was left cold by many of them – aside from ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. So I simply didn’t expect to enjoy ‘Braindead’ all that much, anticipating a low-budget crapfest with a poor script, non-acting and lots of unnecessary violence and gore.
But I loved it! All of it!!! Even the stupid sequence in the park with the baby was so riotous that it made me laugh my head off. It’s complete nonsense, of course (why would Lionel take the zombie baby for a stroll?), but it was so crazy-silly that I couldn’t help but get into it. The filmmakers were so obviously just having a blast, enjoying themselves and going all out with their picture, that it was infectious.
And that was ‘Braindead’s saving grace. It was not only made competently (forget the fact that the cast was over-acting the whole way through – the broad performances were likely intentional), but it was made with a tremendous amount of gusto and good humour. Just seeing the actors running around screaming covered in all sorts of goo, hitting and chopping various props, gives you the impression that being on the set must have been quite a hoot.
The story is pretty mundane, though: an over-powering woman gets bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey while spying on her son, who is out on a date. Being a mama’s boy, he decides to take care of her – even after it’s quite clear that the infected bite is transforming her into an undead monster. As he tried to balance his new-found relationship and his responsibilities, things get a little out of hand, and he ends up saddled with a half-dozen other zombies in his basement.
Hah! And that’s before everything collapses completely!
Horror films like this are a dime a dozen, but what separates ‘Braindead’ from the rest is how successfully that Jackson managed to balance the slapstick with the gore, and the humour with the drama. He also gave it a unique style that is virtually impossible to replicate, making the picture look and feel very different from the rest. How he managed to do so much with so little is impressive enough, but his wizardry astounds time and again.
The only issue is the puppetry, which is so grotesquely unrealistic that it’s funny. Was it intentional and, thus, is meant to be laughable? Or is it so poor that one is laughing at the puppetry, not with it? Either way, the puppets do exactly what they need to do, albeit in a very clunky fashion. You just can’t help but look at them and wonder who the heck made them and what they were thinking; it’s outrageously bad, given the era.
Having said this, the filmmakers managed to pull a lot of amazing stunts with their gore effects. From the heads that flap backwards, to the faces that are pulled off of skulls to the corpses walking around without mid-sections to the zombie heads lit up from inside like light shades, it just never ends – Jackson and company managed to pull cinematic magic tricks that I would love to have explained to me. Oh, if only the DVD (and the recently-released BD) had special features of any kind!
All this to say that ‘Braindead’ may not be Peter Jackson’s best work (let’s face it: it’s veritably impossible to match the ‘LoTR’ trilogy), but it may very well be my favourite. Although my rating may not reflect this, simply because I accounted for many factors in my final tally, it was such a riot that I already feel like watching it all over again. It’s most certainly not Masterpiece Theater, but this is a picture that’s just too nutty to ignore.
…at least for fans of the genre. For them, this would be gory, goofy fun galore. But all others should be forewarned: they should arm themselves with a paper bag before even contemplating watching it, before even picking up the DVD box. ‘Braindead’ is quite literally a bloodbath, but it can be a bloody good time.
Date of viewing: September 20, 2012