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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Undead Michael & Peter Spierig 2003

What's Australian for "Berserker"?

Loud, clumsy, but altogether pretty fun, Undead is a movie for people who can sit through their friends singing karaoke for hours on end without reaching for their machete. I'll say right off the bat that without a few nice twists near the end and some impressive special effects, this one could have been a stinker, mostly because the frequent jokes fall flat about 90% of the time. But those 10% that make it through are pretty damned funny, and combined with lots of gore, constant action, and a bit of clever messing with the 'survivors on the run' scenario, they make for an entertaining movie.

The simple plot is almost not even worth getting into: meteors fall from the sky (let me say: ouch.) and turn the dead into the walking, flesh-crazed undead. Packs of survivors try to fight off their former fellow citizens, and some make it. But then things take a turn for the strange: a dark cloud cover plunges a bright Australian day into night. Blazing columns of light start beaming down from the sky and whisking animals heavenward. And large hooded figures start appearing out of nowhere who could be behind the whole thing -- either that, or they're filming more Lord of the Rings movies and a band of Ring Wraiths are moonlighting for cash.

The blood, action, and some of the bigger effects are pretty impressive, and certainly surprised me, as I was expecting to see a "little" horror movie on par with Night of the Living Dead or Evil Dead. Make no mistake -- this is more on par with Army of Darkness than it is with its earlier (and superior) brethren. The jokes are incredibly hokey and usually not very funny, and the male hero (besides sounding like he was recorded on an entirely differenct soundtrack than everyone else in the film) has a frustrating way of delivering lines, always whispering and sounding far too serious, and usually ending his sentences as if they were a question when they're really not. Give your best straight friend a glass of Jaegermeister and ask him to impersonate Clint Eastwood, and you'll get the idea. Needless to say, it gets REALLY old REALLY fast, and pretty much fucked up most of the movie for me, so that I was only really able to enjoy the scenes that he didn't appear or at least speak in. The one exception is the fever-dream flashback in which he is attacked by screaming, killer fish, which is conceptually really pretty hard to mess up, if you think about it.

Undead is also interesting because it doesn't introduce its main characters very well -- you spend a good deal of time trying to figure out who you're supposed to be following, which I actually liked. There's the requisite asshole bully (as in the close-cousin Dawn of the Dead remake, he is a law enforcement figure. Subtle.), the pregnant chick (unlike Dawn of the Dead, this one speaks), and the goodie-toughie final girl (we know her well enough by now, yes?). But there are also a few other characters who are quirky or unpredictable enough to evade easy pigeonholing, and these are the fun ones to watch: the rookie cop who is torn between doing her job and helping her fellow survivors is interesting, as is the dumb-yet-well-intentioned yokel (who gets to say stupid things like "Bugger me!" all the time and yet still be a fast enough runner to survive to the next scene).

The real hook for me came in the last third of the film, when it becomes obvious that there are otherworldly forces involved and things like giant metal walls falling from the sky start complicating matters a bit. If you don't want to know the twist, don't worry -- I'm not going to reveal it entirely, but let me say that if you're tired of the standard "Ragtag-survivors-beat-all-odds-to-save-struggling-bits-of-humanity-from-insurmountable-odds" routine (hell, we've seen it enough times now), you're in luck: this flick's got a great remedy for it. I'll only allude to the delicious twist by saying that it's nice to see the heroes do the WRONG thing for once -- it puts a new perspective on the situation and introduces an element of fallibility to the heroes that you rarely see, and I loved it.

But without getting too deep, I'll back off and say that any movie featuring a man with a shovel sticking straight up out of his head knocking into a doorway over and over is a worth a watch in my book, if it sticks to its guns. And while the Desperado-style action scene coverage is trying far too hard, there's far too much yelling (and in Australian!), and the humor is slapdash (sort of like throwing a bucket of shit on the wall and seeing what sticks), Undead might still win you over with its clever story, limitless energy, and kinetic visual style. Besides, the country that gave us Muriel's Wedding couldn't make anything all that bad...

(Side note: I actually didn't want to see this movie but went to see Haute Tension on a double-bill and this one came first. In a flash of irony worthy of a Raymond Carver story, I far preferred this film to the French wannbe intellectual slasher. Go figure...

Rating (out of 5):