“Braindead” is one of the bloodiest horror comedies ever made, and that will be enough to ensure its success both in cinemas and, especially, on video. It’s also the best to date from Kiwi gore specialist Peter Jackson, who goes for broke with an orgy of bad taste and splatter humor. Some will recoil from the gore, but “Braindead” wasn’t made for them.
Set in 1957, this is basically the standard zombie plot, played for laughs, with a nerdy hero Lionel (Timothy Balme) whose domineering mum (Elizabeth Moody) gets infected when she’s bitten by a rare kind of carnivorous monkey while spying on her son and his Spanish girlfriend, Paquita (Diana Penalver), at the Wellington Zoo.
Mum goes rabid fast, and attacks the nurse assigned to take her to the hospital, who becomes a zombie also. Poor Lionel locks the creatures in the cellar and tries to pacify them with liberal doses of tranquilizer, administered via a gigantic hypo.
But at mum’s funeral, the body runs amok and the Rev. McGruder becomes another zombie. He couples with the nurse which almost instantly results in a zombie baby, and so the plague continues until Lionel’s house is filled with rampaging monsters.
The incredibly bloody climax has Lionel attack the creatures with a lawnmower , slicing them into thousands of pieces. All this is done with great humor, starting with the opening images of a very young Queen Elizabeth II, the Kiwi flag, and a spirited playing of the National Anthem.
Comic highlights include Lionel trying to pacify the zombie baby in a public park (horrified mothers look on as he beats the creature into submission) or Lionel literally re-entering his mother’s womb in the gore-splattered finale.
Technically, this is Jackson’s best to date, with state of the art creature and gore effects by Richard Taylor and prosthetics design by Bob McCarron. There’s any amount of dismemberment, disembowelling, beheading, and the like, all of it handled with bloody conviction.
Cult audiences should delight in this basically harmless schlock, and the film should quickly generate a worldwide rep. It’s perhaps a shade too long, but the aficionados won’t mind that.
Jackson himself turns up in a cameo as an undertaker’s assistant, while producer Jim Booth is seen in a bedside photo of the hero’s long-dead dad.
Performances hit just the right notes, with lanky Timothy Balme very funny as the mother-dominated hero, and Diana Panalver lovely as his determined girlfriend. Production values are excellent, and the film is technically fine.