Horror Bites - Mother Knows Best

BRAINDEAD (1992)


Peter Jackson is often accused of being excessive and self indulgent, pushing material beyond it's natural life span and extending films to extremes that need to be pared back. It's odd that people generally aren't talking about his splatter films when these criticisms are brought up. Perhaps it's because these are actually the reasons they work. At a trim 100 minutes, his entry into the living dead category is overflowing with bodily fluids and puppet effects. Outdoing similar flesh eater adventures in terms of violence and out goofing the likes of Evil Dead II and Return of the Living Dead, it's a comedy horror feature on a whole other level.

On a technical front, this is all intricate stuff combing all kinds of expertise. Miniatures are used to create certain shots of 1950s New Zealand, stop motion creatures spread mystery diseases, and all kinds of insane puppets and models are used to depict a zombie outbreak. For a less creative team one or two moments of gore and dismemberment would have been enough. However in the case of Richard Taylor and his colleagues they throw in just about everything from faces being opened out, zombie guts coming alive, heads being severed, (and reattached) and of course lawnmower massacres. The big rooftop finale pushes things beyond their budget for what can actually be pulled off effectively, but hey they did it anyway and it rounds off the story pretty well.

The plot is fairly simple as mild mannered Lionel has his blossoming romance with shop girl Paquita interrupted by his overbearing mother. While she's alive and after she comes back from the grave. Meddling family members looking for inheritance money after mum's death don't help the situation, and neither do the other revived corpses which start to grow in number. Despite his efforts to keep them hidden, Lionel just isn't up to destroying his only parent even when she escapes to cause havoc. Soon there are more deaths and so of course more undead creatures. He still tries to domesticate them for some reason, and a lot of the biggest laughs in the second act come from zombie mealtimes ... and zombie lust.

Eventually things get totally out of control, no thanks to a blackmailing uncle taking over the family house after threatening to tell the police about what he sees as bodies in the basement. The big finale is gloriously overblown as the drugs Lionel was using to control the resident cadavers backfire and they escape into Uncle Les's drunken party guests. At this stage anything goes, they've already done kung fu fighting priests and embalming fluid slapstick scenes, so why not push the boat out? There are some nice character arc moments too as the storyline comes to a close too. It's cheesy but appropriate, and the mother and son themes are capped off appropriately, and in new and grotesque ways

It's crazy to see so many familiar names on the title credits; while The Lord of The Rings trilogy is a totally different project from this, Wingnut Films and Jackson's regular film making cohorts all started out doing this sort of thing. A blood soaked, baby kicking, pus spewing, monster of a film. You can tell they were in love with the whole idea and spent time where it counts. The gag location of Skull Island and film at the site used later as The Return of the King's Paths of the Dead are signs of things to come when their cinematic passions came to bear fruit in later years. In some ways I'd love to see these guys return to this kind of effort, in a time when they're all involved in so much high end cutting edge technology. But at the same time, what would a return to gross out splatter violence be like - and ultimately how would they ever top this?

4/5