Braindead is an utterly quirky, thoroughly cringey, yet ultimately entertaining grotesque black comedy from esteemed director Peter Jackson. He sure has an extensive filmography, ranging from epic fantasies to science fiction madness that truly stamped his admired capacities as a visual storyteller. However, one can find his freakish inclinations in this genre melange. Significantly inventive, it blurs the line between comedy and horror, neatly responding to the query of whether the former genre should be tampering and mingling with the lore of the latter.
Gore aficionados who are spoiled by the grisly body horror accentuated by David Cronenberg’s films should feel familiar with the idiosyncracies of Jackson’s Braindead. However, the former’s horror takes do not occupy as much as devil-may-care vehemence as the latter’s film. Cronenberg’s offerings are admittedly blood and guts, but they possess some sense of urgency and sincerity, one that isn’t for laughs. As Cronenberg indulges you with appalling bodily transformations, the aftershock engenders guilt and conscience, making loathly images more emotional than entertaining. Braindead, on the other hand, made bloodbath fun and horrifying at the same time. Jackson did not compel us to feel conscientious on relishing the novelty of bloodshed and body horror. Aside from this, the amount of creativity in this film raised the bar for the capacity of horror films to scare beyond usual tension-building and hackneyed jump scares.
Lionel, a young guy living in Wellington with his stern mother Vera, is the protagonist of the story. His mother is bitten by a smuggled hybrid rat-monkey from Skull Island and begins to change into a zombie, infecting the rest of the town while Lionel falls romantically attached with a girl named Paquita. Clearly, its horror comes from the blood splatters and insane body mutilations. There are numerous episodes in the film that consists of absurd disfigurements. The very first carnage, where a group of men dismember an explorer after being attacked by the wild rat monkey, orients the audience to expect a great extent of unflinching and inventive splatters in the long run. The unpredictability of every gore scene propels us to squirm and move away from the screen, implicitly fearing what might happen in the following sequence. This response determines that the surprise from its volatility is the horror it aspired to forge and employ.
On the other hand, the comedy comes from the carnage too. At most times, blood is a harbinger of perturbation. Yet, after overcoming the brutal tremor caused by erratic blood bouts in the film lies an outrageous and preposterous aftertaste every time someone’s head gets torn out, a body part gets mangled or things alike. This byproduct of the previous preoccupying distress resets the flavor of our palate, converting our stress with laughter after seeing such ludicrous yet well-executed bloodshed. Every macabre mutilation is utterly impossible yet highly laudable. Who would’ve thought that a dining disturbance can be so disgusting and unthinkable yet imaginative and entertaining at the same time? Their humor lies in their comedic timing and delivery of the impossible.
The film capitalizes on its kitsch value and is triumphant in doing such. The campy acting and excessive graphics may disturb the perfectionist among us, but Jackson’s direction proves these essential in creating an effective piece of entertainment. Conceiving a playful and smooth transitioning of events, from a flourishing romance to the unforeseen spread of the virus, is a feat Jackson pulled here as a renowned storyteller. The escalation of the narrative did not waver but acquired more suspense as the story deliberately unfolds. The circumstances are rather spontaneous, but they make sense in a good and bad fashion.
The film reassures us of its novel endeavor when it consistently showcases insensible events that don’t usually apply in films, let alone real life. Instead, it maximizes its extreme graphics and absorbing storyline to create an iconic zombie gem that doesn’t follow logical rules but still prevails among horror classics. As I said, it does not demand that we think or empathize. Relatively, we are invited to consume and digest the horror until its vulgarity becomes ingrained in us. Braindead wants us to watch, absorb, follow, and live the panic until the very last drop of blood on the screen.
This film is not lacking in impressive bits that are wholly iconic. Many revered scenes deserve to be reviewed and relished repeatedly to savor the peculiarity of every death and action sequence. There is this pretty quick frame where Uncle Les stood proudly behind his pile of dismembered limbs. It sends chills down the spine, not because of his slaughter, but because of how well-orchestrated that shot is. The deliberate movement of the camera, the terrifying semblance of the Kubrick stare, and the heap of amputated body parts is a chilling frame worth plastering on every horror enthusiast wall. Not a moment is wasted during the final act, as creating special effects and adrenaline-induced scenes keep on piling up as if there’s no room to breathe, yet gasping for air is the ultimate payoff while seeing it.
The protagonists are interesting because they know the stakes of stopping and idling around. They always think of a way to turn things around when they’re only an inch away from their impending doom. Even though Paquita let her fortune dictate her current situation, she never caved in, but she managed to keep her cool and fought for herself and her companion during the bloodshed in the mansion. Even when an acquaintance turned into a zombie, she never hesitated to do the sanest thing most people in zombie films usually overlook: to scrape out the sentiments and kill the person who obviously disintegrated into an undead. She’s even more grounded to reality than Lionel because Lionel chooses to keep the zombie fiasco under wraps than address the issue before it gets out of hand. Her mental power and determination make her a much more well-rounded person than Lionel.
Expecting the film to be a garden-variety, logically orchestrated horror presentation is ridiculous because intrinsically, zombies themselves are born out of abnormality. Also, thinking that the film could’ve been great if the morbid entertainment will be scrubbed out is only a result of the present, hyperventilated attitude towards the genre. Even Edgar Wright enjoyed the quirkiness of it. The film is essential from Jackson’s filmography and to the expanding landscape of the zombie subgenre.
I am a 4th year Journalism student from the Polytechnic University of the Philipines and an aspiring Filmmaker. I fancy found footage, home invasion, and gore films. Randomly unearthing good films is my third favorite thing in life. The second and first are suspending disbelief and my girlfriend.