This review was corrected on June 26, 2003.
Yet another pair of twin brothers, Peter and Michael Spierig from Queensland, Australia, arrive on the film scene with “Undead,” a modestly budgeted but precociously inventive horror pic that combines brain-eating zombies with outer space aliens. The brothers, who produced, scripted, edited and designed the film’s visual and computer effects as well as directing, take a few liberties with the standard formula even as they pay shameless tribute to such helmers as George Romero and Peter Jackson. Horror buffs worldwide will doubtless respond, even though the film’s threatened humans aren’t a very likeable bunch and a grievously overlong running time reps a definite downer. But still, “Undead” is likely to do cult business in hardtops and there’s some tasty ancillary down the track.
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A meteor shower dumps rocks and acid rain on the small fishing village of Berkeley, Qld. Citizens quickly begin to change, adopting the buggy white eyes, flaky skin, shuffling walk and growling sounds of movie zombies. They promptly start chomping on their fellow citizens.
Of course, there are a handful of survivors. Rene (Felicity King), Berkeley’s reigning Miss Catch of the Day Queen, attempts to leave town because the bank has foreclosed on her recently-deceased parents’ farm. But the road is blocked by crashed cars, so she reluctantly teams up with local pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins) and his extremely pregnant girlfriend (and former beauty queen rival), Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham).
These three are joined by two cops, foul-mouthed Harrison (Dirk Hunter) and meek rookie Molly (Emma Randall), and they all take shelter at a remote house occupied by mysterious Marion (Mungo McKay), a bearded sharpshooter.
It takes far too long for the bickering cops to realize that the well-armed Marion is their salvation, and Hunter’s Harrison, especially, proves to be exasperating company. Mason’s somewhat enigmatic Rene is the most interesting character, especially toward the end as she seems to be heading for Ripley status as an heroic icon.
Still, there’s plenty of gore, plus last-minute escapes, fancy shooting and even acrobatics by the resourceful Marion. But, in the late going, the film veers off into quite another direction and becomes genuinely strange and a bit eerie.
The Spierigs unquestionably have talent, but as yet it’s a bit undisciplined. Dialogue is deliberately silly, but CGI effects, though not up to the standard of a big budget mainstream film, are more than adequate and quite inventive. The same goes for make-up. There are a few gross-out elements for die-hard gore fans.
But, perhaps because a lack of involvement in the human characters, the film becomes a long haul. Faster pacing could have shaved off up to 20 minutes.
Production values are solid, with Cliff Bradley’s rousing music score adding distinction to the deliberately shlocky goings-on.