From the grass-roots movie-world of good ol' Australia comes Undead, an "everything and the kitchen sink" genre stew that's equal parts splatter, sci-fi, satire, and outright weirdness. It's not particularly unique, nor is it, by my estimation, destined to become the cult classic it so desperately wants to be ... but as someone who's always had a soft spot for low-budget indie horror and the fine people of Australia, I found enough to enjoy here to warrant a recommendation to my fellow gore-geeks.
The setting is the backwater burg of Berkeley, Queensland, and something decidedly strange is afoot. Small particles of space-rock are hurtling through town, a few of which splatter themselves directly through some of the citizens. And if that's not bad enough, it seems that these space particles come with a nasty side-effect. Basically, they turn people into your standard ravenous zombies.
A small gang of disparate dumbasses get holed up in a cabin together, but are forced to seek new lodgings when they discover that there's no food to eat. So off they go into the zombie-covered Aussie plains...
...and then things really get weird.
Basically, Undead feels like something cooked up by a hyperactive 14-year-old with more imagination than storytelling ability. First-time filmmakers Michael & Peter Spierig are not ashamed to wear their genre-love on their blood-splattered sleeves, but one gets the impression that with Undead, the enthusiastic young fellas tossed about three too many ingredients into the crock pot.
When Undead sticks to the standard zombie-flick conventions, it's a fairly successful (if not particularly unique) homage to Romero's trademark sub-genre ... but Undead also manages to wander deep into spacy sci-fi territory, gets helplessly lost near Act III, and never really manages to get itself back on track. The end result is a movie that boasts several isolated scenes which stand out and command your attention, but it's never able to congeal into a satsifying whole.
Those Spierig boys do everything they can to provide the pulpy dramatics and over-extreme splatter-bits that'll earn their flick a few comparisons to Peter Jackson's early work, and some of the bits really do shine -- but the brothers always seem to veer in one specific direction for way too long. Sometimes Undead is a broad, physical comedy ... but then it also wants to be kinda scary and intense. And then a whole bunch of outer-space hoo-hah gets teleported in from left field, which will prompt even the most devoted genre fan to stop for a second, scratch his head, and go "Whaaaaa...??"
But for all its mood swings and intermittently self-defeating tonal shifts, Undead sure isn't boring. Indulgent and silly, loud and obnoxious, joyously juicy and pretty darn insane, yes -- but never boring. And it's always great to see a colorfully crazy horror-type flick emerge from other shores. Just in the past few months I've been treated to gory delights from Australia (Undead), France (High Tension), England (Evil Aliens & The Descent), Japan (Infection), Ireland (Dead Meat & Isolation), and a bunch more I can't even remember because I watch way too many horror movies -- and it's consistently fun to see the numerous horror conventions tweaked, teased, and touched up from young filmmakers all over the globe. Apparently we all grew up watching the same exact horror flicks, and these young filmmakers, though perhaps a bit rough around the edges, clearly possess a deep, passionate, and appropriately irreverent affection for the genre. Undead might be a huge, loud, stonking mess, but for the most part it is oddly entertaining -- and the splatter moments (the ones that avoid the usage of CGI, that is) are suitably, sloppily satisfying.
My bet is that those nutty Spierig boys learned a lot of great lessons with Undead, both during the production and after the flick was unleashed across the globe. Here's hoping they storm back with a sophomore effort that's just a little more cohesive and a little less scattershot, because there's some really solid stuff in Undead, but it's surrounded by a lot of rambling nonsense that doesn't bring much to the party.
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1), and (considering the seriously low-budget origins of the flick) the picture quality is pretty darn impressive.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 (English only) with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. The aural presentation is just fine, although you might notice that the volume levels range from soft-spoken dialogue (which, admittedly, is pretty rare in this movie) to blaring musical cues.
Love the flick or hate it, there's no denying that Lions Gate has packaged it up with a whole lot of extra treats! First up is a pair of audio commentaries, the first one with the writing / producing / editing / directing / FX team of Michael & Peter Spierig, make-up artist Steve Boyle, and cinematographer Andy Strahorn; the second chat-track is with cast members Mungo ("Marion") McKay, Emma ("Molly") Randall, and Dirk ("Hunter") Harrison. The crew track is the more technically-minded, of course, but all of the Aussies look back on their goofy little flick with much affection (and amazement).
Moving on to the Behind the Scenes section of the extras menu...
Supanova Convention Q&A with the Cast and Crew(4:34) -- The Undead gang visits a pop culture expo in Sept. '04 and answers a few interesting questions from the patrons.
The Making of Undead (35:40) is a very entertaining look at the production process on this exceedingly low-budget import. Cast and crew members share their own Undead war stories in between frequent trips to the set. From pre-production to shooting to post-time spent on music and FX, this nifty little featurette packs a lot of info into a colorful little package.
"Midnight Madness" - The Toronto Film Festival Screening (9:04) goes with the Spierig brothers to North America's most prestigious film festival, where Undead was included among the midnight movie selections. Interestingly enough, this was the very last movie that would ever play at Toronto's (now-gone) Uptown Theater, and what a lovely movie palace it was. The festival patrons whoop it up before and during the flick, and then settle in for a jocular Q&A with the sibling directors after the credits have rolled.
The Zombies - Internet Featurette (1:45) is a brief look at what goes into zombie-making: make-up, contact lenses, exercise, and gore.
Rounding out this supplemental section are some Camera and Make-Up Tests (2:12), a Homemade Dolly Construction Video (2:04), and an Animatic to Film Comparison (11:59) of the movie's big finale.
Check out the Undead Trailers section for the internet teaser trailer (0:22), the (apparently non-internet) teaser trailer (1:32), and the Australian theatrical trailer (2:29).
Under the Extended Scenes heading you'll find the following:
Bank Scene (1:45)
Agent on Phone Scene (1:17)
Cricket Scene (1:58)
Entering the Bomb Shelter Scene (3:48)
Alternate Title Scene (0:34)
There's also a Deleted Scenes vault that delivers:
Basement Scene (0:31)
Bomb Shelter Scene (3:08)
Action Moments (0:32)
Outside the General Store Scene (1:04)
Wayne at the Register Scene (0:43)
Capping off an impressively swollen goodies department is a collection of Artwork and Design Sketches and a Saw 2 preview.
Take the iconic hero-type from The Evil Dead, the nasty-ass aliens from Independence Day, and the shufflin' corpses found in every zombie movie ever made, and toss 'em all into a blender with a liberal shot of self-deprecating Aussie wit ... the result is Undead, a comedic horror sci-fi mixture that manages to be sly, stupid, obvious, and creative -- and often all at the same time.