I’ve had difficulty remembering the last time a film put me in a state of nausea. Braindead did that. I don’t think it was the excessive gore that got to me; I’m thinking it was when certain bodily orifices decided to spray out pus and other things that you don’t want getting on you. Thankfully, after we get through the first half or so of the film, we’re done with these disgusting moments, and can instead focus on the gore.
The plot begins with an average day in the life of Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme). He still lives with his mother (Elizabeth Moody), despite being at least in his mid-twenties. They’re well-off, although he spends all of his time doing chores around the house or other doing other things that his mother wants. He runs to the store on this day, where he meets Paquita (Diana Peñalver), who believes that the two are destined to be together. They end up going on a date at the local zoo. Mother follows.
Because stalking your son is something that should be punishable by death (Hi, mom!), Lionel’s mother is bitten by a “Sumatran-Rat monkey,” which should just be called the “Zombie monkey” because that’s the virus that it carries. After being bitten, she pounds the monkey’s head into the ground in a way that can only be described as “excessive.” She is taken home to be cared for by Lionel, because apparently he doesn’t care that she was spying on him while he was on his date.
Eventually, she turns into a zombie. Other people become zombies as well, but for whatever reason, she’s the main one and can also speak, think and emote. Her transformation is also slower than others. I wager that it’s because she received the virus directly from the monkey, while others are getting it second-hand. Or maybe I’m putting too much thought into it, because the rules regarding the zombies aren’t particularly well-defined in Braindead. Not that it matters; this is a film where zombies are going to kill off non-main characters, but be fleshy punching bags for the ones we do know.
This is one of those horror-comedies that are so popular with a lot of people. It’s funnier earlier on, though, and once the real zombie “invasion” begins, you can easily notice when the humor dies down. It never disappears completely, and there are a few comedic scenes later on, but earlier, you can tell that the film was trying more frequently to make you laugh. In terms of being a comedy, it works well enough, while also contrasting nicely to the absolutely disgusting things that happen when the zombies get involved.
Let’s move onto the disgusting moments. I mentioned the pus and other gross things that come squirting out of holes in the body. I haven’t touched much on the blood, which ends up covering great portions of the screen later on. You know that the film isn’t going to be an easy watch after you watch Lionel’s mother crush the monkey’s skull in with her foot, but once zombies start getting crushed, chopped up, decapitated, and otherwise killed, the film goes from being over-the-top to insane. You don’t see films like this every day, being both silly and difficult to watch at the same time. It’s a rare breed of film, and even if it doesn’t sound like your type of film, you probably should see Braindead anyway, just so that you can say you have.
It seemed to me as if Braindead ran out of ideas, even if it didn’t follow through on all of the ones that it gives us. I’ll explain further. The relationship between Lionel and Paquita, which the film spends some time developing, doesn’t really come full circle. Why does Lionel automatically accept going out with her, and why does he seem to fall in love with her so quickly? I’m not sure, as the film spends more time with them after these facts have been accepted.
In terms of running out of ideas, a lot of the zombie killing seemed redundant and like filler. In what is probably the most famous sequence, Lionel takes a lawnmower and begins to chop through zombies with the machine. Once he reaches the end of the room, he turns around and sees he didn’t get them all. Apart from a cheap laugh seeing his face when this realization hit him, we’re forced to sit through more or less the same massacre as before. It feels unnecessary, especially because it’s essentially the same scene both times.
I’m not sure if the actors were supposed to be hamming it up for comedic effect, but if that was the intention, that’s what you get. This often works, although when you’d expect the characters to be afraid, they don’t seem that way. Even when the zombies first start appearing, Lionel’s first decision isn’t to eliminate them — it’s to keep them sedated with tranquilizer fluid. He never seemed afraid of anything, and neither did anyone else. It makes the film funnier, but doesn’t help in the horror category.
Braindead is a film that wears out its welcome far too early, but because it’s just so over-the-top and you’ll be unlikely to see anything like it, it’s worth a watch. It’s funny, it’s gory, it’s often disgusting, but it’s something that you want to be able to say that you sat through it. Is it a great film? I don’t really think it is, but it’s something you just have to see regardless. At least this is a film that will make you feel something, even if, as in my case, it was the need to vomit.