Braindead (1992)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #55


Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: August 13, 1992 (NZ), February 12, 1993 (US)
Sub-Genre: Black Comedy/Splatter
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Budget: $3,000,000
Box Office: $1,870,578
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Jim Booth
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh
Story: Stephen Sinclair
Special Effects: Steve Ingram, Richard Taylor
Cinematography: Murray Milne
Score: Peter Dasent
Editing: Jamie Selkirk
Studio: WingNut Films, New Zealand Film Commission
Distributor: Trimark Pictures
Stars: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie, Jed Brophy, Stephen Papps, Murray Keane, Glenis Levestam, Lewis Rowe, Elizabeth Mulfaxe, Harry Sinclair, Davina Whitehouse, Silvio Famularo


Suggested Audio Candy

[1] Peter Dasent “Brain Dead”

[2] Kate Swadling “The Stars and The Moon”

[3] Slayer “Raining Blood”

DEAD ALIVE - American Poster

Right then, who’s for some good old-fashioned deep red splatter to sate those appetites? Fret not as I have precisely what you crave and then some. Having recently revisited Peter Jackson’s lo-fi classic Bad Taste, there seems no better time to delve back into his font of treasures and take another look at the fine man’s wares, in particular Braindead or Dead Alive as it was known in North America (Tu Madre Se Ha Comido a Mi Perro in Spain which translates to Your Mother Ate My Dog). Don’t ask. This was the first of Jackson’s movies to enjoy a UK theatrical release, albeit fleeting, and its advertising campaign took a somewhat distinctive approach to pitching to those unaware of his previous works.


Under regular circumstances any film on the silver screen will do its darnedest to adorn its poster with as many four or five-star ratings and upbeat quotes it can possibly collate. However, this was not the case with this particular number. The citation that accompanied its marketing push was from somebody who absolutely loathed the film, calling it out for being “repugnant and deeply unpleasant, the vilest movie this particular critic had ever had the displeasure of being subjected to”. An ill-thought out campaign right? Actually, I believe there is no better way to promote your movie, as long as said movie is a balls-to-the-wall splatter extravaganza. Anybody considering watching this over Scent of a Woman was plainly going to be aroused by such a claim. Indeed, I was aroused by such a claim and distinctly recall sporting half mast erection the very moment the word repugnant registered in my frontal lobe. Any potential punter put off by such venomous words shouldn’t really have been admiring a poster for a film named Braindead in the first place.


Alongside my similarly excitable sidekick, I ventured forth with lofty expectations and we took our seats before the red curtain. Red was to be a prominent theme over the following 103 minutes as, what we were then treated to, was the most insanely bloodthirsty piece of entertainment ever to be granted a mainstream release. I sat there like one of the cast members of Bigas Luna’s Anguish; hopelessly in awe of Jackson for the sheer audacity of even contemplating to make a film so unreservedly repulsive. Let me just say that never in over thirty years of watching horror movies have I had my hankering for grue quite so unanimously catered for and I’ve watched some sick shit over the years.


I would imagine killjoy cynic Mary Whitehouse’s health took a rapid turn for the worse after giving Braindead a primary assessment. There is so much gushing grue, seriously I shit you not, it provides fresh meaning to the term free-for-all. Indeed, by the time the end credits had rolled I felt like Johnny Five with a bundle of Fangorias and it very nearly created a sub-genre all of its own – the kitchen sink. I swear I even saw one fellow patron dragged under by vicious currents due to the reservoir of blood splashing gaily around the screen in front of us. We left the auditorium with eyes glazed over, not capable of so much as dribbling out any kind of inane rejoinder to what we had just been exposed to. I love few things more than being rendered speechless and positively live for the thrill of the kill .Thus, I am pleased to report that Jackson has more than earned himself the right to consider himself my pimp.


That said, Braindead is as darkly comical as it is horrendously gory and I’m assured there is no possible way that it would have made it past the censorship board intact had it not been for the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. By the early nineties, the whole censorship furor had plateaued and the days of police raids and imprisoned distributors were largely behind us as we began to step boldly into a new age. Still, Jackson can count himself a smidgen fortunate that his film even saw the light of day in the first place as, belly laughs aside, those of a weaker disposition may well be reintroduced to lunch by around the five-minute mark and it gets no more tasteful from there, let me assure you.

brain_dead_dead_alive_crimson_quill_tok (30)

Actually, Braindead moves at its own velocity and, after a teasing intro, settles into a rather languid pace, remaining largely horizontal for a lion’s share of the first hour, only occasionally hinting at the direction it will soon be heading in. It is essentially a love story, focusing in on the fast-blossoming relationship between browbeaten mommy’s boy Lionel (Timothy Balme) and Mediterranean beauty Paquita Maria (Diana Peñalver), two lost souls on a collision course to fuck like minks, raise rugrats, and live happily ever after. Alas, the course of true love seldom runs smoothly and, while most of the townsfolk are genuinely happy for the fledgling couple, certain quarters are somewhat harder to please and they’re worryingly close to home to boot.


You see, Braindead also centers around the rapidly putrefying correlation between Lionel and his hideous mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody), the kind of woman only a son could hold any affection for and, even then, only tentatively. He is shackled by her apron strings, strangulated even and makes Norman Bates seem like a free-spirit by comparison. Vera naturally objects to his new-fangled romance with Paquita Maria, attempting every last dirty trick in the book in order to make Lionel feel dreadful, drive a hefty wedge between love’s young dream, and get her son back so he can soak her bunions. I’m sure that even docile Norman would end up putting one on this ropy old gas bag after spending five minutes in her presence. Thank the heavens then for the good old Sumatran rat-monkey. One bite (which I’m assured will have been just as noxious for the rat-monkey were it not for the fact that it is soundly curb-stomped during the ensuing kerfuffle) and the writing is firmly on the wall. Mommy dearest is not going to be an issue for much longer. If only it were that easy.


With the rat-monkey now well and truly out of the bag and mother looking decidedly the worse for wear, Jackson’s film then gradually descends into eventual lunacy as her contagion spreads first through home-help, then combat ready members of the clergy who “kick arse for the lord”, and all manner of delinquent punks as the party approaches full swing. Before we can say a polite no to Vera’s home-made rice pudding, the circus is expanding faster than Auntie Beryl’s gastric band at Thanksgiving. I choose the word circus as this seems the most suitable term when categorizing Jackson’s blood-spattered opus. Kitchen sink circus – there we are. I believe I may have just fashioned a brand new sub-genre right there. You see, Jackson has a lot to answer for.


Moving swiftly on, an infant is then flung into the blender and any weaker bladders amongst us will likely be soundly compromised. What starts as a perfectly innocuous stroll in the park soon yields incalculable moments of comedy titanium, once again showcasing the New Zealander’s sturdy grasp of slapstick. Indeed, he cites this as his personal favorite scene and I make him right on that count. Should Robert Thorne have peeled back the hospital shroud to reveal the ugly mug from Braindead then Jennings would still be alive now and he’d be running for his second term. I am rather fond of little ankle-biters as long as they’re not in their terrible twos but any paternal instinct was dealt a harsh blow the moment the midwife announced “it’s a boy…I think”. Come to think of it, I’m not even convinced our bairn isn’t actually the afterbirth. Quick nurse, check the dumpster. Better move fast as he seems to have completely skipped the crawling phase.


Then there’s the small matter of Lionel’s lecherous slime ball uncle Les (Ian Watkin) who is desperate to get his grubby hands on Lionel’s rightful inheritance and will stop at nothing to throw a spanner in his mower. It isn’t long before Les smells a rat (monkey) and, after discovering that parenting certainly isn’t for him, joins the ever-increasing carnival alongside copulating zombies with rice pudding, ejaculate and rotting flesh smeared all over their smug faces. Things continue to escalate and poor Lionel and his fair lady are still no closer to that all-elusive second base. Shit is hitting the fan at its fastest setting by this point and, anyone choking on their own bile, can console themselves with the fact that it couldn’t possibly get any more debauched could it? What’s that revving sound?


Of course it bleeding well can, Jackson is the gift that knows only how to keep on giving and he’s still got plenty in the tank. The party is where it was really at and, while there are a veritable smorgasbord of standout moments on exhibit, the closing act is just one long bright beacon of bloody brilliance. Two by two the fun-loving party-goers meet their grisly demise, joining the ranks of the undead without a split-second to gracefully opt out, and moving onto the next poor unfortunate post-haste. I’ll leave it until my Grue-Guzzler footnotes at the end of this appraisal to even attempt at verbalizing the comprehensive blood rush that unfurls before our totally spellbound peepers. Let’s just say that Lionel’s lawnmower gets a run-out and I shall allow your imaginations to fill in the blanks. Speaking of expanding our minds, who’s up for some shamelessly shoe-horned titties? Go on then, while I’m feeling generous. And before you ask, yes I believe they are 100% natural.


All I can say is, if that’s the only source of lactose available to our beast in a baby grow, then I don’t wish to be the one burping the little bastard. Vera may have already taken more turns for the worse than Pac-Man after one too many cherry daiquiris, but there ain’t a Power Pill in the world that can make her look more attractive as she reaches the final phase of her transmogrification. With the Cosgrove family home now thoroughly redecorated; mommy decides that the safest haven for her beloved boy is back in her snug, and admittedly spacious, womb. “You always were a good boy Lionel” is her retort as she opens her arms, now complete with a less than striking brace of bingo wings, to welcome him back into her ample bosom. No prizes for guessing his response. What Lionel hasn’t considered is that, while Paquita Maria currently looks a far more appealing option, sheltered sons usually end up saddled with wives who ultimately end up resembling their own mothers. Think I’d be off romance for life you know.


During my previous appraisal for Jackson’s much-loved full-length debut Bad Taste, I closed by declaring that it is every bit as good a film as this and, on reappraisal, I uphold that sentiment. These two movies may be chalk and cheese and connected only by the acute levels of splatter on the platter, but both unquestionably offer hugely rewarding experiences. I felt I may have appeared a touch harsh on Braindead by making such a bold statement but, on reflection, feel more than at ease with my proclamation as it suddenly dawned on me that simply being on par with his maiden venture is recommendation enough. Indeed, there be no finer compliment than stating that there may never be another feature capable of pushing the envelope quite with quite so much magnanimous ease as Jackson’s borderline barmy kitchen sink circus. Well, not one that gets away with it, at any rate. When you’re done traipsing around Middle Earth Peter, hurry on back will you, I’d say it’s high-time you get to work on that sequel. How many blood pouches does a billion dollars buy you nowadays?


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 5/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Are you ready? Animal heads are squelched underfoot, Lassie digested (although not all of it), pus-pimples popped, randy priests impaled, legs stripped to the bones, gnomes pushed down into gaping neck cavities, skulls converted into lampshades, testicles crushed, cheeks massaged the wrong way, mouths fisted, heads dissected, terrorizing toddlers panned, open throats spoon-fed questionable rice pudding, mower blades clogged up with zombie surplus, colossal mutated pensioners opened wide for the ultimate bear hug, and I’ve not so much as scratched the scab off Jackson’s primed pimple. There is a good reason why mowers are fitted with trip switches although somebody negated to tell Lionel. He does a trim and edge on a bevy of bodies in one of the most ridiculously OTT climaxes ever to find its way past the snoozing censors and there may never be a film more deserving of its 5/5 Grue rating.

300 gallons of fake blood are used in the final scene alone with the deep red coulis pumped at five gallons a second which, as far as I’m aware, makes Braindead bucket-for-bucket the bloodiest movie of all time. As for pleasures of the more erotic variety, there is a single instance of full-frontal nudity to gurn over although, considering she is in her late seventies and infected with rat-monkey venom, best find another movie to tug your tassel over. Unless you’re secretly partial to a spot of granny bashing, in which case, knock yourself out but I’d give the rice pudding a wide berth if I were you.

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Richard Charles Stevens

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