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A zombie movie with a storyline? Surely not! But Undead actually uses something called a plot, which is unlike most other movies made for this small but dedicated cult genre. The only difference between this film and its younger cousin 28 Days Later is that it is all delivered very tongue-in-cheek. Filmed in Queensland for under one million Australian dollars, this film is the 21st century equivalent of what Sam Raimi and Co achieved twenty years earlier with their own opus filmed over a span of four years entitled Evil Dead.

I'm an Aussie myself and into everything Zombie or Post-Apocalyptic, so I was surprised to hear that a horror flick was being filmed in my country, the irony being that Queensland people are very taboo about a lot of things. Their reluctance to allow the more horrible of horror films to be made available is an issue in question, whereby certain videos like Re-Animator and Day Of The Dead have (or had) been banned from sale or rental in that state. Generally speaking, it's hard enough in Australia to finance a film at all because of the relatively low box-office performance that our own local product takes in, which is why you can count the number of horror flicks created here on one hand. And just like most Aussie movies, Undead embodies our unique sense of humour and (regrettably) our very thick "Orzie Ourtback" accent. So whether at home or abroad, this movie will either be admired or loathed by those who watch it, but Canadian filmgoers at least appreciated the effort that was made under the demanding conditions.

Undead
Undead is the end product of 2½ years of blood, sweat and persistence (more so than natural talent I'd reckon) by two brothers from the sticks in Queensland, Australia with the surname of Spierig. The production values of this and Evil Dead far outweigh their shoe-string budgets for the artistry onscreen (maybe not for all the acting though), which makes Undead a tribute to their impossible achievements.

Movie
René (Felicity Mason) comes back to her home town of Berkeley to try and save her parents' farmhouse on mortgage. She was also the town's Fish Queen the year before and all she wants to do is leave this place for good. A meteor shower soon rains down on this otherwise tranquil backwater municipality, turning everyone affected by this unknown phenomena into brain-eating vegetables. René escapes with the help of local yokel Marion (Mungo McKay) who seems to know that this event was coming for quite some time and they take refuge in his remote abode which doubles as his World Of Weapons store.

Soon after, newlywed couple Wayne (Rob Jenkins) and Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham) burst into his residence after having witnessed a gruesome dining with the ol' grey matter by someone with a serious vitamin B deficiency. Then if that wasn't enough, two coppers have arrived to save the day (not), namely new police-woman Molly (Emma Randall) and veteran Harrison (Dirk Hunter). For the next hour or so, these few remaining humans battle their way through the throng of white-eyed walking dead, each with a very serious limp. However, not everything is as it seems with other strange goings-on going on.

This script is probably the most complex ever made for a zombie flick although it never really had to be. It is also the most convoluted which makes for a somewhat confusing experience, especially for the legion of Zombie-film enthusiasts who must think that they are watching Gone With The Wind or similar.

Basically, Undead is just Evil Dead meeting up with a whole heap of other films that I would rather not mention here lest I spoil the storyline for you big time. I can tell you, though, that this is somewhat of a blend between Peter Jackson's two similarly-styled movies, The Frighteners and Brain Dead, where the characters are unsure of what they are dealing with whilst combining it all with a dark humour and some real gross-out moments. Also, quite a big homage is obviously paid to action-director John Woo with all of his graceful combat moves being faithfully reproduced here, including his now familiar trademark of "twenty or so gunshots coming from a six-shooting revolver pistol without having to reload" scenarios.

I had first heard about the Undead production when I read a small article placed on the Dark Horizons website and decided to follow its progress ever since, more out of curiosity than anything else. But I started having horrible thoughts about the last attempt at horror filmed in Adelaide Australia entitled Cut starring Molly Ringwald, and I just hoped to God that Undead wouldn't walk down the same path of celluloid oblivion. However, most of my fears were erased when reviews came flooding in (once Mr and Mr Spierig had finally struck a distribution deal for the movie) and I decided to check it out at one of our local independent cinemas. Unfortunately, the screening I saw at the time was as grainy as hell and the soundtrack sounded like it was coming through a tin on a piece of string. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed this film for the continual nods and winks it gave to the audience. If you get the chance to watch the theatrical teaser for Undead and enjoy it immensely for the mix of humour and horror on show, then this may well be your bed and breakfast - just don't complain if the movie doesn't really scare you though.

Undead
One of the things that proved to be a continual itch under my skin with Undead - I couldn't decide if it was taking longer for the zombies to reach their victims, or that the narrative itself was taking forever to be explained to me. In terms of the former, I have seen grandmothers on Valium with walking frames move faster than the Undead here. In respect to the latter though, that is what makes you want to watch the movie again and again to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of clues left behind on earlier viewings. The same can be said for earlier films such as The Usual Suspects and The Matrix where it usually takes the whole film to finally unravel all the clues presented to us, which in turn compels us to re-watch it for further insight. As for earlier attempts at zombie movies, I found that Resident Evil wasn't able to sustain my interest enough throughout because the characters just spent one hour going into a hellhole only to spend the other hour trying to get out of it. 28 Days Later however, whilst flawed in certain logic points, had me enthralled with the hopelessness of their almost futile situation to survive from hour to hour, day to day. I'm just hoping that the upcoming Dawn Of The Dead remake will do justice to this genre again.

Video
As most of you zombie buffs will know by now, this movie was filmed entirely on 16mm stock which was then boosted to 35mm using the latest(?) CG technology to minimise the ugly effects of this process. The same thing occurred with Raimi's Evil Dead and Spielberg's debut of Duel, but obviously these were accomplished film-to-film only where you can see the more negative aspects as presented on their eventual DVD releases. The Spierig Brothers knew where to best spend their extremely limited budget and this has come through in the very atmospheric artistic lighting and special effects throughout.

The quality of this 1.78:1, 16:9 enhanced image is considerably higher than what would have ever been reasonably expected by those in the know. The majority of this movie takes place in darkly lit interiors or at various dusk and night-time exterior locations, which must have placed an enormous challenge for the directors to produce a consistent look to the entire film. Every available light source (and light stand) must have been used to their maximum potential since there are very many shots with wonderful contrasts between light and dark. However some of the longer shots can exhibit a more bland presentation, but I'm sure that every shot was given as much chance as possible to shine through onto the 16mm film negatives.

Black levels are quite deep and shadow detail is mostly good except with a few scenes not quite coming up to reasonable expectations (almost down to the same level seen on Dog Soldiers). The colour schemes are purposely biased towards either the orange (10%) or blue spectrum (90%) for the film's running length, therefore skin tones are usually never rendered in their correct tonal hue. Regardless of this, the scarlet juice runs quite red in many of the splatter scenes. The focus on this image is again much sharper than what you think it should be, although it does retain a slightly soft texture and the occasional blurriness in a few scenes.

Finally, the one you've all been waiting for, grain. If I said that it makes little more than a cameo appearance here you'd think I'd gone peculiar. It doesn't show up too much because most of the shots were down-lit from their original filming to create many day-for-night sequences. The only time you ever encounter it noticeably is in the proper daytime scenes when everything is happy and joyful (for a little while). If I hadn't already known that this was filmed in 16mm, I would be hard pressed to say that it was.

Audio
Again, with a budget that didn't even allow for catering on site, liberties had to be taken wherever possible when producing this Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The thing is that the quality of this sound mix is quite involving and pleasant to listen to, although you get the now familiar sounds of gunfire that are part and parcel of almost any typical straight-to-video production. This, along with the music, are the only things that give away the fact that this was created with little more than a home recording studio setup.

Undead
The dialogue is pretty much clear and decipherable even with the on-location recordings that proved impossible to reproduce using ADR later on. There is a good deal of stereo separation on offer here as well as an effective split-surround environment for when all hell breaks loose. It's not on the same level as your typical Hollywood blockbuster but it serves the purpose admirably. The subwoofer however is probably the most surprising element here with a good deal of mood and undertone being generated from it, which does not draw attention to itself unduly. This is a case of doing very much with very little.

The Spierig Brothers claim that they wanted to steer away from the usual synthesiser scores that are apparently used in every zombie flick ever made. They admit to using sound sample libraries to create the most authentic feel of a full orchestra as possible, but I feel that you can't get much "synthesise-ier" than in this production. I think that the music here was way overdone, the same technique though has been better demonstrated in Farscape by not making it nearly as pronounced in the final mix. As the composer tells us, he also uses a few real instruments and voices to boost the "reality" of what we hear at the more critical junctures, so at least he went to a bit more trouble than most others of his trade.

Extras
After going through the supplemental material for this DVD, it is obvious that the Spierig Brothers know how to make the best movie possible when constantly running out of money. They also realise what it takes to give the real dirt for a behind-the-scenes look at not only the making of a film, but how a film is actually received by its fans. This is unlike most of the Hollywood DVD offerings which just gloss over or even romanticise the heaven that is their production schedule and the supposedly golden reception given by the audience. You also get the feeling that the Spiereg's drew much of their inspiration from the Mexican director Robert Rodriguez after watching his famed 10-Minute Film School featurettes. He is known to produce films that look as though a much bigger budget was actually afforded to it and this is exactly what the Spierig Brothers were aiming for with Undead from day one.

These two filmmakers also respect the intelligence of their fans enough to show you "what it takes" to create your own personal cinematic treat against all the odds - they delve into the many tricks of the trade that are quite often never even mentioned in the classier DVD extras these days. It seems no one in the film business ever wants the general public to know how certain effects are achieved, for risk that they may be out of a job etc. These guys are completely honest about their work and I was amazed to find out for instance how (un)powerful their home PCs were and what software package they utilised to generate the final product (find out more in the hilarious Toronto International Film Festival featurette). There are also some brief but interesting videos on using your ingenuity to build your own custom camera equipment as well as what different effects can be achieved from using various lighting techniques etc.

This DVD is a budding filmmaker's delight but only in the sense that it helps to encourage those people who have always wanted to follow their dreams to reality, but it hardly promotes itself as being easy-peasy from day one. You'd be surprised how much can be accomplished with very little at your disposal.

Undead
There are two audio commentaries here, the first with the two Spierig Brothers and the second from the entire cast of the movie. The directors' commentary is very interesting from a filmmaker's perspective and it even makes sense for those who have remotely no clue as to how a film is prepared, shot and produced. The two brothers often remind each other of certain events that occurred whilst filming, which makes for a great banter between the two. Unfortunately, whoever recorded this pair talking didn't take much care in where the microphones were placed since one of them sounds like he is in the far corner of the room, which results in a constant battle with the remote control to bump up and turn down the sound; I wouldn't be surprised if the directors recorded themselves. The cast commentary is nearly as legendary as the one found on Evil Dead II with the actors continually poking fun at each other as well as reciting their many memories of the hectic filming schedule. Again, there is a problem with people sounding much louder than others, but this isn't nearly as bad as in the first commentary.

The Making Of Undead (35 mins) is a raw nuts n' bolts affair that does not shy away from the stress and demands placed on and by the directors. This is a very tightly edited production which roughly follows the linear path from pre-production, filming and post-production with many interview snippets from many of the cast and crew providing explanations for all the behind-the-scenes footage in question. As the Spierig's would say, this project would not have been pulled off if not for the dedication of the cast and crew to put up with the many limitations that this shoe-string budget provided - who needs a catering truck or stunt drivers when you can do it all yourself with cans of baked beans and a brick on the accelerator pedal? Toronto International Film Festival (9 mins) is a wonderful vignette which showcases the very last screening of this movie on the very last day that the cinema itself was to open its doors. This is a Q&A from the fans for the two directors after the screening of the film there. They come up with some really funny anecdotes on the creation process as well as piling on their praises for everyone involved with the movie itself, including the cinema that held the screening.

The Zombies Internet Feature (2 mins) is essentially a quick repeat of the Making-Of generated for release onto the official website, though there are still a few titbits here to savour not seen anywhere else. Camera and Make-Up Tests (2 mins) is a series of various lighting and in-camera tricks showing the differences exhibited from various filming conditions. This is a brief yet extensive foray into everything you would want to know about creating your own filmic artistry. Homemade Dolly Construction Video (2 mins) shows how it is possible to create an effective camera dolly-track construction in your own backyard. Animatic to Film Comparison (12 mins) is the entire CGI-based finale alongside the rough animatics that were used to figure out which shots had to be filmed. The deleted scenes (11 mins) comprise of these sequences: Extended scenes of the Bank, Agent on Phone, Cricket; Alternate Title Sequence; Deleted scenes of the Basement, Bomb Shelter, Action Moments, Wayne at Register - these don't add up to much for the film's benefit and their excision is justified here.

Undead
There are also three trailers (Internet-only, teaser and theatrical)[/i]. The teaser in particular gives you the exact feel of what the film is all about, whereas the trailer is more down and dirty with only the wimpy male cop screaming like a girl to give away anything about its humour. Production notes & stills are nice to read but half of this is already covered in the video shorts. Artwork and design sketches are the hand-drawn designs of the Spierig Brothers giving the art department an idea as to what the dynamic duo wants constructed at next to no cost. Cast and crew biographies are about one page per actor and director, although this isn't entirely unexpected considering everyone's limited filmographies.

Overall
Video rental stores beware - until this DVD becomes available as a retail purchase, many of your rental copies will simply never be seen again. Most likely they will be flogged off on Ebay to satisfy the hunger of those who just can't wait a couple of months for it to be officially released on the street.

Personal opinion for this movie is split right down the middle. If you are the kind of person who doesn't mind letting a genre make fun of itself every now and then, I'm sure that you will find something enjoyable about this particular bending. But if you aren't into the Aussie tradition of "piss-taking" everything in sight, then you'll feel like this is a slap in the face to everything you take seriously about corpsical flesh-eating.

Either way, the extras here are obviously different from the typical fare from Hollywood which makes a nice change from all the usual hype about a director's own product. Sure, the Spierig Brothers continually talk about the brilliant work by everyone involved, but only from the technical side of things rather than the movie's place in serious cinema. And as the two director's put it, "We rented every $1 weekly horror video and figured that we could also make a movie which would end up in that section too". Good work, boys.


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