Monday, August 01, 2005

To all you Lord of the Rings fans out there...

Peter Jackson, who created the acclaimed movie versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, didn't always deal in hobbits and fairies. No, my friends... the rotund and bearded New Zealander is also responsible for some of the most demented pieces of cinema ever to grace the silver screen.

One of those is "Dead Alive," which is considered by some to be the most gruesome movie ever. Gallon upon gallon of red syrup was used in the making of this much-darker version of "Army of Darkness," and it certainly shows the director's influences - which, after having watched the hilarious zombie splatter-fest, would have to be primarily the gorier sketches from Monty Python and Italian horror progenitor Lucio Fulci.

It's certainly gross, but it's not the kind of horrifying movie you might expect if you've been (like me) watching a lot of George A. Romero movies lately.

Normally, in your stock-standard, playing-by-the-rules zombie movie, the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain, or at least sever it from the rest of the body. This has given other zombie directors an opportunity to use copious amounts of offal, red corn syrup, and explosive prothesis. This wasn't good enough for Jackson. In "Dead Alive," each bit of each zombie must be liquified in order to be quelled in its search for living flesh.

Yes. That means that there are zombie pieces -- sometimes the parts you take out of the turkey before Thanksgiving -- crawling around trying to waylay our rather Oedipally-challenged hero, Lionel.

Fortunately, after Lionel's mother is bitten by a hideous Sumatran rat-monkey, he's eventually given a chance (after a creative and gruesome use of a lawnmower on his uncle's former party guests) to work out his Freudian mother-fixation and commit to his strangely prescient girlfriend. At least by the time the movie's over.

And by then, we, the audience, have seen Lionel take a zombie baby for a socially-awkward walk in the park (at first, he finds himself unable to do away with the zombies, and instead keeps them sedated in the basement, feeding them custard, which doesn't work too well for the zombies with nasty neck-wounds), a Catholic Kung-fu priest, the worst case of facial rug-burn ever, and the largest, most hideous ass ever to be committed to celluloid.

Gore and guts are crucial elements to any zombie movie, and they're usually used to convey to the audience how fragile the human being really is in the grand scheme of things. For Jackson, however, the blood and gore is used more for, well, interior decorating.

And it's not just the over-the-top rivers of goo that make this movie so outrageous as to be funny. The music, editing, timing, and dialogue all propel "Dead Alive" far beyond "Army of Darkness" into the ranks of the best horror farces ever.

Which, come to think of it, is a pretty sparse formation, really. Oh well.

I wouldn't exactly call this a date movie. And you'll need a very dark sense of humor (and probably a good dose of '80s desensitization) to get through this one laughing. If you qualify, it would be a lot of fun over a case of beer with five or six of your closest pals. But skip the Paul Newman's Own Salsa when it comes to choosing snacks.