Braindead (1992)

A sick horror comedy set in a genteel 1957 New Zealand, where a strain of rabies-like zombiehood is imported by a Sumatran rat-monkey. While spying on her intimidated son (Timothy Balme) and his 'unsuitable' ethnic girlfriend (Diana Peñalver) as they take a trip to the zoo, an interfering and snobbish mother (Elizabeth Moody) is bitten by the truly repulsive animated beast and becomes a ravenous cannibal creature. Balme tries to cope with the situation and conceal his mother's infirmity, but the plague spreads and soon he has also to deal with a zombified nurse, priest and juvenile delinquent.

In the early stretches, writer-director Peter Jackson juxtaposes grotesque comedy - Moody eats her own ear with custard, the nurse has a china bird embedded in her forehead, a splattery conflict is played out against an episode of The Archers - but, like Balme, loses control entirely when the nurse and the priest mate to produce a hideous zombie baby who needs barbed wire over his pram to keep him down. Eventually, an entire party is infected and Balme has to destroy the creatures in a bloody lawnmower orgy before confronting a Godzilla-size mother who tries to swallow him with her womb.

In Braindead, the gore comedy of Romero's Living Dead and Raimi's Evil Dead is at once plagiarised and taken to a point of no return, yielding a parade of comic atrocities which is astonishing but, eventually, monotonous. It has trace elements of a plot in Balme's well-intentioned but disastrous attempts to look after his monstrous mother, but Jackson (as in his earlier Bad Taste and the puppet comedy Meet the Feebles) soon jettisons characterisations and story developments in favour of an orgy of tasteless splatsick effects. There are appalling coups of limb-lopping splatter like the zombie-head which is lit up like a lampshade when rammed onto a lightbulb, but the film works best in its occasional almost subtle touches like a squirming pile of constricting intestines seen primping itself in a bathroom mirror.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Empire


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