If the Japanese have the market cornered on creepy, atmospheric horror like “Ringu” and “Dark Water,” and Italy is renowned for its gore-spattered giallo, then perhaps the Australians can carve a name for themselves in the genre with goofy a*s zombie flicks. They’re certainly off to a good start with the low-budget zombie/alien invasion flickershow “Undead.”
The thing about zombies is, you never know what’s going to set them off. Maybe it’s a canister or two of government poison, maybe a top secret biological experiment gone wrong, or maybe a rogue comet has splintered in our atmosphere and is causing all those exposed to become flesh-eating ghouls. Such is the case in “Undead,” which follows (as is the case in most such films) a small group of survivors as they attempt to withstand the onslaught of murderous zombies in their small town of Berkeley. There’s former beauty queen Rene, twitchy a*****e cop Harrison and his rookie partner Molly, young expecting couple Wayne and Sallyanne, and steely-eyed badass Marion. Don’t laugh, John Wayne’s real name was Marion, and besides, this guy conveniently owns a gun store. Guns, as we all know, come in handy when battling legions of walking corpses.
It sounds distinctly Romero-ish, and it is. Writer/producer/directors (and twin brothers) Michael and Peter Spierig obviously have a great deal of love for both “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead,” but they also have healthy senses of humor. “Undead” throws jokes around as liberally as it does entrails, which occasionally brings to mind Peter Jackson’s similarly named (and themed) “Braindead.”
All the same, “Undead” seems to be treading a fairly beaten path until the plot twist kicks in about two-thirds of the way through. Before we know it, the film has morphed from good-natured zombie splatterfest into a horror-tinged episode of “The X-Files.” Give the Spierigs credit for finding an interesting way to free themselves of the shackles of the zombie genre, if only for a little while.
Of the cast, Mungo McKay stands out as Marion, the impossibly proficient death-dealer who always seems to have an extra pair of spring-loaded pistols at his disposal. Newcomer Felicity Mason does a fine job as Rene, and is reminiscent of a younger Rena Owen. Dirk Hunter (gotta be a fake name) is annoying as hell as the apoplectic Harrison, which is precisely the point, though his consistent insistence that Marion give up his weapons in the face of zombie invasion grows tiresome in short order. What really grabs your attention about “Undead,” however, are the effects. For a movie budgeted under $1 million, the Spierigs have done an amazing job putting together believable visuals. The brothers from Queensland spent long months making their debut feature look as polished as possible, and it shows.
“Undead” also features the requisite “The End?” moment for horror films, but for some reason I didn’t mind. Most likely because we were treated to seeing Rene sporting a boffo Trinity-esque leather ensemble.