Undead Review

An Australasian sci-fi zombie comedy, Undead has unsurprisingly drawn comparisons with Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. Yet whilst both focus on a small town affected by alien activity and are decidedly gore-laden, here the similarities end. Most notably, the special effects are the result of a considerably bigger budget than Jackson had to play with during his weekends’ worth of filming, whilst the tongue-in-cheek humour more readily recalls such mid-eighties US efforts as Critters and Night of the Comet.

However, it is another Night, namely that of the Living Dead, which serves as the major reference point. Much of Undead’s duration is occupied by its equal opportunities collection of potential zombie nosh holed up in an isolated rural building. Which would suggest that writing-directing team the Spierig brothers (not to mention producing, editing and supervising the visual effects) are merely offering another tired retread of old genre formats, but then this would be to ignore their obvious passion for the horror form. Indeed, they have clearly asked themselves what they would expect from such a film and then gone ahead and supplied it, resulting in an abundance of gags, gunplay and gore. Moreover, they get down to action with a welcome immediacy; any exposition is dealt with pre-credits, though they also chuck in a decapitation for good measure.

In doing so, however, the Spierigs leave themselves little room to develop later on. Once trapped our various cast members are left there for a seemingly interminable length of time whilst doing little else but scream at other. Certainly, Undead’s tongue-in-cheek screenplay allows them to scream to choice lines (“Aggie has the keys, but she doesn’t have a brain!”), but there’s barely any discipline to the performances which means that they’re constantly-pitched-too-high become more than a touch wearisome. Indeed, it’s abundantly clear that the Spierigs have little time for their actors, instead focussing their attentions of playful camera movements and an ever more inventive dispatching of the numerous zombie. One particular instance sees the droll use of a spade, whilst another has the cheeky deployment of the Australian as an ironic counterpart that would no doubt seem unutterably cheesy had it been the stars and stripes.

Yet in narrowing their focus the Spierigs have also produced a work that exists on the same tonal level for much of its duration. Undead is in no way an attempt to reinvent the horror movie and as such offers few surprises. Essentially it’s just another variation on the Ten Little Indians theme with the audience kept guessing as to who goes next until the “final girl” is left standing. As such much of what the Spierigs do right often amounts to nothing more than minutiae because the major elements aren’t there. Of course, such aspects do keep us interested, even intermittently amused, but it is only during the final third - in which the science fiction elements are explored - that Undead feels as though it is offering anything different. Admittedly, there is little about the film which strikes the viewer as annoying or disagreeable (save for Cliff Bradley’s score which is way too insistent, seemingly punctuating every gunshot and line of dialogue), but it is only during these final scenes when it separates itself from what has come before.

The Disc

As a recently made production, Undead unsurprisingly looks fine on disc. Though much of the film is darkly lit, the DVD copes especially well and never once demonstrates any overt technical problems. Moreover, the film is presented anamorphically (at a ratio 1.77:1) and in no way seems like an especially low budget production. The same can’t quite be said of the sound, however, as despite offering DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS options, each is affected by the same problem, namely that the mix in each seems slightly off. The music is annoying given especial prominence, whilst the dialogue is deemed barely important. That this is true of all three sound offerings, however, would suggest that the fault lies in the original post-production mixing as opposed to any fault with the disc. After all, we shouldn’t expect the slick production values afforded to a Hollywood production on a low budget Australian zombie flick.

Any budgetary concerns are gained belied when it comes to the special features content, which seemingly includes anything and everything that resulted from the Undead’s production. First up are a pair of commentaries, one by the crew members, the other by the actors. The former - which contains contributions from the Spierigs plus director of photography Andrew Strahorn and make-up artist Steven Boyle - is a largely disappointing affair. The piece never sounds as though it is being recorded for anyone other than the four taking part and also has a tendency towards to the overly technical which means that it is likely to go over most listeners heads as well as being ultimately dull. The actors’ commentary - by Mungo Mckay, Emma Randall and Dirk Hunter - exists at the other end of the spectrum and proves to be both engaging and often very funny. Whether we actually learn anything about the film’s production, however, is a moot point.

Thankfully, any questions are answered in the 30-miunte-plus ‘Making Of’ featurette which covers all aspects of Undead’s production. As a documentary it offers us nothing that we haven’t seen before, but then it serves its purpose fully and features contributions from all of the major players. If you can’t face up to such a lengthy piece then the disc also offers a featurette entitled ‘The Zombies’ which was made for the internet and essentially compacts the longer effort into an easily consumed duration of one minute and thirty seconds.

A third featurette also makes itself known and traces Undead’s screening in the ‘Midnight Madness’ slot at the Toronto Film Festival. This brief entry records both the director’s pre-screening introduction and post-screening Q&A session, but is shot on shaky home video in a darkened cinema with poor sound at best and as such may prove a struggle to get through.

The remaining extras mostly feel like filler as none of them add anything especially important. The deleted and/or extended scenes demonstrate only the briskest of omissions and thus contain nothing of importance. The make-up tests, animatic comparisons and dolly construction video are both self-explanatory although they do demonstrate how just about everything has been chucked onto the disc. And the package is rounded off by the standard collection of trailers, galleries and cast and crew biographies.

Unlike the main feature, none of these extra features come with optional English subtitles.

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