The year is 1957 and the place is Skull Island, near Sumatra, where the New Zealand zoo authority have commissioned one of their staff to collect a rare Sumatran Rat Monkey for their collection. He has captured one with the help of Sumatran locals and is making his way back to the jeep when the island natives appear and do their best to stop them. However, the official is determined and despite being chased they make it to the vehicle, but unfortunately the official is bitten by their cargo. When his men see the bite on his hand, they know there's only one way to stop the infection spreading: chop it off. Deaf to the official's protests that they should use Dettol, they then notice a scratch on his other arm, so off it comes - and when they see the bite on his head...
Before Peter Jackson came along what were the most famous films out of New Zealand? A provincial comedy like Goodbye Pork Pie? A respected but obscure science fiction item like The Quiet Earth? Or how about a serious drama such as Smash Palace? None of them exactly set the world talking, yet this gory comedy, the natural progression from Jackson's earlier Bad Taste, became the most celebrated Kiwi movie until Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings to the screen ten years later. Here he scripted with wife Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair, on whose story it was based, and instantly endeared himself to horror fans everywhere.
After the King Kong homage prologue, Braindead settles into a genre that unexpectedly fits the jokey tone very well: romantic comedy. We are introduced to Paquita (Diana Peñalver) a grocery shop assistant who is admiring the delivery driver Roger (Harry Sinclair), although he's not one to notice, and hoping he will be the man for her. However, when she asks her mother to consult the tarot cards, it seems that there is a very different man to enter her life who will be signposted by the image of a star. So when awkward Lionel (Timothy Balme) walks into the shop and accidentally knocks over a pot of pencils to create that star shape, Paquita decides he's the one for her.
However, Lionel's mother (Elizabeth Moody) might have something to say about that as she is jealously protective of her son and when Paquita hoves into view she's all set on sabotaging their budding relationship. When Paquita suggests, in a roundabout way, a trip to the zoo, Mum follows them to spy and just when you're wondering what happened to the horror, she gets bitten by that Rat Monkey (a neat bit of stop motion animation). Lionel hears the scream and rushes over, whereupon Mum sees the opportunity to end his romance and asks to be taken home. But the next day, the wound has become infected and she has become delirious - not that this stops her welcoming two of the local church group for lunch.
It's here the disgusting humour gets underway with wild abandon, with the meal ending with Mum eating her own ear; yes, the bite will eventually transform her into a zombie, and not only her, either. In a comedy of escalating mayhem, Mum bites the nurse, comes back from the dead to bite some rockers, and even the kung fu clergyman ("I kick arse for the Lord!") gets chomped. With Lionel's sleazy Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) showing up to claim the house - which now has tranquilised zombies in the basement - things couldn't get more hectic, or could they? Lionel's misplaced loyalty to his mother is what drives the story, as he can't face destroying her even if she is a flesh-eating undead monster, and so the film ends in the most gleefully violent way when Uncle Les's party gets out of hand. It's difficult to be offended by Braindead as it's so over the top ridiculous and at times genuinely hilarious with its inspired slapstick take on the walking dead genre; the sheer high spirits win over all lovers of, yes, bad taste gags. Music by Peter Dasent.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit and in 2018 directed acclaimed WWI doc They Shall Not Grow Old.