Braindead (1992): Peter Jackson’s Horror Film

New Zealand’s enfant terrible Peter Jackson continues to sharpen his bravura technical skills and darkly humorous sensibility in Braindead, a follow-up to the deeply gross Bad Taste and his Muppet feature, Meet the Feebles.

With these three works, Jackson emerges as one of the most inventive and outrageous auteur of gory horror, which is sort of expected from someone who was born on Halloween Day, in 1961.

Benefiting from a sharper wit and a more assured visual palette, the new film continues the tradition of guts flying, heads rolling, sores that never stop oozing, but countering all is a sweet story of innocent love that triumphs, albeit with the help of a bone-grinding lawnmower.

The yarn’s protagonists are Lionel (Timothy Balme), the town loser, and Paquita (Diana Penalver), his nice, amorous girlfriend. The couple meets surreptitiously at the local zoo (where else), only to be followed by Lionel’s overbearing mother. When the matron backs up against the cage of the Sumatran Rat-Monkey, she gets her comeuppance. The grotesque mammal (created with groovy cybotronics) gnaws her arm, until mother turns its head into mashed potatoes.

Back at home, the puncture wound swells and then explodes with a spray of puss. The bloody carnage continues, when Mammy turns out to be a zombie eater of raw flesh. The good son Lionel tries to keep Mom under control, but after meeting Nurse McTavish and Father McGruder, she converts them to her groovy kind of cannibalism. With flesh dripping from their bodies, they produce an offspring named Selwyn, a Satan child.

Each new visitor to the house comes into their clutchesuntil the whole town has monkeys venom coursing through their veins. In the end, only Lionel and Paquita, with help from a convenient electrical socket and sharpened lawnmower blade, can save the day.

Upon showing, Jackson’s delectable satire of uptight 1950s New Zealand was greeted by film critics as one of the best gory pictures to be seen since “Evil Dead II.”

Who’s Jackson A cinema-obsessed boy, who began making pictures at the age of 8, Peter Jackson made a number of shorts in his teens. When he couldn’t get a job in the film industry, he began working for a newspaper as a photo-engraving apprentice. In 1983, Jackson began filming “Bad Taste” on weekends, funding it from his own pocket. Three years later, the New Zealand Film Commission saw the footage and provided completion funds, prompting Jackson to quit immediately his day job at the local newspaper. “Bad Taste” was released in 1987, followed by “Meet the Feebles,” in 1989.

End Note

This review was written in 1992 after seeing “Braindead” at the Toronto Film Festival). In two years, Jackson would make a quantum leap forward with “Heavenly Creatures” (1994), featuring a stunning performance by Kate Winslet. A decade later, Jackson would become responsible for the visionary epic trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” based on Tolkien’s classic, the last chapter of which “The Return of the King,” in 2003, would sweep 11 Oscars (out of 11 nominations), and gross over $1 billion globally.