This is the story of how a zombie outbreak forces a guy to grow some balls.
I was promised gore, and while I had my doubts about fuzzy Hobbit-man Peter Jackson delivering on the blood and guts, he really came through in Dead Alive. Talk about a bloodbath… I was actually impressed with the sheer volume of visceral carnage slopped around on that set. Granted, the cartoon-y nature of some of the special effects and prosthetics made it a little hard to take seriously, but laughing and killing zombies should always go hand-in-hand—what’s the use of doing things you don’t enjoy?
The movie starts out with some run-of-the-mill backstory to lay the groundwork for the zombie infection. Some crazy animal collector catches a rare (and cursed) monkey to sell to a zoo. Unfortunately for the collector, the monkey bites and scratches him, and his superstitious native helpers immediately chop off all of the ‘infected’ limbs—including his head. The monkey still makes it onto a plane and into a zoo, dooming our protagonists to a zombie-filled future.
Meanwhile, in middle-class suburbia, a pretty little lady named Paquita gets a tarot reading from her grandmother because she thinks she’s in love. She quickly flips her affections from the handsome delivery guy she’d had her eye on, to the mysterious “knight” that her grandmother predicts she will soon meet and fall madly in love with. Turns out, her “knight” is a bumbling, clumsy little goofball named Lionel. The poor sap is a slave to his overbearing mother, and he can’t even wiggle out from under her thumb long enough to go on a date to the zoo uninterrupted.
It’s here that the backstory comes into play. The two lovers witness the claymation Sumatran Rat Monkey viciously beat another monkey to death and eat part of the corpse. It’s amazing it didn’t already bite the handlers that put it in the cage. Soon after, the nosy mother gets too close to its cage and winds up being bitten. She crushes the rat monkey’s skull with her heel in a disgustingly drawn out scene, complete with eyes popping out like tiny little marbles.
After hijacking Lionel’s date, his mother slowly succumbs to the bite as it festers and turns her into a zombie. The monkey’s death marks a turning point in the movie—from here on in everything gets more and more grotesque. Lots of flesh peeling off, pus-filled wounds and blisters spewing blood and bile at every opportunity… you get the idea.
Lionel stupidly attempts to hide the fact that his mother is turning into a rapidly deteriorating inhuman mess by sedating her, and later other zombies that she creates when she attacks a few other unlucky bystanders (including an ass-kicking priest who fends off zombie punks in what is clearly the best fight scene in the entire movie—until he dies and gets turned). He locks them all in his basement until he’s found out by his money-grubbing uncle who blackmails him into handing over the house and all the money his mother left behind after her “death”. When his bastard of an uncle throws a party at the house, Paquita arrives and discovers Lionel’s secret as well, and convinces him to poison the captive zombies and put them to rest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, and instead makes them even stronger!
They break free and wreak havoc on the party, killing everyone they can sink their teeth into. The slaughter gets more creative and bloodier by the minute, with ribcages and hearts being ripped out of chests, mutant zombie babies popping through skulls, and animated intestines attempting to strangle human prey. Spineless little Lionel finally mans up to save his girl, and slaughters most of the zombies by using his lawn mower like a chainsaw. Now that’s what I like to see! By the end of his rampage, the floors are awash in blood—the telltale sign of someone having a good time.
A grotesquely huge and misshapen version of his mother arises as the final boss, so to speak, complete with large drooping flabs of rotting skin that I wish I could erase from my memory. He finally stands up to her and frees himself, symbolically and literally, from her smothering grip. Lionel and Paquita zipline away to safety as the house – and hopefully any remaining zombies inside – is consumed by flames. A sloppy job, but now it’s someone else’s problem, so whatever.
Definitely enough zombies and mayhem to fill an hour and a half, but really—who thinks it’s a good idea to keep your crazy zombie mother in your basement doped up on animal tranquilizers? He should have dismembered that shambling corpse the first chance he got. Every character in this movie made terrible choices, over and over again, and if it weren’t for the half-decent zombie-slaying techniques at the end of the movie, I might have wound up rooting for the zombies.