Braindead (UK - DVD R2)
Before King Kong, and before the One Ring, there were guts... and lots of 'em
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About a year ago, one Peter Jackson officially became the highest paid director (initially) of all time, and he got the money for creating his dream project, a remake of King Kong. Before that, he became a household name because of his impossible direction of New Line's epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, for which he won a bunch of Oscars. Back in the mid-'90s, even the most avid Jackson fan wouldn't have thought for a second that this is where the creator of such bad taste comedies as, erm, Bad Taste, and Meet the Feebles would end up. If you'd asked me what the apex of the indie Kiwi's career would forever be when I was back in High school, I'd answer, without a second's hesitation, Braindead (or Dead/Alive, as it was known in my native land).
The story goes a little something like this: Lionel is a lonesome momma's boy, guilted into caring for his perfectly capable mother through years of mental abuse. Paquita is a shamelessly romantic immigrant girl, looking for the right man to complete her life. The Sumerian Rat Monkey is a beastly creature, who wants nothing more than to eat flesh and spread his horrible zombie disease. When Paquita is told it is her fate to be with Lionel, she cannot be stopped, and her innocent allure is a threat to Lionel's mother, who follows them on their date to the zoo...only to be savaged by the Sumerian Rat Monkey while spying on them from behind the bushes.
Lionel is again guilted into caring for his now zombifyed mother, finding no time to continue his budding relationship with Paquita. When his mother escapes the house and is hit by a bus, she is pronounced dead, and Uncle Lester comes looking for his share of the inheritance. The problem here being that Lionel's mother isn't actually dead, but undead, a fact that Lionel has decided to keep under wraps. How will he deal with the spreading zombie virus, how can he quell his gold digging uncle, and how can he win back his love? One thing's for sure, hilarity will ensue.
Braindead (the title has a similar double meaning to that of Bad Taste) may not seem like one of the three logical precursors to The Lord of the Rings at first, but this was a major step. Though Heavenly Creatures dealt with the mature and dramatic themes that'd later win him honour, and The Frighteners established his effects company WETA as a force to be reckoned with, it was this extremely ambitious zombie flick that cemented Jackson's talents in the greater public eye. No, it wasn't a film for everyone, especially not the weak-stomached, but it was a boundary-crossing breakthrough that few critics have been able to find real fault with. Who’d’ve thunk that the heir to the title of ‘Goriest Film of All Time’ would be so lovable, funny, and unabashedly romantic.
Oh, the romance amongst the viscera. Paquita and Lionel's predestined love is so endearing, and almost all the films tension comes out of their relationship's speed bumps, rather than the plight of the numerous zombie victims. Braindead may be my favourite romantic comedy of all time, because I really do care about the characters and their struggle. How many women would stand by a man whose mother ate her dog? That's true love. Jackson's Zom-Rom-Com predates Edgar Wright’s by more than a decade. It's too bad he didn't coin the phrase. I suppose being the highest paid director in history will have to be his substitute.
I won't play Mr. Highroad though, it's really all about the splatter in the end. I'm very hesitant to even refer to Braindead as a horror film, as it's far too gleeful to really ‘horrify’ anyone. The violence is strictly played for laughs, never is there a feeling of real animosity, and even the weakest of stomachs can usually get used to the icky excesses. And just when you don't think Jackson could take it any further, he does. Severed limbs not doing it for you any more? Have an eyeful of internal organs. Seen enough guts yet? Well, here are some living ones, complete with a gas-spewing anus. And least we not overlook the maniacally gooey lawnmower sequence. Lovely.
Um, this isn't the best-looking DVD on the market, but it is a totally uncut version. The US release, dubbed Dead/Alive is an unrated version, and contains most of the footage that was deleted for the US 'R' rated version, but is still missing several minutes of gags. The catch is that that version was anamorphically enhanced. This version is not, and is pretty filthy beyond that fact. Apparently there is one uncut and anamorphically enhanced version of the film on the market, a hard to find German release only available in a box set. I guess good luck finding one.
This UK disc is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, revealing a little more head and foot room not available on Artisan's region one release. The ratio actually alters itself throughout the film. The overall image is very dark, and very dirty, but still decent enough to be considered a definite upgrade from VHS versions. The Artisan release was actually too light at some points, and had some issues with edge enhancement because of it. I've included a comparison shot here.
This is a film that could use a 5.1 overhaul. Anyone who's listened carefully to the 5.1 track on From Dusk Till Dawn knows how much fun flying viscera can be. Unfortunately this disc is only available in Dolby Digital Mono. Mono doesn't hurt the film at all, it is of a low budget nature, but this is, again, a downgrade from the Artisan region one disc. The track is a bit fuzzy at times, but dialogue is clear (well, as clear as it can be with those Kiwi accents), and effects are splattery. At times the minimalist score can be slightly lost in the mix of glops and glorps, but is never lost completely. Not up to DVD standards, but again, slightly upgraded from VHS standards.
Well, there aren't any, unless you count the inclusion of the deleted footage.
Braindead is a splatter comedy classic, maybe even the splatter comedy classic. Peter Jackson fans that aren't aware of the director's earlier work should start here, as the film is generally more palatable than his first two films. The deleted footage really is worth the purchase if you're a fan, and even includes a few minutes more of lawnmower carnage. Basically, this, and the cut region one disc are simply placeholders in the hopes that Anchor Bay or some similar studio gets their hands on the film and releases a proper special edition. Let's keep out sticky fingers crossed.
You can purchase this and many other euro imports from Xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 19th August 2002
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby English Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 104 minutes
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