30 for 30: Braindead

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 11th, 2019

"Your mother ate my dog!"

     Do I feel bad following up a horror movie with another one? Nope! Okay, to be honest, I did try to space things out in a relatively adequate way beforehand but man oh man, Braindead waits for no one.

     Peter Jackson enjoyed a truly odd early career, primarily odd when compared to where he would end up. His first three outings as a director are referred to as his "Splatter Days", consisting of his debut Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and today's subject Braindead (known here in North America as Dead Alive), before he would shake his 'cult' status with 1994's Heavenly Creatures (still arguably his best film. Yeah. I said it.), follow it with The Frighteners and then dive headfirst into The Lord of the Rings. And the rest is mainstream history/knowledge. I'm imagining that producers saw one of his first three films in the middle of him shooting the LOTR trilogy and responded with "Uhh...".
     Yet here I once again struggled in regards to which movie to talk about, because Meet the Feebles is almost constantly scratching at some door in my head. I came close to picking Feebles, but Meet the Feebles is a piece that... um... needs(?) to be explored in its own special(?) way. Plus, it's Halloween season, and Braindead is perfect for the spirit of Halloween because it is an absolute rollercoaster ride of insanity, and insanity laden fun.

     Braindead begins on Skull Island (an early reference to Jackson's admiration for King Kong), as a group of explorers capture what is called a Sumatran rat-monkey. One of the explorers ends up not having too good a time after he is bitten. We then meet our main character Lionel, along with Lionel's overbearing, demanding mother (Lionel has some mother issues, to say the least) and his awfully grotesque uncle. As Lionel falls for a shopkeeper's daughter by the name of Paquita, Lionel's mother grows jealous and attempts to ruin their relationship since she wants all of Lionel's attention to her awful, awful, needy self. Stalking them on a zoo date doesn't go to good, as she happens to be bitten by our Sumatran rat-monkey friend. She begins to get more and more sick, one thing leads to another, she accidentally eats her own ear and a dog, and the next thing you know she's a zombie. Lionel seems to deal with it quick, but not as effectively as he'd hoped, as soon he's hiding a growing number of zombies in his basement, more than he may be able to control, and to make matters worse, his uncle decides to throw a lavish party in the house. Needless to say, uh-oh spaghettios!

     Braindead is one of those movies that you don't necessarily know where to start with in terms of discussing it, it just kind of needs to be seen. It begins with intrigue, it's prologue expertly setting up a threat that is almost immediately moved away from, and you sit there waiting for it to come back around. From that point forward, things slowly lull you in with the introduction of its characters, their dynamics, before ol' awful momma is bitten. Even then, things build relatively slow until it feels like the bandaid gets ripped off in one fell swipe and things go bananas.
     What's so wonderful about Braindead is it presents it's nuttiness with a series of scenes and moments that vary, so it never feels dull. This may seem like an obvious thing to say about films and filmmaking in general, but considering the things that Braindead eventually checks off on its list, it's something else to behold entirely. There are endless amounts of scenes to mention as an example, but I don't want to. It's a better film to experience on one's own, which admittedly makes this somewhat hard to write about, but Jackson and company's level of ingenious wackiness keeps upping itself in a beautiful way.

     A movie that begins building it's craziness the way Braindead does obviously has to have a worhwhile goal line, and trust me, very few things perfectly cap off their movies the way that Braindead does. To cut straight to the chase, Braindead is bloody and gory. Like, extremely bloody and gory. Like, famously using approximately 300 gallons of blood in the final scene, at one time being pumped at 5 gallons per second bloody. The levels that Braindead goes to is almost extreme, but it never truly crosses a line. I know plenty of people that aren't fans of films that are overtly gory, yet I would easily and whole-heartedly recommend them this movie, and it all hangs on one very important fact...

     Braindead is one of the funniest movies I think I've ever seen. It has a brilliant mix of comedy, involing the acting, line-reads, the writing in general, moments of slapstick, and sheer absurdity. To use two specific examples, someone gets their entire ribcage removed from their body and there's the (offscreen) moment/revalation that a dog had been eaten, and the framing makes both of these things genuinely really funny.Honestly, it's the only film I've watched where an animal dies and it's successfully played off where your reaction is a laugh. Braindead celebrates the insanity it creates, constantly winking at you while its tongue is placed firmly in its cheek, and the entire thing ends up coming off like a bunch of kids playing in a backyard with special effects make-up, urging for more and more blood to be spilled all over. It's impossible to take the violence in the film seriously, and the level of fun it strives for is constantly successfully met because of it.

     Braindead is a film that begs to be more widely seen by fans of horror and the season, ones who want to sit down and have a good time with friends and maybe a couple of drinks. It's a wild, wild time, and even if it may not be your usual cup of tea, you might find yourself asking for more.