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Apr 11

Dead Alive (1992)

With Mother’s Day soon approaching, I thought I would review a film about the relationship between mother and child. Which film, though? Finding a suitable candidate shouldn’t be too much trouble; after all, there are countless memorable screen mothers to choose from. I could write about Bambi’s mom… but she meets an untimely end that managed to traumatize an entire generation of children. I could write about Kevin McCallister’s mom… but she misplaces her son when she goes on vacation, twice. I could write about Norman Bates’ mom… but he murders her and dresses up in her clothes when he kills women he likes. I guess there is no perfect mother-child relationship. So how about we go with an exceedingly unusual one, the relationship between living child and zombie mother, as featured in the cult favorite Dead Alive (originally titled Braindead)?

Set in 1950s New Zealand, Dead Alive centers on the blossoming romance between a gentle young man, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme), and the exotic woman he fancies, Paquita (Diana Peñalver). Lionel’s mother (Elizabeth Moody), however, is displeased with the relationship. No relationship will ever do, really, as she selfishly wishes to keep her son all to herself. Unfortunately for Paquita, Lionel appears content wriggling about the few millimeters between the ground and his heavy-handed mother’s weighty thumb. Things are further complicated when Lionel’s mother is accidentally bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey (yes, you read that right) and develops a nasty case of zombititus. Lionel, the loving son that he is, ultimately decides to tend to his zombie mother and her exponentially growing number of flesh-chomping victims, while simultaneously continuing to woo an oblivious Paquita.

Quirky premise? By golly, yes. Outlandish situations? Most certainly. Too much nonsense for one film? I suppose it would have been, had it not proved to be so many buckets of fun! And blood. Lots of blood. To be sure, Dead Alive is a gory, gory romp. Still, director Peter Jackson, of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) fame, makes it work because he is fully cognizant of the material he’s working with, masterfully harnessing its utter preposterousness. With its tongue firmly in cheek, Dead Alive is stylishly reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s earlier, yet equally enjoyable, The Evil Dead trilogy (1981-1992). A word of warning, though: packing an unholy amount of gore, Dead Alive is not for those who get woozy at the sight of a single drop of blood. However, special effects remain delightfully shoddy, so queasy stomachs shouldn’t be too bothered. Another plus: unlike most of its horror kin, Dead Alive has the decency to avoid ending with a sequel-setting cliffhanger.

According to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (in Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, 1930), overbearing mothers mess up their children by rousing within them an insatiable appetite for affection. Despite this dire prediction, Lionel appears to have survived his mother’s suffocating approach to parenting, at least to a certain extent. He has been dominated by his mother his entire life, even throughout adulthood. During the film’s over-the-top crescendo, he is literally consumed by her. But with a few swift and cathartic waves of a knife, Lionel manages to escape his mother’s entrails for the second time in his life (this time definitively leaving the proverbial umbilical cord behind). He emerges a new, independent man. Now, what is Mother’s Day if not the celebration of mothers who have successfully raised self-reliant children who would, if brought to it, viciously slay their zombified carcasses in self-affirmation?

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