Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Brain Dead
"Braindead is the original and still the best."

Young Lionel (Timothy Balme) is devoted to his mother (Elizabeth Moody). He understands that she probably knows best, and that it is his duty to care for her, and that she only shouts at him because he gets things wrong. He realises that it's his fault when she's bitten by a crazed Sumatran rat monkey and undergoes a hideous transformation into one of the living dead, because he wasn't looking after her properly, distracted as he was by beautiful neighbour Paquita (Diana Peñalver). Naturally he continues to try to do his best for her, though it does get difficult when she develops a ravenous appetite for human flesh. It's tricky trying to keep this socially awkward situation quiet as the infection spreads and other members of their quiet New Zealand town begin biting each other. But Lionel is a good boy and he knows his mother wouldn't want a fuss.

Any number of zombie films have been built around gimmicks like this, and most of them have been awful, but Peter Jackson's 1992 classic rises above it all, contributing something genuinely fresh to the rotting genre and creating a movie which fans and non-fans alike will find enormously entertaining. Beautifully shot and sharply edited, this is first and foremost a character film, with Jackson capitalising on Lionel's innocent charm as he was later to do with his hobbits in The Lord Of The Rings.

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Will this well-meaning naif ever break the bounds of his conditioning? Can Paquita help him to come to his senses in time to save the day, or will she too become somebody's dinner? The story is gripping throughout, with a rich and thoroughly disgusting sense of humour. The zombie baby (the first of its kind) makes for a particularly entertaining interlude, as Lionel tries to take it for a nice day out and ends up booting it around the park, concerned onlookers tut-tutting but not wanting to interfere.

There's a subplot with Lionel's devious uncle, who has his eye on the house; and there's the wonderful Father McGruder, kicking ass for the Lord. Finally, there's the famous lawnmower death sequence, which has gone on to inspire such bold imitators as Boy Eats Girl, 28 Weeks Later and Black Sheep. Braindead is the original and still the best.

Banned in several countries on its release, heavily cut in others, Braindead goes out of its way to offend with its gratuitous lashings of gore, but it's all done with a tremendous sense of fun. You won't find many horror films as engaging or as meaty as this one.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2007
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Young Lionel's mother won't leave him alone - even after she's dead.
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Director: Peter Jackson

Writer: Stephen Sinclair

Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Devenie

Year: 1992

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: New Zealand


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