Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things:

Denez McAdoo

Dead/AliveSome things won’t stay down… even after they die.1992Unrated – 97 min.Rated R – 85 min.

The Fellowship of the Ring: time consuming.The Two Towers: overrated.Return of the King: Gollum and the ring fall into a volcano. The end.

There, I just saved you $30, and six hours, of you life that you can now go out and spend to see a Peter Jackson film (the director of Lord of the Rings I, II, & III) that is actually worth seeing.

Following in the not-so long line of horror-cum-mainstream movie directors (ie: Sam Raimi of Evil Dead’s 1 and 2 / Spiderman’s 1 and 2 fame), Peter Jackson’s second feature length film, Dead/Alive, originally released as Braindead in its native New Zealand, serves to further validate the unpopular theory of the horror film as a legitimate movie form, capable of visual depth and engaging story telling. However, this means little to the truest of splatter geeks. These depraved rejects from the outskirts of society possess an insatiable lust for blood, guts, gore, and little else when it comes to satisfying their cinematic appetites (some nudity and a bit of unintentional humor won’t hurt either). Jackson’s Dead/Alive certainly does not disappoint. Although Jackson is very self-aware in his direction, knowing well that, to the more callous of viewers, shameless and unapologetic gore, more often than being terrifying, comes across as darkly humorous (sadistic? Maybe, but we all know that one of the main elements of humor is other peoples’ misfortune – even if it, as in the case of low budget horror, is often not at the expense of the sorry sap victims but rather the misfortune of the director’s ability to provide a convincing reality to the latex-and-catsup-soaked proceedings). Where Dead\Alive really achieves this is when it comes across more as a live action cartoon, expressed not only in the exaggerated bug-eyed facial reactions of the actors and speeding zoom-lens close-ups, but also in its nearly exhausting attempt to continually one-up itself in the sickness department. At about a third of the way through the film, the bar has been raised to the level that almost any one single special effects scene could easily serve as the gross-out climax (or to borrow a term from the porno industry: the “money shot”) in any number of lesser horror films. The special effects are both believable and beautifully executed. What this means is that the true “star” of the film is Richard Taylor – Jackson’s long time effects collaborator, whose total command over the medium of latex and foam rubber is exceeded only by the pair’s seemingly limitless supply for conceptual disgust and revulsion. However, Jackson manages to escape completely crossing the line into shameless self-parody, elevating the film above that of a Scary Movie or even Scream’s self-conscious nod to horror conventions. Don’t think that this means Dead\Alive is restrained in any way. Instead, it lunges straight for the jugular, going further over the top than you may expect even a film of this genre to go. But that’s part of the thrill of a good horror film. That I-shouldn’t-be-watching-but-I-can’t-look-away glassed eyed glare that can even manage to capture the hearts and minds of an audience built on jaded cynicism and general contempt for mainstream cinema’s ability to thrill and excite. Jackson and Taylor’s prop destroying tour-de-force effects highlights include, but are not limited to:

? juice-filled monkey skull crushing? festering infections? regurgitated dog carcass? decapitated nurses? kung-fu priests? (despite lacking a significant amount of gore) one of the most disturbing scenes involving custard ever put to celluloid? publicly brutalized zombie fetus? incontinent greaser disembowelment? farting intestine monsters? and one truly unspeakable scene involving a lawn mower that is sure to blow your mind (reportedly the lawnmower in question sprayed blood at five gallons per second. Gadzooks!).

Really the main advantage of Peter Jackson’s coherent story telling and unique visual style is that Dead/Alive is the kind of horror movie that both delivers the goods and is engaging enough that you may actually be able to convince/dupe one of your more prudish friends into watching it with you and not have to worry about them standing up from their seat demanding their money back (in which case you should promptly slap them and start looking for new friends). Dead\Alive is often billed as one of the goriest movies of all time, and as far as this humble writer is concerned, this film wins hands down both in terms of quality and quantity. Watch this movie with goggles.