Braindead (film)

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Promotional release poster
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Jim Booth
Screenplay by
Story by Stephen Sinclair
Music by Peter Dasent
Cinematography Murray Milne
Edited by Jamie Selkirk
Distributed by
Release date
  • 13 August 1992 (1992-08-13) (New Zealand)
  • 12 February 1993 (1993-02-12) (United States)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
Country New Zealand
Language English
Budget $3 million[2]
Box office $242,623 (US)[2]

Braindead (also known as Dead Alive in North America) is a 1992 New Zealand splatstick comedy horror film directed by Peter Jackson, produced by Jim Booth, and written by Jackson, along with Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair.

The film follows Lionel, a village dweeb living with his mother Vera in a victorian mansion, who constantly gets into trouble for his relationship with a Spanish shopkeeper's daughter, Paquita. When a rabid rat-monkey bites Vera, she gradually converts the residents of a small New Zealand town into a zombie horde.

Since its release, Braindead has received acclaim from critics, with many filmmakers and critics calling it "The Goriest Fright Film Of All Time" in cinematic history. Although a bomb financially at the time of its release, the film since gained a cult following, with more attention after Jackson's success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The film has been banned or censored in a number of countries including Singapore, Germany, Finland and South Korea due to gory and grotesque violence.[3]


In 1957, explorer Stewart McAlden (Bill Ralston), and his team smuggle a captured Sumatran Rat-Monkey, a hybrid creature that resulted from the rape of tree monkeys on the island by plague-carrying rats, out of Skull Island. During the team’s escape from the island’s warrior natives, who demand the return of the creature, Stewart is bitten by the Rat-Monkey and is hacked to pieces by his crew, who fear the effects of the bite. The captured Rat-Monkey is shipped to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.

In Wellington, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) lives in a Victorian mansion with his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody). When he was a child, Lionel’s father drowned trying to save him at the beach, and the incident has haunted him into adulthood. To Vera's dismay, Lionel falls in love with Spanish Romani shopkeeper's daughter, Paquita María Sánchez (Diana Peñalver), who is convinced the two are destined to be together. When the two visit the Wellington zoo on a date, Vera follows them and is bitten by the Rat-Monkey, and though she appears fine initially, the following day she grows more and more decrepit, culminating in her eating her ear after it falls off during a lunch with friends. She appears to die before reanimating as a ravenous zombie and kills the attending nurse, who also returns as a zombie, before Lionel locks them in the basement and keeps them sedated with animal tranquilisers. While visiting Paquita, Lionel is given a pendant for luck by her grandmother. Vera is able to break out of the basement and is apparently killed when struck by a tram.

At her funeral, Lionel tranquilizes Vera to keep her from attacking the mourners, and while returning to the graveyard to administer more of it he is intercepted and beaten by a group of hoodlums, who assume him to be a necrophiliac. Vera bursts from her grave and in the ensuing commotion one of the hoodlums and the local priest (Jed Brophy and Stuart Devenie) are killed and turned into zombies, forcing Lionel to also hide them in the basement. After the nurse and priest copulate and produce a zombie baby, Lionel breaks up with Paquita to keep her safe. Shortly afterward Lionel's uncle Les (Ian Watkin) arrives to wrangle with Lionel over Vera's estate. Discovering the "stiffs" in the basement, Les blackmails his nephew into giving up the house and his inheritance and invites his friends over for a housewarming party despite Lionel’s objections.

During the party, Paquita arrives to try and make amends with Lionel. She discovers the zombies in the basement, and Lionel explains to her all that has occurred. She is able to convince Lionel to administer poison to the zombies to finally kill them, but after injecting the zombies with it he discovers the poison is in fact animal stimulants. They narrowly escape the now-enhanced zombies, who burst into the house upstairs and slaughter the party guests. The guests subsequently reanimate and begin to attack the survivors, including Paquita and Lionel, who are separated in the ensuing mayhem. Lionel enters the house with a lawnmower and proceeds to destroy the zombie horde within, while Paquita kills the zombified Les, who has been killed by a now-monstrous Vera. She erupts from the basement and pursues them both to the rooftop as the house catches fire from a burst gas pipe.

As Vera corners them on the roof, Lionel confronts his mother and reveals that he witnessed Vera drowning his father and his lover in the bathtub as a child. Vera becomes enraged and swallows Lionel with an opening in her stomach before trying to kill Paquita. Lionel cuts his way out of his mother's body with the pendant given to him earlier, causing Vera to fall back into the burning house. Lionel and Paquita escape the burning rooftop as the fire brigade arrives. They kiss as he throws the pendant, then walk away arm-in-arm.



Principal photography took place over eleven weeks on location in and around Wellington, New Zealand on a reputed budget of around $3 million. The nighttime cemetery scene was filmed at the Karori Cemetery in the Karori neighbourhood of Wellington.

Jackson reused the song played on the organ as the mourners wait to enter the church prior to the embalming scene. It is Sodomy from his previous film Meet the Feebles (1989).

The first scene to be shot and the opening scene, filmed on "Skull Island", was filmed at Putangirua Pinnacles, the same location he would later use for the Paths of the Dead in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Bob McCarron, recently known for his on-screen appearances as Dr Bob from the UK television show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and its German version Ich bin ein Star – Holt mich hier raus!, designed the special prosthetic makeup. He was awarded at Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival and nominated for Saturn Award (see below for all awards).

The final scene to be shot was the section in the park with Lionel and the zombie baby Selwyn. The film was finished one week ahead of schedule and with NZ$45,000 remaining, so Jackson used all this remaining budget to film the park scene over the course of two days. He has gone on to say that this is his favourite scene and the funniest in the whole film.

Filming locations[edit]

  • Putangirua Pinnacles is Skull Island in the Film
  • Wellington Zoo, New Zealand
  • No 12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington is No.33 House in the movie .,,[4][5][6]
  • Karori Cemetery, Wellington
  • Wellington Park


In Bradley v WingNut Films Ltd [1993] 1 NZLR 415, it was alleged that Braindead had infringed the privacy of the plaintiffs by containing pictures of the plaintiff's family tombstone. After reviewing the New Zealand judicial authorities on privacy, Gallen J stated: "the present situation in New Zealand ... is that there are three strong statements in the High Court in favour of the existence of such a tort in this country and an acceptance by the Court of Appeal that the concept is at least arguable." This case became one of a series of cases which contributed to the introduction of tort invasions of privacy in New Zealand.[7]


The film was released in a number of different versions:

  • In some nations, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the 104-minute film was shown in full.
  • In countries where the censors balked at the extreme gore, the film was initially banned or left unrated before being heavily cut. In Germany, a 94-minute version was seen with major cuts to some of the film's grislier scenes, but was widely ignored. A FSK 16 rated version was released in Germany under the American title Dead Alive, omitting almost the entirety of the violence. The uncut version, as well as several cut versions, are banned in Germany.[8]
  • In the United States, where the film was released as Dead Alive (because of another film with rights to the practically identical title Brain Dead), the R-rated version is only 85 minutes with most of the gore scenes removed, while the unrated cut is 97 minutes with the gore scenes mostly intact.

Critical reception[edit]

Although Braindead did not receive much critical attention at the time of its release, Jackson's fame with The Lord of the Rings led to more interest in his earlier films.[citation needed] The contemporary response to the film was positive: the film received an 86% rating of positive reviews based on 35 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The website's consensus is: "The delightfully gonzo tale of a lovestruck teen and his zombified mother, Dead Alive is extremely gory and exceedingly good fun, thanks to Peter Jackson's affection for the tastelessly sublime."[9] Metacritic rated it 54 out of 100 based on 7 reviews.[10]

At the time of its release, David Stratton of Variety gave a positive review, calling it "Jackson's best film to date" and praising its humour, acting, and technical qualities (gore effects, makeup). He stated "Kiwi gore specialist Peter Jackson, who goes for broke with an orgy of bad taste and splatter humor. Some will recoil from the gore, but Braindead wasn't made for them."[11]

In 2016, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films.[12] Braindead placed at number 91 on their top 100 list.[13]


  • Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival – Silver Scream Award (1993)
  • Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Grand Prize (1993)
  • Fantasporto – International Fantasy Film Award, Best Film and Best Special Effects (1993)
  • New Zealand Film and TV Awards – Film Award, Best Contribution to Design, Best Director, Best Film, Best Male Dramatic Performance and Best Screenplay (1993)
  • Catalan International Film Festival, Sitges, Spanien – Best Special Effects (1992)
  • Fantafestival – Best Actor and Best Special Effects (1992)

Home media[edit]

The film has had several releases on VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD around the world. It was released on Blu-ray with the US 97-minute cut for the first time on 4 October 2011 by Lions Gate Entertainment.[14]


  • Simon Pegg, actor, comedian, and friend of Jackson, wrote in his 2012 book Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy's Journey to Becoming a Big Kid that the film Braindead is one of the main influences on his 2004 zombie film Shaun of the Dead.
  • In Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong, the cargo hold of the ship contains a box reading Sumatran Rat Monkey—Beware the bite!, in reference to the animal from Braindead.[15]
  • The Sumatran Rat-Monkey appears in the tunnels in the 2007 PC game Hellgate: London released by Electronic Arts.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BRAINDEAD (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 10 November 1992. Retrieved 20 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Braindead". The Numbers. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  3. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Local Film (12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington)". 
  5. ^ "House map 1 (no 12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington)". 
  6. ^ "house map 2 (No 12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington)". 
  7. ^ "Privacy in New Zealand case law - [1994] PLPR 32; (1994) 1 PLPR 48". Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Alle nach §131 StGB beschlagnahmten Filme in Deutschland (". Retrieved 2017-11-07. 
  9. ^ "Dead Alive (Braindead)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 December 2017. 
  10. ^ "Dead Alive Reviews". Metacritic. 12 February 1993. Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Stratton, David (9 June 1992). "Braindead". Variety. Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  12. ^ "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  13. ^ NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  14. ^ "Dead Alive Blu-ray: Braindead | Unrated US Cut". Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  15. ^ Wloszczyna, Susan (15 December 2005). "King Kong abounds with fun facts for fanboys". USA Today. Retrieved 21 June 2006. 
  16. ^

External links[edit]