Braindead (1992)

Director Peter Jackson
Writers Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Starring Timothy Balme, Diana Peņalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie
Genre Zombie
Tagline There's something nasty in Lionel's cellar - His Family!

Talk us through it

A Wellington Zoo Official captures a rare rat monkey on Skull Island, near Sumatra, evading the local tribesmen in the process. Unfortunately the Official is bitten by the monkey much to the chagrin of his local guides who proceed to chop off the hand that was bitten. Followed by the arm that was bitten and then rounding out with taking care of the Official's bitten head. On the bright side of the machete the monkey is flown back to Newtown zoo in Wellington to become a less than joyful attraction, maybe if it had of looked more like a red panda and less like a Muppet after a two week hard drug and alcohol bender.

In Wellington Paquita Maria Sanchez, who's family own a local neighbourhood grocery store, is told her one true love can be found via a symbol her Grandmother divines in some tarot cards. In a strange turn up Lionel Cosgrove, a young man totally under the control of his manipulative and dominating mother, is the dude of Paquita's dreams. She manages to maneuver Lionel into a zoo date and the two get on well, though Lionel's Mum is spying on them from hiding. Vicious rodent monkey, spying mother, guess who gets bitten and spoils Lionel and Paquita's day out.

Turns out there's a reason why the locals on Skull Island are highly protective of the local rat monkeys, Mum's bite gets infected giving her an appetite for meat, rawer the better, and the unfortunate habit of dropping body parts. It gets worse for the attentive Lionel when Mum dies, comes back as a zombie, and Uncle Les shows up.

Can Lionel stop a zombie outbreak, Mum's a bitter, look after baby Selwyn, and find time to develop his relationship with the lovely Paquita?


"I'm a New Zealand zoo official and this monkey is going to Newtown!" - Zoo Official

With Easter upon us, and a Friday review required, I was left wondering how I could celebrate this special Christian occasion. Clearly it was going to require a movie that would have something in common with Easter and thankfully Chuck McKenzie had given me ample ground to connect the dots. Having the benefit of a religious college education I knew Easter was about resurrections, or re-animations, or raising the dead or something. Hey staying awake wasn't a requirement. So naturally there was only one movie I could select. Nothing says Easter like a zombie flick, and what better movie to hit the player with than Peter Jackson's classic Braindead, the goriest undead flick of them all. So ripping open an L&P, see over toward the right there, I launched into an early Friday morning viewing to see of Braindead would live up to its grandiose reverence among horror fanatics.

"Story goes, these great big rats come scuttling off the slave ships and raped all the little tree monkeys" - Zookeeper

Jackson kicks off his movie with a kiwi flag and a black and white short featuring a young Queen Elizabeth II, initially it's a bizarre concept but I figure it's putting us in the 1950s mood, and perhaps lulls us into a false sense of security before we get the actually first scene of the movie that ushers us into a Monty Python style of over the top gore that previews the final block of the movie that is simply out and out mayhem. Jackson films in a sort of boys own style as a zoo Official and his local helpers escape the spears of tribesman with a prized rat monkey. Things don't go well for the Official after we find out he was bitten by the monkey. In fact you could say he goes to pieces over the development. For aeronautic devotees we then get what I think is a DC 10 taking the rat monkey to its new home in downtown Newton Zoo, Wellington, where it's on a destiny course to meet Lionel's Mum.

Jackson takes a measured approach through the main course of the movie, introducing the lead characters, creating the conflicts, and generally having some fun. Humour isn't far off the menu at any stage with a number of sight gags and one liners coming at you. There's a feeling we are in the hands of script writers who know what they are doing, the movie making is a given, and Jackson drags us into the events going down in Wellington, surprisingly making the bumbling Lionel a sympathetic character. The gradual deterioration in Lionel's life is well handled with things spinning out of control in a sort of logical fashion, given we are dealing with the resurrected dead here. Highlights include the sleazy Uncle Les, baby Selwyn (the issue of really wrong zombie sex), and Father MacGruder who kicks arse for the Lord.

"Your mother ate my dog!" - Paquita
"Not all of it." - Lionel

Things explode into one hell of a climatic last twenty odd minutes that gives new meaning to the term "gore hay ride from hell". Apparently more fake blood and guts were splashing around the set here than at any other time in cinematic history. Jackson simply goes in for a fun over the top romp through the slaughter house with his tongue firmly in his cheek. The gore isn't exploitative or gorenographic in nature, the Kiwi Director shows us how it feels to dive into a pool full of guts, and as Audience members we are offering virtual high fives to Jackson for doing so. If you don't mind movies that up the ante on the anti-social then you will be right at home here, just don't leave the DVD around for your tween sister to slip into the player by mistake. It should be noted that Jackson is so over the top in the mayhem and fountains of gruel that it's hard to take seriously, welcome to the whole point of the movie.

I guess I'm running out of space here, but Braindead is such fun that you just want to keep talking about it. Lionel, who spends much of the movie as a mummy's boy, morphs into a sort of Ash like character who sports a lawn mower to get the job done rather than a boom stick. Of course all the shotties in Kiwiland are otherwise deployed in duck hunting, Daffy is an endangered species over in Aoteraroa, but lawn mowers are pretty much a requirement of every household.

"Stay back boy this calls for divine intervention!" - Father MacGruder

Jackson makes a pretty good effort at creating a 1950s atmosphere and bringing a general sign of the times type of vibe to things. The props department gets two huge thumbs up here for sourcing and using a whole bunch of 1950s artifacts that are pretty identifiable to kiwis. Besides the grocery store cartoon character, the cars, the clothes, and the surprisingly effective use of local houses, all the characters are in tune with their 1950s attitudes and outlooks on life. Reactions are steeped in a bye gone era and the general feeling is of a far more naīve time. It takes a special Director to really bring a period feeling to things and to ensure no one slips into a modern viewpoint.

There's a mixture of styles prevalent in the movie that reflect Jacksons reaching for an almost parody of a horror movie. Besides shots and camera angles that owe a depth of gratitude to Hammer horror epics, there's a "B" grade feeling to things that William Castle would have been proud of, and certainly a 1970s style main stream horror style is referenced. Jackson is happy to not only gross out the audience, but to add some fun times at central high, and to wrap things in a atmosphere that will ensure you are never going to get too comfortable as Lionel makes bad decision after bad decision.

"They're not dead exactly, they're just... sort of rotting." - Lionel

Timothy Balme (Lionel) goes it wide eye and innocent as the movie gets underway but equally handles the Bruce Campbell requirements late in the movie. I was digging on Balme's work here. Diana Peņalver (Paquita) also goes with the naīve approach, and sure can use a blender to good effect. Elizabeth Moody (Vera "Mum" Cosgrove) was larger than life and nailed the evil mother role. And Ian Watkin (Uncle Les) was suitably sleazy.

"Is that the one with the donkey and the chambermaid?" - Uncle Les

Peter Dasent provided a pretty whacked out score that takes influences from traditional horror movements, 1950s stylings, and some pretty out there sound effects. Originality is the key here and you are going to be impressed.

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Summary Execution

As zombie movies go Braindead doesn't exactly match either the hard core gore efforts or the go for broke zom-coms. It mixes the two effectively, simply opens the floodgates on the blood and guts, and presents a pretty solid plotline that had me nodding my head in approval. I was grooving along from the prologue to the closing credits and had a fine old time. One of the best zombie movies I've seen in a while.

Braindead was the final in Peter Jackson's early trilogy of independent movies before he moved onto more serious studio style outings. Of course this was all before his international breakthrough with the Lord of the Rings cycle. For many Jackson's early movies remain his best and most original.

Clearly if you are a horror fan then you should make it your business to catch a screening of Braindead and you should really make it a requirement for your DVD collection. Non horror fans can also groove to what's going down as long as they are prepared to take things as they come and be prepared for gallons of blood. One of those movies that are a must watch to round out your horror experience.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Peter Jackson delivers on a cult classic that stands the test of time.