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Case Number 07989

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Lionsgate // 2003 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 7th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson thinks zombies and Australian accents go well together.

The Charge

Crazy has come to town for a visit.

Opening Statement

I know what you may be thinking: Great, another zombie movie?! Will this genre ever die?!

Well, if a slick, funny, innovative film like Undead is a sign of what's to come, let's hope not.
(Oh, and if you weren't thinking that, I apologize for being so presumptuous.)

Facts of the Case

Undead doesn't waste any time. Five minutes into the film, meteorites rain down upon the small town of Berkley, spreading a disease that renders anyone it touches into a zombie. Soon, Berkley is overrun with the undead, and a small group of strangers find themselves battling the overwhelming horde.

Leading the survivors is Rene (Felicity Mason) and Marion (Mungo McKay—great name!), a large, well-armed fisherman who sees a grand alien conspiracy behind the rampaging zombie threat.

They first make their stand in Marion's farmhouse, picking off zombie after zombie with an array of weapons, but the undead marauders soon force them to flee to the city. There they find a mysterious wall and subsequently witness people being mysteriously beamed up into the sky, which confirms Marion's suspicions: aliens have landed

But the truth is something no one is prepared for.

The Evidence

What we have here is a horror/sci-fi/comedy much in the same vein of Peter Jackson's old-school splatterfests, particularly Bad Taste and Braindead. Sure, the actors' Australian accents are reminiscent of the Kiwis Jackson stocked in his films, but more than that, the light tone and abundance of goo is similar.

That much must be given to the writing/directing team of the Spierig brothers, Michael and Peter: they know how to film zombie violence. Undead is dripping with over-the-top gore—of the tongue-in-cheek variety—including beheadings, torso splits, intestinal fallout, and dozens of head shots.

I haven't seen this kind of bloody-fun mayhem onscreen in a while, and it's refreshing to see indie horror filmmakers stretch their budgets and ingenuity (as we see at length in the behind-the-scenes feature) to maximize the gore.

Again, this is not harrowing, horror-movie blood and guts; it's goofy, overblown, and physically impossible stuff. For example, zombies are cut in twain with a Club (the anti-theft device), their top halves are blown apart by some well-placed pistol rounds, Marion suspends himself upside-down by digging his spurs into the door archway, then proceeds to open fire, dual-wielding, and Rene is able to carve up zombie after zombie with a saw blade hanging loosely on the back of a shovel handle.

Depending on how you like your methods of zombie dispatching, you'll either love or hate the approach the Spierig brothers have taken. For the most part, I enjoyed this type of splatter—gratuitous but lighthearted. It worked for me (despite that ludicrous saw blade/shovel gag which was hugely stupid, and a far cry from Lionel's lawnmower rampage).

What also worked for me was the humor. Undead is a funny movie, despite its awful "funny" score. Aside from the gore-related gags, you'll get attacking zombie fish, deadpan apocalyptic monologues from Marion, and a clever bit about Rene's past as the Catch of the Day Queen.

Unfortunately, this wit takes a leave of absence about halfway through the movie, when focus shifts from zombie-killing to the sci-fi-heavy alien mystery. This change isn't necessarily bad, and the storyline proves interesting (bolstered by a nice reveal and a great end shot), but the tone shift is noticeable. If, however, you were on board with this film from the get-go, I don' think you'll mind, as the Spierigs did a solid job of keeping the story interesting and enigmatic.

Undead is a low-budget independent horror movie that looks great. The film has a great style about it, filmed mostly in blue and orange tints that contrast sharply with the deep red of zombie blood.

The visual effects work is solid, especially considering how many effects shots there are at the end; one big set-piece, involving a plane flying through a multitude of bodies suspended in the night sky, is particularly solid. Plus, the Spierigs did much of the effects on their home computers, so an extra gold star to them. Likewise, the makeup. The zombie designs aren't anything new, but are executed exceedingly well.

In a nutshell: Undead is an amusing, innovative, gory zombie film, obviously crafted by lovers of the genre. I think horror fans—particularly the Peter Jackson-style-of-film ilk—will enjoy it.

The 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer is sharp and attractive and the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is active, and makes solid use of the discrete channels. A great technical effort from Lions Gate.

This disc is loaded with extras. Two commentaries feature the crew on one track and the cast on the other. A multitude of behind-the-scenes featurettes show how the various elements of Undead came to be, as well as footage from screenings and interviews with the filmmakers. A handful of deleted and extended scenes cap the offering.

Closing Statement

Certainly far-fetched at some points, Undead is still a fun, gory treat for zombie fans. The Spierigs preserve the required ingredients of undead-moviemaking—blood, brains, and buckshot—and are able to add their own spin to the crowded genre. Recommended.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Shuffle off now.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 80
Story: 90
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Crew Commentary
• Cast Commentary
• "Making Of" Featurette
• Zombies Internet Featurette
• Toronto Film Festival Screening Footage
• Camera and Make-Up Tests
• Homemade Dolly Construction Video
• Animatic to Film Comparison
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Supernova Convention Footage
• Design Sketches
• Trailers


• IMDb

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