Thursday, October 20, 2022

Double the Zombies

 (1992) and Brain Dead (2007)

This week we’re looking at two zombie films, 2007’s Brain Dead and 1992’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive). We will not be looking at 1990’s Brain Dead with Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton or the 2016 TV Series, BrainDead. I wanted to clarify this, because the 1992 and 2007 works have clergy, and clergy and churches are what we talk about here. 

Now we have that clear, I have to mention what a difference that space in the titles makes. The film without a space in the title, Braindead, was the work of Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson, creator of the acclaimed Lord of the Rings films (and the not-quite-so-acclaimed Hobbit trilogy).  Braindead is rather unhinged, but it's considered a cult classic. Brain Dead (with space between the words) is a rather sleazy zombie film dependent on gratuitous nudity and violence to attract viewers. Rotten Tomatoes is far from infallible in its ratings, but the 1972 film has an 87% audience rating while the 2007 film has 27%.  I think it's fair to say there is a gap in quality between the two films.

Braindead is Peter Jackson's first film with a creature taken from Skull Island (the second is his remake of King Kong). Zoologists capture a Sumatran Rat-Monkey (half tree monkey and half plague-carrying rat) and bring it to the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand. Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) takes his date, Paquita (Diana Penalver), to the zoo. They're followed by his jealous mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody), who is bitten by that Sumatran Rat-Monkey. Vera becomes ill and then violent, and Lionel is forced to tranquilize her. Vera dies. (Maybe.)

At the funeral, Vera doesn’t act very dead. Though her body is decomposing, she is animated and strong enough to attack the mourners who came to celebrate, I mean mourn, her death. Lionel tranquilizes her again, and the funeral starts on time. (Side note: Have you ever noticed that funerals tend to start on time while weddings always seem to start late?)

Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie) delivers an odd, rather pompous sermon at the funeral, “The theme of today’s service is the sacredness of motherhood.” (I’ve conducted a number of memorial services and have never felt the need to find a “theme,” but maybe things are different in New Zealand.) “Vera had an abundance of motherlove," Father McGruder continues. The point of the sermon seems to be that Lionel should feel even guiltier than he already does. Eventually, the priest gets around to some theological content. He says, “Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be resurrected,” (Just a thought: Vera’s resurrection seems to be of another kind.)

In the evening, Lionel comes to visit Vera’s grave. On his way, he is assaulted by a group of young thugs. The ruffians then go to Vera’s grave and she rises up from the dirt and attacks them. A melee breaks out between these ne’er-do-wells and zombies with Lionel caught in the middle. Father McGruder shows up and demonstrates prodigious kung-fu skills against all parties. He tells Lionel, “The devil is amongst us. Stay back boys, this calls for divine intervention. I kick ass for the Lord.”

Sadly, the pastor is bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. Lionel takes it upon himself to keep Father McGruder, his mother, and a number of other zombies from rampaging, but as one might guess, this doesn’t go well. Father McGruder is in no way pastoral for the remainder of the film, but one could argue it is no longer really Father McGruder. (In fact, Zombie McGruder is even played by a different actor, Stephen Papps.)

2007’s Brain Dead was written by Dale Gelineau who also wrote ... an episode of Moonlighting. The film was directed by Kevin Tenney, who directed a number of films I have not seen. Brain Dead tells the story of a couple of escaped convicts, a couple of sorority sisters, and a pastor accompanied by his secretary. They're stranded in an isolated country cabin and attacked by zombies. (The zombie plague in this film is instigated by a meteor from outer space, not that it really matters in these things.) We will, of course, focus on the clergyman and his co-worker.

We first see the Reverend Elton Farmsworth (Andy Forrest) driving on a country road accompanied by his secretary, Amy (Cristina Smoots). Unfortunately, Reverend Farnsworth is leering at Amy’s bosom rather than watching the road, and he nearly crashes into oncoming traffic. He pulls to the side of the road. Amy tells him he should have never fired his driver, but the Reverend tells her, “I wanted this time to enjoy our fellowship.” 

The Reverend kisses Amy and she flees the car.

He calls to her, “Sister Amy! Please understand, I do love my wife. But ever since the Lord saw fit to extend her from a size six to a size twelve I have been unable to express my love physically. But then God brought me you. Ever since He brought you into my life I have been unable to rid my mind of your intense loveliness. My every waking moment is filled with impure thoughts of you. A man must have a clear mind to minister to the faithful.”

Somehow, Amy is not repulsed. Instead, she says, “I have dreaded this day for so long, but I now see this is God’s will that I relieve you.” And she pulls down her top.

But this, um, love scene is interrupted when they realize that the reverend had left the car in gear without applying the brake, and the car goes rolling down the hill. It crashes into a tree and becomes undrivable. The two wander to the previously mentioned cabin.

At the cabin, the Reverend is quite judgmental of the other occupants. He calls the sorority sisters harlots. And he calls the escaped convicts crooks, which they are, but still… One of the prisoners recognizes the Reverend from the television. “Two million viewers and growing every day,” the Reverend boasts. The other prisoner wants to treat him with some kindness because a prison chaplain had been kind to him, helping him to write letters and getting him extra food.

Eventually, after a zombie attack on the cabin, the Reverend and Amy decide to go out on their own (against the advice of the others). When zombies attack Amy, Farmsworth leaves her to save his own life. He returns to the cabin and refuses to say what happened to Amy. Eventually, Amy makes it back to the cabin, alive but bitten by a zombie, so sure to eventually turn.

The Reverend eventually shows a bit of courage, going out to retrieve a gun. A convict tells him, “You might as well go, you’re the one who believed in that afterlife crap.”

Amy and the Reverend, along with most of the others eventually die. One would think in such a situation, a pastor should be able to provide some hope and encouragement, but Farmsworth is so obviously a self-righteous hypocrite, no one listens to anything he has to say. (Even Amy isn’t much of a fan after he deserts her.)

So between the two ministers in these two films, at least Father McGruder in Braindead isn’t a coward. We’ll give him a Two Steeple Rating while the Reverend Farmsworth of Brain Dead gets our lowest rating of One Steeple.

No comments:

Post a Comment