Directed by Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig. Starring Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter. (2003, R, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 8, 2005
On the off chance you’re a vegan horror-phobe – not so much of a stretch in Austin, I’ll admit – well, pal, I feel for you. With the ongoing undead film revival (Edgar Wright’s brilliant "romantic comedy with zombies," Shaun of the Dead; Zack Snyder’s fine remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead; and Romero’s own Land of the Dead) the cineplexes are positively overflowing with flesh-eaters. Romero’s newest is a bloody-yet-hopeful capstone atop 35 years of scaring the bejeezus out of us and takes narrative horror films and the outrageous effects that so often define them further than anyone could have imagined, although it feels like the final volley from the Pittsburghian auteur. And that’s fine with both the Fangoria crowd and those who look to Romero for not only one hell of a nightmare made all too plausible, but a meaty metaphorical subtext to boot. Unfortunately for the Australian filmmaking sibs Michael and Peter Spierig, Lion’s Gate has only just now decided to distribute their film Undead. Their occasionally nifty little zombie/alien epic from down under was filmed in 2001 and released in its native Australia in 2003. Now, yet another two years later, the American release of Undead may strike some as too little, too late. The storyline, which has the residents of the backwater Aussie burg of Berkeley taking up arms (and legs, and assorted viscera) against former townsfolk after a bizarre meteor shower renders them gooey, bloodthirsty ghouls with a penchant for slapstick in a jugular vein (à la Peter Jackson’s 1987 madcap debut Bad Taste), is a worthy setup. As always, there’s the combustible band of mismatched survivors, here led by saucy beauty queen Rene (Mason) and the mysterious stranger Marion (McKay, wonderfully over-the-top in the conspiracy theories department) – a gun-toting, armaments loving badass who’s part Sergio Leone machismo, part Randall "Tex" Cobb, and all savior just waiting to kick some zombie butt. Holed up in the traditional no-exit household alongside a local lawman (Hunter) and his partner (Emma Randall), plus the requisite parents-to-be Wayne (Jenkins) and Sallyanne (Cunningham), Undead nails every zombie cliché right between the eyes, and does it with a distinctly Aussie sense of humor. It’s tempting to view this, the Spierigs’ debut, as a comedic homage covering everything from the Romero oeuvre to Jackson’s far-superior Dead/Alive, but that wouldn’t be fair. Undead arrives at the tail end of a recent and very substantial cinematic zombie overdose. There are only so many ways to slice the walking dead, and Bruce Campbell’s Ash, with his trusty boom-stick at the ready, has already done most of them ages ago, not to mention Ken Foree, Lori Cardille, and – yikes! – Sarah Polley. Undead succeeds in its CGI effects work (initially by the Spierigs and later from ARC FX) and Steven Boyle’s ever-creative undead dispatching techniques. By the time the aliens show up to spirit everyone away in the third act – yeah, I said aliens – you’re likely to be hoping someone offers the clearly talented Spierigs a production budget worthy of their as-yet-unshackled skills. They’re no Peter Jackson, but then neither was Peter Jackson when he shot Bad Taste, or even Meet the Feebles.