Undead (2003)
By: Julian on October 29, 2010  | 
Asylum | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 100 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Starring: Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall
Screenplay: The Spierig Brothers
Country: Australia
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Brisbane brothers Michael and Peter Spierig were a bit less known in 2002 than they are now after their Queensland-filmed hit Daybreakers, which starred Hollywood names Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, as well as a fistful of talented homegrown performers. Daybreakers will surely be their American breakthrough and rightly so, but the better of the two features they've directed to date is Undead, a zombie pic that is Aussie through and through, gleefully possessing an unashamedly huge gore quotient. It's the sort of thing Peter Jackson was doing a decade ago, and he didn't do too badly from it.

Berkley is a small Queensland fishing town (one assumes Queensland because of the filmmakers' heritage, as well as the insignia on the local law's uniforms) that is victim to a series of meteorite impacts. Coming with the outer space contact is a devastating alien infection, afflicting the townspeople and turning them into blood hungry zombies.

René (Felicity Mason) is caught in the middle and, to add insult to injury, she was on her way out of Berkley when the trouble arose, embittered by country life and city-bound. She holes up in Marion's (Mungo McKay) farmhouse and they are soon joined by the hysterical Sergeant Harrison (Dirk Hunter), his partner-in-arms and a couple escaping the madness, all of whom are growing increasingly hysterical as the zombies attempt to break in. Marion, the village fruitloop who happens to be pretty handy with a shotgun (or three), keeps a level head, blasting his way out and attempting to lead his charges to safety.

I've already drawn the comparison between this and Peter Jackson's earlier films, namely Bad Taste and Braindead, though that isn't to say that this is a charmless reprise. Undead is hilariously funny and excessively violent, but it is also quintessentially Australian. Sergeant Harrison chews up every scene he is in with his profane moments of unadulterated panic and Marion is equally effective as Berkley's weirdo who ends up having the last laugh. Undead isn't scary but that's not really the point: the Spierigs are concerned with doling out those crowd pleasing moments, and whether it's Harrison's quotable lines or inventive gore effects, they deliver in spades.

What's pretty striking about Undead is how professional a film it is. The actors are all quite good, but the movie is also highly technically accomplished: the directors clearly know what they're doing and they're also credited as having authored, edited, produced and worked as visual effects supervisors on the film. The effects are particularly noteworthy; deceptively simple but highly effective.

What didn't quite gel was when Undead shifted gears about 70 minutes into its duration. I'll omit spoilers for those who haven't seen the movie, but those who have should know what I'm talking about: the theme that the Spierigs introduce doesn't quite solder with the rest of the film. It's quite a stumble but the Spierigs regain their feet, largely through the use of some genuinely funny moments and more outrageous gore.

Undead is certainly one of the most exceptional Australian genre films of the 2000s. It's smart and tremendous fun to watch, a wonderful showcase for the Spierig brothers' undeniable talent. Having only managed to see Daybreakers recently, I can say that their newer film is a slicker, more professional product, but they happily don't sell their genre roots out. The boys are destined for great things.
The film is presented in 1.85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. For a 16mm film of its budget, Undead looks pretty good.
An English audio track, presented in Dolby 5.1. The sound mixing isn't great, with the dialogue quiet and the foreground noises comparatively pervasive, but that's a minor gripe.
Extra Features
The team at Madman has once again provided a thoroughly comprehensive set, although I believe it is a repackaging of the first Imagine Entertainment release.

Two audio commentaries: the first is with the Spierig brothers, DP Andrew Strahorn and SFX artist Steven Boyle, and the second is with actors McKay (Marion), Dirk Hunter (the Sergeant) and Emma Randall (Molly).

There's some nice insight in the 36-minute doco, The Making of Undead; a 12-minute animatic-to-film comparison; a 10-minute video of a screening of Undead at the Toronto International Film Festival; a 2-minute video depicting camera and make-up tests; a 2-minute interview showing the construction of the dolly; a 2-minute Internet featurette on the zombies; a gallery of 28 production stills, 14 artwork design sketches and 5 pages of production notes.

There are 8 deleted scenes totalling 9-minutes; a pair of teasers and a theatrical trailer. Rounding the package out are text bios for the Spierigs and a handful of the key players. Other Madman trailers are also included.

Phew. An absolutely exhaustive release and, unless you fancy the DTS track that appears on the R2, this domestic disc is your best bet.
The Verdict
Undead is an exceptional debut that should receive a well-deserved publicity boost on the back of Daybreakers. Hopefully this re-release by Madman under its relatively new Asylum label will expose the movie to a broader audience.
Movie Score
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