Dead Alive Midnight Movie Review
By Bret Dorman
My first Midnight Movie was somewhat shortly after moving to Chicago in January of 2010. That movie was Oldboy. I remember because I had never seen Oldboy on the big screen before and it was my roommate/friend from home’s first time seeing it. I even remember the subtitles on the film print being slightly different than the ones on my DVD. We accidentally went in to the main theater which was showing Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and were confused before we realized theater two was before theater one and much, much tinier. But the intimate setting of that room with the uncomfortable subject material and visually stimulating Oldboy was and is a fond movie going memory.It wasn’t until Music Box later showed Rolling Thunder, the advertised as a Grindhouse but written and shot in a much more superior fashion film about a “real macho mother fucker” who loses a hand, gains a hook, grabs a shotgun, and shoots his way to revenge. Written by Paul Schrader, the genius behind the Taxi Driver script, I immediately saw what Midnight Movies are about. They are about (what I like to call) that “Quentin Tarantino love of ALL (even “bad”) film” and seeing the great where others don’t and celebrating it when others won’t. After Rolling Thunder, I was so compelled to go home and write everyone how great it was I wrote my very first Midnight Movie review. I have since been doing so (off and on) for over a year now. They have become some of my best written and most viewed reviews. I am very proud of them. Unlike normal reviews, they are specifically designed for the Midnight Movie crowd.
I want to make something clear. Music Box did not ask me to start doing this. They have not asked me to keep doing this. I don’t get paid in any way for these reviews. They are something I do because I believe in the product. I would say 50% of all Midnight Movies are genuinely great. 45% are genuinely good. 5% are not good. But even those two movies I can think of off the top of my head I did not like, I still would encourage people to see as Midnight Movies and still have complete faith in Music Box and their selections. I’ve said before you can’t just pick any movie and show it at midnight, it has to be a Midnight Movie. I don’t mention this because I want Music Box to give me a job (although I would take one, especially as ‘Midnight Movie Promoter/Programmer’), heck, I’m not even sure Music Box as a whole knows that these reviews even exist… I mention this because I have often thought of what my own month’s worth of Midnight Movie Programming would be.
Without any hesitation the movie that popped into my mind as the final movie of my month, my piece de resistance, was always Dead Alive. I can not stress enough how excited I am and how excited you should be that this movie, THIS specific bloody masterpiece, is going to be playing on the big screen, for the Midnight Movie crowd.The Story: A Sumatran Rat Monkey ends up in a normal zoo and bites the Mother of our hapless bumbling hero, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme). Things escalate and zombie mayhem occurs and our hero must find his inner courage to save his town and his destined-to-be true love Paquita (Diana Penalver). Also, a priest knows karate.
Much like Evil Dead a decade before it, Dead Alive is made on a very low budget by a new (ish) filmmaker who isn’t working for a studio or with any particular goal in mind other than pure entertainment. This movie does not feel like a packaged product. It is not out to tell a personal story or change the world. It is a pure schlock story gore fest. Co-writer/Director Peter Jackson does not ask “What limitations are holding me back?” He asks “What awesome things can we do with zombies, guts, house hold items, and super poison transformations?”
Dead Alive is the kind of shot of adrenaline that re-charges someone’s love in the purity of visceral filmmaking. The camera pushes right into actors’ faces, swoops across floors and stairs, and rooftops like a kid racing cars wildly along a play mat. The kid doesn’t care that the play mat has pre-drawn streets and houses and that there are the normal ‘rules of the road’, because doing whatever he wants, how he wants is just so much more fun. I admire people who show tremendous amounts of restrain as much as I admire people who can let loose and don’t just draw outside the lines, they draw outside the coloring book and onto the walls, furniture, rugs, and curtains. If you’re going to do something crazy… make it bat-shit crazy.The genius of Dead Alive (and yes, I mean genius) is in the writing and pacing. Unlike traditional slashers and/or zombie flicks that tend to have small moments of gore like a traditional boxer throwing jabs every once in a while, looking for a couple of good knock out punches; Dead Alive is more like an MMA fighter who lulls down your defenses, goes for the KO, then relentlessly drills you with a barrage of punches to the face and head. You leave not knowing exactly what happened, but knowing you just got your ass kicked. The first part of this movie is traditional love interest/underdog set up. Then it goes into some crazy territory once people start dying and the zombies in the basement start… multiplying… Then by the time the final party scene occurs, leading up to the mega climactic ending, you’ll have no time to catch your footing again. To add to that, Dead Alive not only stays crazy once it hits crazy land, it exponentially raises the absurdity level. Its rare to find a movie willing to go to the places this movie goes, completely abandoning any sense of reality and becoming a living cartoon.
Its hard for me not to go into specifics, especially at the stuff towards the end, but people who have seen it will know its glory while people who haven’t surely will be surprised by the madness. But I want to point out there are two movies I know of that involve a person’s ear falling off due to a gross physical transformation into a hideous creature. One is Seth Brundle’s transformation in David Cronenburg’s The Fly. This movie sees that ear falling off and raises it a bowl of pudding. I’m not saying a great movie HAS to have someone’s ear falling off in it, but so far ears falling off have a perfect record for being in great movies.
Why You Must See It At Midnight: Again… I can not stress enough my excitement for this movie. If you are reading this the week of the showing and live in Chicago I strongly urge you to make plans to go to Music Box on Fri or Sat (I’ll be there Friday) and spread the word and get as many of your friends to go as well. Unlike the regular movie crowd who would watch this movie and be taken aback, saying “WTF?!” the Midnight Movie crowd is the type of crowd that watches this movie while applauding and shouting “Fuck Yeah!” Dead Alive is a great movie to watch anytime, anywhere (well, maybe not at your Grandmother’s on Thanksgiving), but I assure you, without any doubt, it is the quintessential Midnight Movie. Real Madness. Riveting Mayhem. Rat Monkeys. What more could you want?