Halloween Countdown: Dead Alive



(In anticipation of the coolest day of the year, this month-long series will offer one recommended horror flick a day up through Oct. 31.)


DEAD ALIVE (1992). Several years before he endeared himself to fanboys and Oscar voters alike with his Lord of the Rings adaptations, Peter Jackson was the guiding force behind a handful of idiosyncratic features in his native New Zealand. One such effort was Dead Alive, a film so excessively gory that it makes the De Palma-Pacino version of Scarface look like a vintage episode of Reading Rainbow by comparison. Yet those who can accept the gruesomeness with tongue firmly embedded in bloody cheek will enjoy a film that's clearly influenced by Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead in its ability to gleefully mix slapstick humor with demented special effects. Set in a small New Zealand town, this finds the meek Lionel (Timothy Balme) caught in a tough spot after his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) gets bitten by a hideous Sumatran rat monkey and eventually turns into a festering, decomposing zombie. Lionel must care for the undead population quickly building in his basement even as he hopes to romance the sweet Paquita (Diana Penalver), but matters take a turn for the worse when his obnoxious Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) decides to throw a house party. The effects by Richard Taylor (who would go on to win five Oscars working under Jackson) are often outrageous — dig that creepy zombie baby! — and the sweetness of the relationship between Lionel and Paquita manages to be effective even in the midst of all the mayhem. Look for Forrest J Ackerman, the late, great editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, as the zoo patron reading a magazine (Famous Monsters, natch).