Eric D. Snider

Undead

You could make a case for all zombie movies being unnecessary, of course, but even fans of the genre will have to admit that "Undead" is struggling to exist in a world that doesn't need it.

Made on the cheap by quirky Australians who have clearly seen their countryman Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" a time or two, "Undead" is brimming with the usual antipodean whimsy and slapstick, plus a lot of gore and violence. What it doesn't have, in particular, is anything frightening, nor is any of it anything beyond mildly funny. Were it the first of its genre, it would be spectacular, but of course that is not the case.

Set in the small town of Berkeley, Australia, we focus on a handful of folks who wind up barricading themselves against zombies that are created when small meteorites fall from the sky. Whatever living thing the rock hits when it arrives in the Earth's atmosphere, that thing becomes undead. In one amusing flashback, it's a fish, and zombie fish are always good for a laugh.

The survivors are led by a weird rugged man named Marion (Mungo McKay), who I gather wants to be Ash from the "Evil Dead" movies. There's also a skittish cop (Emma Randall) enduring her first day on the job, and a local beauty queen (Felicity Mason), among others. They do a lot of screaming and shooting and arguing and running, and then later, some aliens show up. I crap you not, aliens.

The style of comedy employed by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, who wrote and directed the film, is not one that I find successful. It involves a lot of exaggerated reactions and steppin' and fetchin', all the regular people behaving almost as stupidly and cow-like as the monsters they flee. It's that obsession so many Australian filmmakers seem to have with their own country, finding it just a wacky, wacky place, and just look at how wacky we are! Fine, we get it, you're a bunch of kooks whose Christmas is warm and whose August is cold. Now cut it out.

Still, the Spierig boys can be inventive with the special effects and assemble a witty exchange of dialogue when the mood strikes them. I was impressed several times, in fact, with the quality of the gore on what must have been a paltry budget. If an application were required to break into filmmaking, a videotape of "Undead" be a fine thing for them to include with their resume: not something you'd ever release, of course, but something that shows they've got skills.

Grade: C-

Rated R, a lot of harsh profanity, a ton of violence and gore

1 hr., 40 min.

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