Undead (2003)

undead

“Are you a fighter, Fish Queen, or are you zombie food?”

The Scoop: 2003 R, Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig and starring Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay and Rob Jenkins

Tagline: Prepare Yourself

Summary Capsule: The people of a small fishing community are somewhat dismayed to find themselves turning into zombies after an odd meteor shower. Wait until the acid rain and zombie fish pop up, I say!

Kyle’s rating: If this film teaches you anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for ANYTHING! Zombies or acid rain or whatever: be ready!

Kyle’s review: Undead is a creative film that thinks outside “the box,” tries new things, and attempts to mix numerous genres, all while balancing genuine horror with genuine laughs. That it fails almost completely, at least in my opinion, appears to be more a fault of the characters and the actors that inhabit them than any other element. But, hey: nice try!

If you’ve ever seen Dead Alive than you know in general what to expect here, because among Undead’s many blatant influences showing, that’s the film that gets referenced/invoked the most. When blood is shed it sprays, spurts, and gushes. Body parts, mostly internal organs, get knocked around like hockey pucks, and normal weapons are only occasionally used in favor of triple-barreled shotguns and sticks equipped with circular saw blades.

But where Dead Alive established a consistent tone and stuck with it, Undead never catches you with any kind of clear vision. Should we laugh? Should we grimace? Are we supposed to approach the horror stuff as spoof material (mainly because of the hideous characters), or is the weak approach to the horrific meant to soften us for the late science fiction revelations? Hard to say. This film is definitely trying to achieve something new and different, and it’s difficult not to admire it by virtue of that adage that it’s pretty to try and fail than never to try at all. However, Undead never does anything to convince us that its attempts are grand or even coherent in the execution.

The only strong conviction Undead inspires is that every single character in the film deserves to be mauled and consumed by zombie townspeople. After many recent films that tries to avoid or take new approaches to tired horror clichés (such as both The Fog ‘80 and The Fog ‘05, and even the underrated cry_wolf), it was a little irritating to see some of the worst on display here. We’re reminded here that in horror movies, cops are pretty much scum (usually a rookie or officer new to the area can be heroic, but here it’s across the board), men defending pregnant wives will commit acts ten times as stupid as the stuff they do anyway as horror movie characters, and everyone except the wise man/woman of action will refuse to acknowledge the truth of the absolutely obvious until their messy deaths.

I have to assume that Undead was made with a clear intention to either spoof some of these clichés or purposely irritate the audience, because the choice of actors and their individual approaches to the material don’t inspire much but teeth-grinding. Even our heroine, who not only learns to be self-sufficient and aggressive and (due to a plot contrivance) strips down to her underwear for a short period, is annoying for her penchant to widen her eyes as a reaction for anything and everything. The band of survivors we’ll be following for the duration of the film could quickly and easily become a cohesive and effective group but remain quarreling strangers to the end; quarrelsome without charm to the point that I didn’t care at all who lived and instead longed for no-one-standing ending. It’s one thing when fear and horror creates communication breakdowns, but when they’re blatant artificial contrivances built on unbelievably callous and idiotic characters, it’s just plain dumb.

I ended up renting Undead from my favorite local rental joint, and it finally answered a question that had been lingering for months. It was not a travesty that I was unable to get into Santa Monica in earlier to see Undead during a limited theatrical engagement: it was some kind of positive karma that kept me from driving home cursing myself for wasting time, gas, and effort to see a sub-par over-hyped film. I’ll grudgingly recommend it as a rental, since for whatever rentals cost you, it’s worth it to see a film that strives (at least in its story and plot) to be innovative and different; it’s lasting effects on the horror genre remain to be seen. But considering by the end I was incredibly glad that Australian accents were rending some of the dialogue unintelligible, I have to observe yet again that all the weird plot twists and creative gore effects can’t overcome irritating characters. Where have you gone, Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis?

Justin’s rating: Forget the brains. I’m a sucker for the sweetmeats.

Justin’s review: From The Official Guide To The Zombie Movie Formula, third ed.

(1) Begin your film with ten seconds of human normality, after which zombies will appear for no good reason.

(2) Zombies will be everywhere. Unexplained, but assumed, is that zombies come from both infected bites and from supernatural resurrection of the buried dead. No first cause will be given for the epidemic.

(3) Despite the zombies’ slow foot speeds (mostly), the entire earth — many of whom have can openers and nuclear missiles — will be subjugated, bitten, and converted by minute seven.

(4) Our only survivors will be a plucky, diverse group of refugees who serve the purpose of being a plucky, diverse meal for the zombies.

(5) Zombies feel no pain. Zombies have greater strength than normal. Zombies can only be killed by a head shot or through decapitation. Zombies are responsible for many of the current Top 40 radio hits and the Libertarian party.

So, there you go. The Zombie Formula. I personally love, adore and lavish all remaining affection upon this genre, but I’d also be the first to admit that it’s long in the tooth, with so few new developments or risks being taken with one of the greatest horror concepts of all time.

Zombies are awesome; nothing quite approaches the level of glee to see a planet full of walking dead that we, as viewers, feel no remorse when they get chopped to pieces. You don’t have to reinvent the genre, to please me; you just need to create a really good story that I haven’t seen a hundred times before. Land of the Dead, you wouldn’t have even been a blip if you didn’t have the name “George A. Romero” attached to the front of it, wheezing like an overworked parasite, and you know it.

For an indie horror flick, Undead has seen both tremendous popularity build in cult circles over the last couple of years (mostly in Australia), but also a huge tongue lashing of critics who claim it’s just another failed, flailing zombie flick, without seeing it for the wonderful new story it tells. That’s unfair, because even with the wooden acting — heck, most of this movie is just posing and doing cool moves for the camera — Undead challenges the genre to explain those oft-assumed, but little-seen background origins.

Two failings of most zombie movies — to explain WHY the zombies started rising from the dead or WHERE they come from, and why only humans get zombified — are covered here. It begins in a small Australian town, where a series of meteorites land and promptly infect those they hit — turning them into our beloved brain-slurpers. Seen from a disease angle, the outbreak of zombitis spreads rapidly through the community, until only our few and far between survivors are on the run. The catch? There also happens to be a gigantic wall now around the city, and people and insects are being abducted by alien tractor beams.

Wait, what?

The battle scenes between good (mostly one teed-off former beauty queen and a pistol-toting redneck) and zombie are definite highlights of this flick, but I really and truly enjoyed this movie’s attempt to take the whole zombie phenomenon and turn it into an interesting — if simplistic — story. Heck, we got zombie fish and people floating in the sky and some of the goriest slaughter scenes since Dead Alive. Those Down Under folks sure like their blood extra red and their brains partially smashed. How can this not be worth your time?

I’m doubly impressed with Undead knowing that the directors pretty much only used their home computers to do the hundreds of special effects, such as a meteor blowing a hole through the middle of a guy, or an alien tractor beam yanking up a moving van and having it fall down over and over. The eye candy, wicked fight scenes and flashes of humor are what this is all about.

Yeah, you could be a zombie snob, one of those people who cling to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as your own personal Bible and claim that there’s never been a good zombie flick since. You could be one of the more recent mainstream zombie fans who poo-poo any movie that doesn’t have their zombies sprinting like they’re doing the final mile of the Boston Marathon. Or you could just be looking to have a good time, and learn new and potentially life-saving uses for everyday items (hint: The Club can slice a human body in half like butter). Count me in.

Johnny Johnny Woo, where are you?

Intermission!

  • The backup battery supply that powers the garage door during the escape in the van has the name “Spierigfilm” written on it – the name of the film’s production company.
  • Why have one shotgun… when you can have THREE?
  • The zombie legs walking around on their own
  • Don’t let zombie fish get away with their crap — shoot ‘em
  • Windshield wipers work well with blood
  • Over 600 liters of fake blood was used for special effects during filming. Most scenes were shot in only one or two takes due to the budget. There were two months of rehearsals before filming began. The film was entirely funded by the directors and their family and friends. The directors (who are brothers) rendered most of the special effects on their home computers, taking nine months for post production.
  • The original screenplay did not have any swearing. Most of the swearing in the film was ad-libbed by the actors.

Groovy Quotes

    • Marion: They can smell us. They want to feed off us. Harrison: I’ll f**kin’ finish you off faster than a f**kin’ birthday cake at a fat chick’s f**kin’ birthday party!

Harrison: When I was a kid, we f**kin’ respected our parents, we didn’t f**kin’ eat ’em!

Marion: …time is short. So you gotta ask yourself: are you a fighter, Fish Queen, or are you zombie food?

Alien #1: Put you suit back on.
Alien #2: I’m comfortable with who I am.

Cop: See you on the other side, sunshine!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Dead Alive
  • Dawn of the Dead
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