Undead (2003)

Director Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Writers Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Starring : Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall
Genre Zombie
Tagline Prepare Yourself
Country

The Brothers Spierig put together a bunch of short zombie flicks in preparation for making this their first ever feature length movie. By and largely they self funded the venture in the face of the various Government run Film Finance Corporation panting heavily over the latest Baz flick, yet another laconic outing, or an ethnic movie no one is ever going to bother seeing either on the big screen or on DVD. Naturally our Distributors took one look at a local zombie flick and decided the punters would be more interested in Hollywood remakes and yet more teen orientated slasher drivel. It should be ironic therefore that Undead was one of a hand fill of Aussie horror flicks to keep the local industry flag flying overseas as the movie went on to achieve critical acclaim, in the right quarters, and more importantly a result financially. The irony is clearly lost of course on Film Australia who have green lighted over thirty movies, very few of which should be financed beyond small screen presentation on either the ABC or more probably SBS. Naturally the Spierigs have bailed and are currently making movies in L.A. In another ironic twist their next movie the vampire epic Daybreakers is being touted as being an Aussie movie in some sectors of our media. Sorry no, this is a yank movie with Aussies at the helm, the days of trying to ride on Hollywood's coat tails are over folks. Naturally we'll cover Daybreakers in due course in our "ringin" section.

Talk us through it

Berkeley is a small farming and fishing community basking under the Australian sun with not a care in the world. Well besides a bank manager prepared to foreclose on a farm at the drop of a hat, but then again the concepts of "banks" and "tools" go together like Marsupials and Werewolves. Former "catch of the day" Rene is enduring one of those "responsibility" speeches from a bank manager who must work for the most half arsed institution in the country, they can't even afford decent strip lighting. Unbeknownst to the soon to be farmless Rene and the bank guy fragments of a comet are hurtling towards earth on a collision course with the town of Berkeley.

Rene wants to get out of Berkeley but may find this slightly harder than expected due to the space debris turning the deceased into flesh eating zombies. Seems our catch of the day can't turn a trick really. Rene is forced to take shelter with town eccentric Marion, Police Officers Harrison and Molly, and pilot Wayne and his heavily pregnant partner, and former "catch of the day", Sallyanne.

Just when we think we're in for the normal blood rush the movie takes a 90 degree turn into Sci-Fi and delivers one of the more unique zombie outings thus far in the new century.

Ready to face the zombie fish of doom?

Review

"When I was a kid, we fuckin' respected our parents, we didn't fuckin' eat 'em!" - Harrison.

The Spierigs open their movie with a blazing comet racing across the heavens that suddenly explodes with pieces of the comet falling to earth just like David Bowie did. I was actually reasonably pleased that the Aussie Directors bothered giving an explanation to their undead outbreak as normally most modern zombie flicks simply revolve around the notion that it just happened. Sort of like a virulent outbreak of flu. I guess they had to provide an explanation as the final act of the movie heads off the normal zombie garden path and into the dark brush of Sci-Fi.

While all hell rains down on Berkeley Rene is facing her own personal hell in the form of the world's most obnoxious banker foreclosing on the family farm. I'm not entirely sure if Rene is overly upset by this development or not really. You have to wonder if dudes walking cows through the middle of a town is a good sales point for that town, though of course the rural peace and I guess fishing is a tick in the positive column, if you can just get past the whole flesh eating zombie thing. Getting back to Rene I just have to applaud the Spierigs for hitting the atmosphere exactly right in the bank scene. As Rene's world comes crumbling down in a darkened badly illuminated room outside it's bright sunshine on a day that makes you just want to hang a "gone fishing" sign on the letterbox and head to the local waterways. Naturally bright and happy thoughts don't last for long as the first signs of the zombie plague start to go down. Who would have thought that nice old lady getting her groceries would end up with a honking great hole through her due to space debris and a hankering for human flesh. Bugger me, as one of the characters aptly put its.

Naturally just when you are thinking "just walk away Rene", [Editor's note: *groan*], she directs her "manager" to take a short cut out of town that everyone else seems to have also decided to take. Cutting to the chase the "manager", who is pretty much an obnoxious plot point, becomes zombie fodder and Rene goes all Ellen Ripley on us with the judicious use of a car lock on one of the walking dead. Enter local eccentric Marion, carrying more firepower than a Victorian rapid response unit, who makes quick work of some zombies before disappearing into the bush once again. Yes the man is enigmatic, though we will in due course learn his story, that involves alien abductions, zombie fish, and shaving foam. Okay may have got one of those wrong. Notably the idea of the shotgun was originally develop for the Kiwi drama Utu.

The Spierigs have made the sort of movie Baz should be making, assuming he does actually have some talent and isn't going to simply remake that ballroom dance movie yet again.

Undead is looking like it is headed down the Romero highway with Rene finding shelter in an isolated farm house that just happens, in a plot twist that many Tasmanians didn't see coming, to belong to the reclusive gun happy Marion. However the Spierigs have thrown in a few indications that not all is going to go according to the zombie playbook. What are those columns of light shooting down from the sky that seem to be transporting the local fauna to the heavens, and what's with the acid rain? Now I know that a "hard rains got to fall", [Editor's note: double *groan*], but come on our survivors are battling the zombie hordes here can we cut the extra dangers.

Our final two couples make the scene, which hey just like Romero's Night of the Living Dead, brings our survivor number up to six, and the siege part of the movie sets in. This is actually pretty quickly dealt with and I kind of get the feeling the Spierigs are parodying Romero's classic blue print for the modern zombie flick. Okay bare with me on this one or heck if you get bored than jump to the next paragraph and forget I mentioned the "R" word. Okay the easy bit first, Molly who spends most of the movie resembling a stunned mallet with only brief interactions with the other survivors is of course the stand in for "they're coming to get you" Barbara from Romero's flick. Barbara spends great hunks of the night almost in a comatosed state, and we're apt to forgive her that due to the untimely demise of Johnny, while Molly is about as useful as a Waratah running back. Naturally Marion fills in for Ben, Marion has all the answers it would seem until he's proven by movie's end to be working under a whole bunch of false assumptions. At least Marion has the whole concept of basement living as a priority which Ben didn't. Harrison is a dead set ringer for Harry Cooper, he's got no freaking idea what he is doing but tries to take charge of the situation. You simply know Harrison is going to go down quicker than a chocolate cake at a fat chick's birthday party. Our young couple Wayne and Sallyanne are of course the Aussie fill ins for that all American couple …. and ….. Which leaves us with Rene. About the only person we have left is Mrs Cooper, who does seem to be a take charge gal in Romero's outing though she's under the thumb of the obnoxious Harry. So I guess Rene is a modern upgrade to the character.

The Spierigs keep their siege down to minimum running time as the zombie extras threaten to take things down before the closing credits. As our survivors flee the farmhouse that dripped blood and used bullet cartridges we get further indications that this isn't going to be a straight zombie survivalist outing. Those shafts or light are still very much in evidence, though having tired of grasshoppers and the like they are now whisking away zombies, there's a huge metal wall encircling Berkeley, and gosh it looks like we might have ring wraiths making an appearance. Compounding our survivors growing list of issues to deal with is that gosh darn acid rain that just wont quit.

The final act of Undead sees the movie get off the zombie reservation and into some surprising developments. Without giving too much away help is at hand from an unexpected source, and the Rene gang may have got the odd thing wrong about the zombie menace. End of day there are no heroes here, just like in Romero's movie people make mistakes and bad calls. Nice to see a horror flick that doesn't paint things as black and white but has gray areas clouding our viewpoint about what we have just seen.

There's going to be a couple of places within Undead where zombie fans and the movie makers may part company. Firstly this monster mash is sort of wrapped up in a Science Fiction edifice that probably wont work with the core market. Yes there are Aliens involved, there is no anal probe, and at least one of the aliens is happy with who it is. Zombie purists are probably already thinking of a boycott, but hey you lot forgot about that whole Voodoo zombie origin thing so lets not bicker and argue about who's mudding the zombie mythos waters here. The other aspect of the movie likely to grate on some viewer's nerves is the character of the slow walking, slow talking Marion. Just think of him as a sort of Down Under Clint Eastwood circa Pale Rider. For mine Marion was one of the aspects of Undead I was nodding my head in approval over, a sort of savant without the arcane knowledge who gets it wrong rather than being a sort of saviour with mystical powers. You are either going to dig this character or really hate him, your call there.

Other than the obvious diverting from the zombie freeway to the apocalypse the Spierigs put on a pretty good walking dead flick that owes more to Return of the Living Dead than it does to Night of the Living Dead. The Spierigs throw in enough sight gags and one liners to ensure the audience are well aware they aren't being over serious here. Yes folks another horror comedy, but thankfully one that tends to work more often than it doesn't. The Directors go with the normal blue filters that must be cheaper by the dozen Down Under, everyone is using them, and integrate some pretty impressive CGI into things to round out our movie watching experience. Surprisingly rather than calling in Weta the Spierigs knocked things up on their laptops in terms of effects and even more surprisingly they do so to excellent effect. Undead looks like it cost a hell of a lot more than it actually did, which is on the bonus side as most AFC funded flicks look like they may have cost twenty bucks to make at most.

Undead sports some pretty good make-up effects, the zombies look dead while not being of the decaying type. I guess this has more to do with the "other worldly" aspect of the movie than the Spierigs shying away from some gross bits. The movie is however slightly let down by the props department who have some pretty haphazard effects going down. I'm talking wobbly shovels and exposed backbones here. It's not as bad as say an Ed Wood outing but it does look like the budget was skimped on when it came to this aspect.

Felicity Mason (Rene) was pretty much spot on for the role and drives her character to new realisations as Undead progresses to a final scene that both can be seen coming and which is slightly surprising in content. You can ready believe Rene has picked up the Marion burden due to Mason's performance, though perhaps the actor needed to add a slightly more emotional side to her character. Mungo McKay (Marion) is either a love or a hate proposition in Undead. McKay nails his reclusive character, but views as to his abilities depend largely on what you think about that character. I'm giving two thumbs up and anytime McKay's in my neighbourhood I'll shout the first round. Notably, once again just like in Night of the Living Dead, there is no love interest between the two major characters.

Rob Jenkins (Wayne) is doing the sort of bogan ocker bloke that doesn't exist anywhere except in local movies. I'm over the character type and just viewed Jenkin's performance as clichéd. Lisa Cunningham (Sallyanne) does the chick bogan thing, it was funny in Muriel's Wedding, it's past it's used by date. Dirk Hunter (Harrison) is I guess the odious comic relief, but does manage to drop more f-bombs that a pub fill of Rabbitoh supporters. And finally Emma Randall (Molly) does her impression of a stunned mullet, not a demanding role and Randall can stand around looking gormless with the best of them.

No T&A to report folks, guess the days of wild Aussie film making are long gone.

Cliff Bradley presented a score that I took no notice of, guess I must have been engrossed in the movie then.

Summary Execution

Undead was one of two movies I promised myself I would review when we finally decided on the new site direction. From memory it was a personal fave but I hadn't seen it for quite a number of years. The movie did live up to my memories of it and I found it to be a fun romp in the zombie night without my having to put the old brain in gear. Am now really looking forward to seeing what the Spierigs can do with their first Hollywood outing.

Finding the bugger proved to be a hell of a lot more harder than expected. Seems you can't beg, buy, or steal a copy from the Distributor. I was at one point going to import the R1 release via amazon.com, they have a more funky cover to be honest, but got a last minute reprieve via someone selling a copy over eBay. So long story short, one of those movies it is going to take you sometime to track down unless you luck out at a garage sale or via an online auction place. They really should re-release Undead, yo Umbrella looking at you.

A zombie movie that dares to take time out of the groove to present something slightly new, I just got to recommend that. Undead parcels the zombie menace up in Sci-Fi gift wrap and is whistling a happy tune while it does so. One for the Rom-Com crowd, and those of us wanting a change from the usual apocalyptic meanderings. Wonder if the Spierigs have thought of doing a sequel, that last shoot from Undead was on the money.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Hit amazon.com and order the movie, it's going to be well worth the wait for it to arrive.