dead alive | peter jackson | stephen sinclair | fran walsh | timothy balme | diana penalver | Diana Peñalver | elizabeth moody | zombie | zombies | comedy | new zealand | ian watkins | brenda kendall | stuart devenie | glenis levestam | lewis rowe | elizabeth mulfaxe
Film: Dead Alive
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver and Elizabeth Moody
This was a film that I remember seeing the box for the VHS at my local video store. For whatever reason though, I never pulled the trigger. My father loved zombies, which in turn means I really like zombies. I don’t ever remember him saying anything about this film though. I heard a lot about this film through podcasts and eventually figured it was one that I really needed to see. I’m now updating this after my third viewing of this wild film, which I got to see in the theater. The synopsis is a young man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends and neighbors.
We start back in 1957. There’s a man from New Zealand who goes to Skull Island, which according to this film is just off the coast of Sumatran. He is accompanied by a guide and he has collected a Sumatran Rat-Monkey, which is a mix of a virus-carrying slave-ship rat and a tree monkey. The man tries to show the natives that he has a right to take it, but they give chase. He doesn’t make it though. He is killed by this native guides after he gets bit and scratched by the creature.
In Wellington, we go to a shop. Here we meet Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver). She shows interest in a man who makes a delivery. She asks her grandmother (Davina Whitehouse) if she will end up with the man, even though he somewhat ignores her. The grandmother reads her tarot cards and tells Davina that there will be another man she falls in love with. It won’t be easy though. There is then someone who enters the store. Her father, Silvio Famularo, tells her to go help whoever it is.
It turns out to be Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme). We see he is clumsy, but Davina notices a sign that her grandmother spoke off. She tries to talk to him and he panics, leaving the store and managing to catch a trolley.
He lives with his mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody), and she is very controlling. We do see him trying to mow the lawn, after she tells him that it needs to be done. Davina shows up, bringing the list of items he requested. Vera doesn’t seem too happy that they are talking.
The two of them go on a date to the zoo. We see that by nature Lionel is off. He’s also afraid of water. He tells a story of how he fell off a pier and his father tried to save him, but ended up being taken out to sea and drowned. They come up on a monkey enclosure and meet the viscous Sumatran Rat-Monkey. It tears the arm off a monkey in a different cage that gets too close. The two aren’t alone either. Vera is spying on them from the bushes. She gets too close and is bit on the Rat-Monkey. She makes a scene, killing the creature in the process. Lionel is forced to take her home and leave Davina.
Nurse McTavish (Brenda Kendall) comes over to the treat the wound and it just gets progressively worse. The next day they are supposed to have Nora (Glenis Levestam) and Mr. Matheson (Lewis Rowe) over for lunch. Lionel wants to cancel, because Vera’s infection is spreading and she is starting to fall apart. She demands they continue on with it. We get some disgusting scenes with bodily fluids and body parts falling off. It gets to the point where Nora flees and her husband is forced to follow.
Despite their best offers, Vera passes away, but she just won’t stay dead. We get some hilarious scenes as she spreads her new infliction to others which culminates in a wild scene back at the Cosgrove’s house. Lionel and Davina will do whatever it takes to stop this plague from escaping and running all over New Zealand.
Now I have to lead off saying that this is a fun film. It is pretty outrageous, but with this early Peter Jackson film, you see flashes of his talent. Don’t come into this one expecting everything to make sense. Now the concept of how the zombie plague starts is pretty interesting. I’m not sure if the Sumatran Rat-Monkey is real, but it’s interesting that is where an infection like this could start.
Something I’m kind of curious to see this film if Jackson would have tried to play it straight with a little less comedy. Now according to zombie logical, Lionel and Davina would probably have turned, due to the amount of gore that gets on them, but that is something I’ll let slide. Also I don’t recall the couple that came for lunch turning, but the husband for sure should as he ate blood from Vera. It does have some funny parts as well as parts that made me cringe. That was pretty interesting from a horror comedy. I don’t mind how this plays out, as it keeps up with how the film is portrayed.
The editing of the film was fine. It does build some tension, but being a comedy it does alleviate a little too much in that department. I also think the film might run a bit too long at 1 hour and forty-five minutes. It’s not that I ever get bored or it never really hits a lull, but there are some things I feel are there to pad out the time. The story continues to build throughout. I do like how the film ends, I will say that.
The acting I felt was pretty solid as well. Balme is great as the timid man that does whatever his mother tells him. He does learn a secret that changes his life and it is fun to see at the climax him growing into the hero. Peñalver was pretty cute, but her character is a tad unrealistic. She is so convinced that what her grandmother tells her through the tarot cards has to be true. It doesn’t ruin the film, it just seems odd to me. The more I think about it though, with her upbringing, she probably would be this way. Moody is solid in the little time she has when she normal. You really get the feel she is extremely controlling. I’d say the rest of the cast is fine in rounding out the horror and comedic aspects of the film.
It is crazy that Jackson is known for the Lord of the Rings films that are just CGI-fests. This film is a much lower budget and everything was done practical. It is crazy because I thought the effects, even things that are outrageous, still look real. The only things that really didn’t were the Rat-Monkey, a zombie later in the movie and the Vera creature at the end. Those were down with stop-motion though, which I love. The Vera creature I’m not sure why it was as big as it was. This film had me gag a couple of times so I will give the film a lot of credit for that.
Now with that said, this is really one of the better horror comedies. You can see the early ability of Jackson that led him to do some of the things he has done after this film. This one has a nice back-story and interesting how everything develops. Some of it is outrageous, but that makes the film fun. I like the climax and the gore, which didn’t freak me out too much due to just how over the top it was. The acting was pretty good I’d say, some of it is unrealistic, but you have to keep that in line with the film. The effects were amazing. The editing was pretty solid and the score was as well. I do feel that the film is a bit long though. This film is from New Zealand, so keep that in mind as the accents can be a bit tough to follow. If you like zombie films and like comedy with your horror, I’d definitely say give this one a viewing. It is over the top, but definitely fun.
My Rating: 8 out of 10