Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” (1992) earns reputation as the goriest film ever made


Under the watch of an overprotective mother (Elizabeth Moody), Lionel Cosgrove (Tim Balme), her son, takes a love interest in Paquita (Diana Penalver). His mother stalks the couple through their date at the zoo, which leads to Mrs. Cosgrove is bitten by a cursed Sumatran rat-monkey. She turns into an animated zombie with Lionel doing his best to keep her alive, ultimately leading to disaster


Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” or “Braindead” as it’s known in New Zealand goes above and beyond to earn its reputation as the goriest film ever made. As one of the pioneers of slapstick horror, Dead Alive makes the grotesque into gags. And with that, some gags work, while others are vomit inducing. It’s a visual experience with little story to grasp onto outside the framing device of Paquita’s tarot card reading that spells doom. The theme of an overprotective parent even after death is a funny recurring bit, but the point of the film is the gore and all the ways Jackson wanted to freak and gross out the audience. It works with the unbelievably inventive prosthetics that get bigger and bigger as the plot advances. There’s an incredibly high use of blood splatter effects, and the film is painted in red. Unfortunately, there’s little to takeaway from this experience outside of what feels like inappropriate laughter. The acting is fun in that cartoony violence sort of way, but once the disgust wears off, it’s a bit hollow. But obviously, the joy is in the image and not the story, and even if it didn’t work all the way through, I’ll always remember the images. Furthermore, I’m interested in checking out Jackson’s original version, which I’ve been told is more gory and less focused on the humor.


  • Peter Jackson film from New Zealand, meaning it will be fucking weird. He’s the New Zealand Sam Raimi. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is masterwork, but I do miss this era of Jackson. He was doing real interesting work in the horror genre
  • The opening scene involves “The Bite,” indigenous people painted in white colors and a gory murder scene, as expected
  • Paquita’s introduction goes quickly and lays out her whole future through tarot cards in a matter of minutes. Leading into her next scene where she meets her prince charming, with an ominous warning, hidden within the card reading
  • The slapstick element gives it a distinct tone. It makes it go down easy, but not sure if the tone works.
  • Vera Cosgrove’s introduction is viscous. She’s mean, judgemental and jealous of anyone who pulls her son’s attention away.
  • The stop motion monkey doesn’t move quite right, but that somehow makes its presence even scarier.
  • The transformation scenes of Vera are gag inducing and the pudding scene with the queasy eating sounds and incredibly off-putting. She eats an entire dog in mere seconds. The makeup and prosthetic work looks fake, but it doesn’t matter because it’s effectively gross
    • Gagged a number of times already. Lionel pulling the dog out of his mother’s mouth got me a few times. Repulsive imagery.
  • The gore is fucking unhinged. Heads being snapped off knecks with ease. Fingers digging deeply into the skin of others. Peter Jackson’s a sick fuck.
  • The veterinarian comes right out of a Gilliam film.
  • The makeup reminds me of Reagan from The Exorcist. Heavy prosthetics, heavy on the bloated skin and decaying blotches.
  • Despite some of the makeup effects not looking great, this still serves as one of the grossest films I’ve ever seen. The final straw was Vera’s body exploding from the inside as her eyes popped out of her head.
  • The slapstick elements are numerous but can’t say I find the visual gag style particularly funny in this case. It’s neither scary or funny enough, but it is gross as hell.
    • Purely a gross out film with few redeeming qualities otherwise
  • That fucking evil baby. So insanely annoying and ugly. I love when they cut to the baby suit rather than the Puppet. It’s jarring in the edit but a somewhat funny gag
  • The final act descends into an absolute hellspace all born out of Lionel’s insistence on keeping the dead alive. An entire room full of people become cursed by the spirit of this accursed monkey
  • You watch this film for the prosthetics because there’s really not a story here. Hollow from a narrative perspective. It reminds me of Brian Yuzna’s Society but without the ham-fisted messaging. Exciting visually but unsure what to make of the entire experience
  • It’s such a formalistic approach and exaggerated to the extremes. The aesthetic appears on the surface to be a typical middle-class home, but a look inside shows far more disturbing elements
  • The blood appears to be marinara sauce?
    • This is easily the most blood I’ve ever seen in a singular film. Peter Jackson spared none of his fake blood supply in the making of this film.
    • I mean, holy shit Peter, the lawnmower scene is batshit insanity – granted, the party sequence is one long nightmare that gets worse and worse as it goes along, but that moment is so beyond over the top.
  • The Vera puppet is obviously a puppet. The limbs look fake, and it’s clear there’s a mechanism. Cool attempt at creating a monster large in scale and stature, but it doesn’t entirely work. But the fact that it’s practical gives it that 90s horror flair that makes it more endearing
  • I would never recommend this movie to another soul unless they’re in the bag for gross out horror. You have to be a specific type of weirdo to enjoy this one.
  • The film’s ending includes one last ditch effort to throw in emotional themes of parental bondage and overprotective parents but it doesn’t land and instead makes the ending fall flat. Nonetheless, it’s not a film you watch because you want a deeply introspective experience. No, you watch Dead Alive for its cartoony violence and gore. Period. It’s as if The Thing found its way to New Zealand and infected large swaths of the population. The film jumps from small-scale horror to the entire town infected in a matter of minutes. Despite some of my qualms, there’s some real memorable shit here and it’s the perfect level of B-movie camp to enjoy but never return to again

Review: ★★½

Verdict: Certified Weird


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