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Undead (2003)

Prepare Yourself

Directed by:

Michael Spierig

Peter Spierig

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 104 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: Australia

René (Felicity Mason) may have just been crowned beauty queen in the small Queensland fishing community of Berkeley, but with the loan sharks circling her debt-ridden farm, she is set to flee to the big city – except that it is not so easy to leave when a shower of strange meteors has suddenly turned most of the townsfolk into ravenous zombies, and a gigantic wall has encircled the town. Holed up with charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins), his pregnant wife Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham), foul-mouthed police sergeant Harrison (Dirk Hunter) and his rooky constable Molly (Emma Randall), in the farmhouse of a heavily armed eccentric named Marion (Mungo McKay) – who is convinced that they have been “chosen” to take humanity’s last stand against an alien invasion – René is destined to learn that “Miss Catch of the Day” is a post with grave responsibilities attached.

Like so many independent filmmakers before them, twins Peter and Michael Spierig have set their directorial debut within the confines of a small town – but rather than settling for a gentle, reflective piece about coming of age or somesuch, the Spierigs have instead fashioned an affectionate tribute to B-grade cinema and all manner of trash genres, making their chosen town the unlikely setting for flesh-eating mayhem, extraterrestrial intervention and apocalyptic rapture – without ever quite forgetting that Berkeley is first and foremost a place popular for fishing. Although limited to a budget of under a million Australian dollars (which they raised themselves), the Spierig brothers would seem to have almost boundless ambition, writing, producing, directing and editing this madcap hybrid of comedy, action, science fiction and horror, and even creating the elaborate digital effects on their own home computer. The resulting labour of love packs more punch than many films made for ten times the budget, and while it would be easy to quibble with the one-note acting (especially from Mungo McKay) and occasional narrative incoherences, ‘Undead’ looks fantastic, and has enough over-the-top gore, bizarre laughs and twisted genre references to guarantee it cult success.

‘Undead’ is not exactly the strangest zombies-from-space crossover film ever to have been made (that would be the outrageous Japanese rock’n’roll gorefest ‘Wild Zero’) – nor is it even the first, let alone the best, Antipodean zom-com (check Peter Jackson’s jaw-dropping ‘Braindead’) – but if you are hankering for a film that combines gun-toting heroics, undead shenanigans, messianic conspiracy theory and lines like “When I was a kid, we fuckin’ respected our parents – we didn’t fuckin’ eat ’em”, then ‘Undead’ really is the catch of the day. Any zombie spoof these days is expected to give credit to George A. Romero’s genre-defining trilogy, but besides paying due homage to all three of those films (as well as Romero’s ‘The Crazies’ for good measure), ‘Undead’ also pastiches movies as varied as ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, ‘Lifeforce’, Terminator 2 and ‘Independence Day’. Even the flying killer fish from ‘Piranha II: the Spawning’ make a bizarre appearance here – and no doubt what that genre monstrosity did for a young James Cameron’s cinematic career, this attention-grabbing debut will do for the Spierigs.

With a bigger budget, nothing should be able to confine the brothers’ plans for world domination, and it can only be hoped that their forthcoming vampire survival flick ‘Daybreakers’ will further extend their infectiously funny assault on all decency and good taste.

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It's Got: Beauty queens, meteor showers, zombie plagues, acid rain, ambiguous aliens, big walls, apocalyptic rapture, and lots of fishing.

It Needs: Better acting, and a little more coherence (it is difficult to escape the impression that the somewhat confused ending stems from poor, rather than subtle, writing).

DVD Extras Scene select; optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing; choice of stereo 2.0/Dolby digital 5.1/dts; full audio commentary (with giggling stars Mungo McKay, Emma Randall and the hilarious Dirk Hunter) on how “we did say at the beginning of the shoot that there should be no acting”; second full audio commentary (with the Spierig brothers, cinematographer Andrew Strahorn and prosthetics and creature artist Steven Boyle) which points out all the errors that you would otherwise never notice, describes the gruelling shoot (in the first week of which the entire crew were seriously ill) and the difficulties of working with an extremely low budget, mentions that in the script’s first drafts the film was not a comedy, and sings the praises of Dirk Hunter (who improvised almost all his show-stealing lines, including the baroque swearing); ‘The Making of Undead’ (36min) includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew, and describes how the Spierigs made a no-budget film look like a big-budget film by hiring an enthusiastic (and largely unpaid) crew and doing all the computer effects on a constantly crashing personal laptop; ‘Toronto Film Festival’ (9min) covers their screening on the last night of ‘Midnight Madness’, including a lively Q&A with the audience; 3 extended scenes, 4 deleted scenes, and an alternative title sequence; ‘camera and make-up tests’ (2min) zombies filmed in different lights and at different frame-rates; ‘Homemade Dolly Construction Video’ (2min) strictly for completists or dolly fetishists; ‘The Zombies – Internet featurette’ (2min) footage of zombie make-up and zombie training; theatrical trailer and internet teaser trailer; ‘Animatic-to-Trailer Comparison’ (12min) splitscreen comparison of the climax with the plane and the aliens; production notes and stills; artwork and design sketches; bios of Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall and the Spierig brothers. Version reviewed: (Anchor Bay) < DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

'Braindead', 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', 'Independence Day', 'Lifeforce', 'Phenomenon', 'Piranha II: the Spawning', 'The Crazies', 'Wild Zero', Dawn of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead

Summary

Infectiously enjoyable low-budget tale of hungry zombies, misunderstood aliens, apocalyptic salvation and fishing.

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