Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Pre-Hobbit Zombie Outbreak in Wellington, or Thoughts on Peter Jackson's Braindead

I have to admit, when I heard back in 2000 that Peter Jackson was directing a Lord of The Rings Trilogy my initial thoughts were something along the lines of: “You mean the guy who made Braindead?  Huh…”  (Also, I had no idea who Elijah Wood was). 
I had of course seen The Frighteners (1996) and Heavenly Creatures (1994), based on how impressed I had been with Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992) or Dead/Alive as it was released in the US and Canada, but it still seemed an odd production choice for what would become my favorite movie trilogy and arguably the greatest Tolkien adaptation to date.  Written by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (billed as Francis Walsh), the phrase black comedy doesn't begin to cover it, perhaps a black and blue comedy that succeeds as a gloriously bloody zombie exploitation film juxtaposed against a sentimental portrait of 1950’s Wellington. 
It’s an interesting plot device to set the movie in 1957 Wellington, 4 years before the director was born, and chronologically 11 years before Night of The Living Dead (1968).  It starts off with an Indiana Jones-style chase complete with angry natives followed by multiple dismemberments barely three minutes in, so you know exactly what kind of movie this is, before moving to what looks like the same neighborhoods as The Frighteners (1996) in suburban Wellington.
The bloody, beating heart of Braindead is a goofy love story develops between Diana PeƱalve as Paquita works at her family’s grocery store and Timothy Balme as Lionel, who lives at home with his mom.  After a bite from the rare stop motion Sumatran rat-monkey, Lionel’s mother Vera, as portrayed by Elizabeth Moody, is infected by the inevitable zombie virus and the movie degenerates into a surreal, transgressive and boundary-pushing gorefest that keeps topping itself with decapitations, ears falling into puddings, dog-eating, and (my personal favorite), the infamous lawnmower scene.
With Stuart Devinie as Father McGruder, the kung-fu priest who kicks arse for the lord, and a youthful Peter Jackson as the funeral home assistant.  Also look out for Famous Monster’s Forrest J. Ackerman cameo at the zoo.
The closest American equivalent is The Evil Dead, (1981) with a dash of Death Becomes Her (1992) but neither movie approaches the levels of zombie maniac intensity of Braindead, which has become the spiritual inspiration of New Zealand horror, the most recent offerings being What We Do in The Shadows (2014), The Dead Room (2015 with Jed Brophy, who coincidentally had an early role in Braindead as a zombie rockabilly punk), and Housebound (2014).

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).