Genre: Horror/Comedy/Sci Fi/”Ozploitation”
Directed by: Michael & Peter Spierig
Starring: Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins
Year of production: 2003
Running Time: 100 min
Available at the Madman Online Store (DVD $19, Blu Ray $34.95)
Not sure if you’d like Undead? Well, there’s an easy, effective way to tell – put the disc in and watch the menu. If the image of a pair of legs with a piece of spine poking out the top, dancing across the screen, makes you laugh or cringe, or both, you’ll likely enjoy the film. But if films like Evil Dead are not your thing, there’s nothing for you here.
I hadn’t heard anything about Undead before watching it, and often the best way to go into a film is bias-free. I didn’t really know what to expect, but that simple, memorable image gave me a clear indication of what I was in for – a self-aware, gory, funny, B-grade zombie movie.
This was the Spierig brothers’ first film, and as their later, better-known film Daybreakers does with vampires, Undead puts an interesting spin on the zombie formula.
The film mostly follows a well-worn narrative, as a rural Australian town is overrun with zombies, and a small group of feuding townsfolk band together to survive.
René (Felicity Mason) is the town beauty, appearing in local pageants and advertising, but after her family’s farm is repossessed, she decides to head to the city to pursue bigger things. Unfortunately, a freak meteorite shower turns many townspeople into zombies, and leaving becomes much harder when a giant wall appears around the town.
She hides out in a farmhouse, where she meets other survivors, including Marion (Mungo McKay), a, gruff conspiracy guy who is strangely prepared for the infection, and claims aliens are involved. Others include a couple expecting a baby, a pair of panicky cops, and….
I’m actually going to interrupt myself here, to point out that I was racking my brain for ages trying to remember all the characters. I realised that the fact that I couldn’t recall them, and had to resort to IMDb to refresh my memory, doesn’t make a good case for the characters in the film. They are generally forgettable and don’t seem to develop through the film. Even Marion, the most interesting person in the film, began to grate on my nerves. His tough-guy lines, delivered so seriously, incite many a cringe. After watching the film I read an interview with the directors that indicated it was supposed to be funny, but in practice, the lines just come across as lame, macho quips.
The dialogue for the other characters is inconsistent, with some fairly funny lines scattered among others that were probably meant to be funny, but didn’t quite get there. The panicky cop is a good source of one-liners, but they’re lost in a sea of dropped lines from Marion. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t make myself like Marion. With a voice gruffer than Batman’s in The Dark Knight , and the appearance of a parent’s-basement-dwelling computer nerd, I couldn’t take him seriously. Yeah, I get that he isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but a degree of likeability is required in a main character. I couldn’t help seeing in him the Manwhore from Sexual Lobster’s animated shorts on NewGrounds. If you know what I’m talking about, you’ll understand how distracting it is.
It’s not until towards the end that the scenario is revealed to actually be quite clever. As the survivors navigate the town avoiding the zombified townsfolk, they encounter regular showers of acidic rain, and strange beams of light from the clouds that carry people up, adding weight to the idea of alien involvement. The last twenty minutes or so, as the weirdness falls into place and things begin to make sense, redeems the film from becoming nothing more than a generic genre piece that it attempted to make fun of.
The brothers are clearly inspired by classic B-movies, stating Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) and Peter Jackson’s early work (such as Bad Taste) as direct influences on their work. As such, the film is overtly ludicrous and silly, and excessively gory. The image of the disembodied legs and spine mentioned earlier is a perfect example of both, as is a zombie with a shovel lodged in its head trying to walk through a doorway, and Marion punching zombie fish. These are the moments to watch the film for. The action sequences are exaggerated to comic effect, as the rather stocky Marion performs acrobatic combat movements usually reserved for cliché hot chicks in action movies. Seeing a heavyset neckbeard pull handguns from unseen pockets, do a backflip, dig the spurs on his boots into the wall, and shoot zombies while hanging upside down, is something you won’t find anywhere else.
The visual style is where the film really shines, not just through the gory humour and outlandish action, but in the colours. At the beginning, the film is a yellowish, almost-sepia tone, giving it a warm, classical feel, and the accompanying scenes set up the town as the peaceful fishing community it was. Once the mysterious clouds cover the sky, frequently depositing the acid rain, the image becomes a dark, cold blue for the majority of the film, effectively setting the mood.
The bonus features included on the disc are nothing too exciting, but there are a lot of them. It has all the usual stuff, like trailers, image galleries, deleted scenes, “making of” featurettes, etc. If you’re into that sort of thing, the behind-the-scenes looks are interesting, showing how the zombie makeup effects were achieved on such a modest budget. And who doesn’t enjoy watching squeamish crew members spraying chunky fake blood onto walls and extras?
It’s hard to recommend Undead in a general sense. It will appeal to a niche audience, and within that niche, some may prefer the classic Evil Dead series, Brain Dead, or the recent exploitation films like Planet Terror and Machete. If you are a fan of this kind of film, then you will probably enjoy this. Just watch it with the understanding that it isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s not in the same league as the classics, but it is a noble attempt at an Australian entry to the genre, and with the unique spin of alien involvement and a bit of a twist at the end, the film has found a dedicated cult following.
I give Undead: