Braindead (New Zealand 1992), released as Dead Alive in North America, is an extreme zombie horror-comedy directed by Peter Jackson. It is in the same vein as Jackson's earlier works Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles but Braindead is rather more polished, with a budget of around $3 million. Although it starts with the capture of a zombie-creating creature on the eerie Skull Island, the movie is relatively low-key in its opening half. Only in the second part does it spiral out of control into a blood-filled zombie film.


The first scene of the movie sets up the danger of the Sumatran Rat-Monkey, a hybrid that (according to legend) resulted from the rape of tree monkeys by plague rats: Stewart (Bill Ralston), an explorer returning from the depths of the island with a rat-monkey in a cage, is stopped by his native guides. Seeing the mark of the monkey's bite on his right hand, they immediately hold down the infected explorer and amputate the appendage. A bite mark is then seen on his left arm, which swiftly results in the removal of that limb. Finally, they see a set of bloody scratches on the Stewart's forehead and kill him. The title screen follows the man's dying scream, and as the opening credits roll the captured rat-monkey is shipped to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.

In 1950s Wellington, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) lives with his domineering mother (Elizabeth Moody) and is at her beck and call. To his mother's dismay, Lionel falls for a local shopkeeper, Paquita (Diana Peñalver), and while snooping the two on a visit to the zoo, Lionel's mother is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey. The animal's bite slowly turns her into a ravenous zombie. Lionel is horrified, but, ever the dedicated son, is determined to care for her.

Despite his efforts to keep her placated with periodic doses of veterinary anaesthetic, his mother starts murdering other townspeople, turning them into zombies. He tries to keep them locked away in the basement, while simultaneously trying to maintain his relationship with the completely oblivious Paquita. His mother escapes, however, and is run over by a tram.

As the townspeople assume she is dead, Lionel tranquillises the still-kicking zombie for her funeral. After she is buried, he returns to the graveyard to administer more anaesthetic, but is accosted by a gang of hoodlums. His mother bursts from her grave, resulting in more deaths, and zombies.

As their numbers grow, Lionel manages to keep the zombies under relative control with repeated injections, and tries to keep them concealed in his home. However, Lionel's uncle Les (Ian Watkin), arrives to try and wrangle with Lionel over his mother's estate. Uncle Les discovers the "corpses" and blackmails his nephew into giving up his inheritance in return for his silence.

Lionel reluctantly administers poison to the zombies ("killing" them) and buries them, just as Uncle Les and a crowd of his friends arrive for a housewarming party. However, the "poison" turns out to be an animal stimulant, and the zombies burst from the ground to attack and infect the party guests in a gory finale.

Lionel, Paquita, Rita and Les are now fighting hundreds of zombies, animated intestines, severed heads, and disembodied legs, until Lionel's mother, who has become a gargantuan monster, pursues Lionel and Paquita to the rooftop, where Lionel finally confronts his mother about the truth regarding his father's demise. She picks him up and stuffs him back into her abdomen, and in an over-the-top Freudian "rebirth", he cuts his way out of her grotesquely changed body and she falls into the fiery house below. Lionel and Paquita escape the burning building, and walk away arm-in-arm, covered in gore.



This splatter film was released in a number of different versions. In some nations, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, the 104 minute film was shown in full (which was quite uncommon in the UK, as many other similar films were heavily censored at the time). In countries where the censors balked at the extreme gore, the film was initially banned or left unrated before being heavily cut. In Germany a 94 minute version was seen with major cuts to some of the film's grislier scenes, but was widely ignored.

In the United States, where the film was released as Dead Alive, because of another film with rights to the title Braindead, the R-Rated version is only 85 minutes, while the unrated cut is 97 minutes. This, according to director Peter Jackson, is his preferred cut of the film.


  • The song played on the organ as the mourners wait to enter the church (prior to the embalming scene) is "Sodomy" from Peter Jackson's previous film Meet the Feebles (1989).
  • Jackson makes a cameo as the undertaker's assistant in the botched embalming scene.
  • The movie was finished under budget with $45,000 remaining. Peter Jackson used it to spend two days shooting the park scene with Lionel and the baby Selwyn. Peter Jackson has gone on to say that it is his favorite scene.
  • The location used for the film's opening scene, where the explorer is retrieving the rat-monkey, was used again by Jackson in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when Aragorn and his companions journey to the Paths of the Dead.
  • In a lawsuit, Bradley v Wingnut Films Ltd [1993] 1 NZLR 415, it was alleged that the comedy horror film Brain Dead had infringed the privacy of the plaintiffs by containing pictures of the plaintiff's family tombstone. The tombstone appeared on the film for less than 14 seconds. It never appeared in its entirety, only the letters "BRA" were visible behind a person sitting on the wall at the side of the plot. After reviewing the New Zealand judicial authorities on privacy, Gallen J stated: the present situation in New Zealand ... is that there are three strong statements in the High Court in favour of the existence of such a tort in this country and an acceptance by the Court of Appeal that the concept is at least arguable. This case became one of the series of cases which contributed to the introduction of Tort of Invasions of Privacy in New Zealand.
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