'Undead': Headless to Mindless in 30 Minutes

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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 8, 2005

My favorite beheading in "Undead" is the first one. Some of the other beheadings are cool, but somehow they lack the I-don't-know-what of that first one, the pizazz, or possibly the joie de vivre . Not only does the head vanish in a snap, but the headless torso pitches forward squirting blood which gets on, ultimately covering, the camera lens! Gurgle, gurgle! It's a gas! I don't know about you folks but nothing makes me chuckle more than a good funny decapitation.

"Undead" is an over-the-top gross-out by two Australian brothers named Spierig, Michael and Peter, who will never make you forget the Taviani brothers, the Coen brothers or the Wachowski brothers. I hate to go this far out on a limb, but I believe they may have seen "Night of the Living Dead" by George A. Romero.

The last time mysterious forces from outer space landed and turned the very dead dead into the walking, shuffling, eating dead, the locality was somewhere outside Pittsburgh. The results spawned three sequels, the last of which, "Land of the Dead," is still putting bodies in bags -- er, I mean, theater seats, all across America.

In the Spierigs' variant, it's Australia that's visited by strange ships out of two young men's laptops -- oh, wait, from outer space . No surprise the Spierigs are Australian themselves. So the movie plays like "Crocodile Dundee" combined with the grosser moments in the Monty Python canon. Put another headless shrimp on the barbie, mate.

Anyhow, the ships come down around Berkeley somewhere in the far sticks. It's a dusty little joint, believe me. The aliens are the first outsiders in years.

They raise the dead, the dead begin to shamble and wander and eat portions of the citizenry, after which such sampled citizenry, à la Romero, arises and begins its own blue munchie attack. This movie could single-handedly give eating a bad name. There seems to be a plot, in which a dethroned beauty queen, Rene (Felicity Mason), is trying to get out of town, and another guy, a pilot named Marion (Mungo McKay), is trying to get his family out of town, but various zombies keep showing up and eating people. On and on it goes, the only effective deterrent is some kind of triple-shotgun rigged up by a hard-core guy named Wayne (Rob Jenkins) who keeps blowing Fearless Fosdick-size holes in zombies, not that anyone out there remembers who Fearless Fosdick was. (He was Al Capp's parody of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy and there, now you've learned something in a review of a movie called "Undead.")

All this is fun for about a half an hour, but as it climbs through the gears to full running speed, it gets duller and duller as it turns out to have used up all its amusing tricks in that first 30 minutes. Seeing people die in funny ways loses interest after a bit.

The climax, all of it done at home on amateur computer software by the Spierigs' several years ago (the film was released in Australia in 2003), does offer some surprises of the especially banal kind. No, it's not only a dream. It's much worse than that.

Undead (104 minutes at area theaters) is rated R for extreme, albeit "comic," gore.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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