The 90s Bloody Gonzo Horror Comedy From An Oscar-Winning Director

By Brian Myers | Published

Peter Jackson emerged as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation with the production of the 1995 film Heavenly Creatures. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy soon followed, as did King Kong, The Lovely Bones, and The Hobbit. There was a time when this New Zealand native was making his way as a horror comedy director; however, with the 1992 film Dead Alive/Brain Dead.

Peter Jackson’s Iconic Zombie Comedy

Released in the United States as Dead Alive, the New Zealand film Brain Dead is a comedic look at a zombie plague that hit a small New Zealand community in the late 1950s. The storyline follows the discovery of the Sumatran rat-monkey, a horrific creature that came into existence when rats afflicted with a form of the plague bred with tree monkeys. When the zoologist in charge is bitten by one of the monkeys that have been captured for transport to a New Zealand zoo, the locals freak out and cut his body into pieces.

Sumatran Rat Monkey

Despite the zoologist and some of his teammates being massacred, the already caged monkey winds up on a cargo ship bound for the Wellington Zoo. Dead Alive/Brain Dead takes a funny turn as the rat monkey takes a bite out of Vera Cosgrove, a domineering older woman who reacts by bashing the creature in the head and killing it.

Vera falls ill and is cared for by her henpecked son, Lionel. The two live in Lionel’s childhood home, a beautiful house that is unfortunately about to be plagued by Vera’s transformation. Dead Alive/Brain Dead sees anyone bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey slowly die and become a ravenous zombie, a fate that quickly becomes a reality for Vera.

One Disaster After Another

Lionel does his best to keep his zombie mother tranquilized, but she is still able to bite and infect her in-home nurse. After Vera escapes the house, she’s hit by a tram and is immediately dosed again by her diligent son, giving the impression that she is dead to officials who soon arrive. She has a quick funeral, in which Lionel continues to keep his zombie mother sedated so as not to arouse any suspicion.

Lionel Tries His Best

Dead Alive/Brain Dead takes a morbidly hilarious turn at the graveyard, where Lionel attempts to give her more of the same, but he is attacked by a gang of youths who believe that they’ve caught a necrophiliac red-handed. Too late to sedate Vera, Lionel sees her spring back and takes some big bites out of one of his attackers and a local priest who tries to intervene.

Lionel now has four zombies confined in his basement: Vera, the nurse, the priest, and the hooligan who attacked him. When Vera’s uncle Les shows up to try to con Lionel out of Vera’s estate, things take a dark turn in Dead Alive/Brain Dead when the creepy uncle decides to throw a party for his friends in the house just as the zombies in the basement break their bonds.

Filled With Gore And Outrageous Scenes

The film’s over-the-top blood and gore are enough to make George Romero seem like an underachiever. Dead Alive/Brain Dead involves too many outrageous scenes to mention, but let it be said that, in this film, zombies can breed and have grotesque little zombie babies. Fans of gore and stupid humor will love it, but it’s not something you’d want to watch on a full stomach.

One Of Peter Jackson’s Best Films


The film is wonderfully scripted and shot, and the brightness and beauty of the New Zealand landscape are a sharp contrast to the horror on the screen. More of a comedy piece than an actual horror film, Dead Alive/Brain Dead succeeds in making fun of every single absurdity with zombie films, drenching it in copious amounts of fake blood and pus for good measure.

Dead Alive/Brain Dead is not available on any streaming platforms, but you can still catch it by renting it On Demand through Prime. Another option is to check out the GenreVision episode devoted to the film.