Hidden Gem: ‘Undead’ (2003)

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undead - movie - 2003

Running out of zombie films to feed on? Fear not. There are plenty of obscure movies to satisfy your insatiable desire for zombie-inflicted carnage. One particular little gem is the 2003 low-budget Australian horror-comedy Undead, which combines rural Australia with a vicious unworldly contagion.

The film is set in the idyllic fictional town of Berkeley, which should have been called Buckley since the characters have about Buckley’s Chance of surviving to the credits. Local beauty queen Renee (Felicity Mason) has lost her family farm and is abandoning Berkeley for a fresh start in the city. Unfortunately, her departure is interrupted by a fall of mysterious meteorites turning people into shambling corpses hungry for brains. She teams up with a quirky cast of characters, including two woefully unprepared cops (Emma Randall and Dirk Hunter), town pariah Marion (Mungo McKay), and a pair of frantic parents-to-be (Rob Jenkins and Lisa Cunningham) as they attempt to make it out of town alive.

The result is akin to a zombie plague being unleashed upon the loveable cast of Seachange. In other hands it would be distressing, but with the film’s tongue planted firmly in its cheek, it’s silly, gory fun. Writers and directors Michael and Peter Spierig (Daybreakers, Predestination) know how to work within a shoe-string budget and don’t bother even attempting realism. Instead they focus on making the action scenes as ludicrously entertaining as possible, and the end product is ten times more engaging than films with ten times the budget (World War Z, we’re looking at you). Yes, the minimal CGI is terrible, but nobody cares when zombies are dying in increasingly imaginative and gruesome ways, including one memorable instance with an energy drink and a pen.

undead - 2003

The leading man (at least in his own mind) is the unfortunately named Marion, who’s just genre-savvy enough to recognise what kind of movie he’s in. He condenses every hyper-masculine cliché in the book, including a beard, a triple-barrelled shotgun, and a ‘shitbox’ car no one else is allowed to drive. Not only is he as entertaining as a sackful of cats, he’s also a surprisingly thoughtful deconstruction of the paranoia that could lead a man to gather a basement full of guns in preparation for the end of days.

Renee is the true protagonist of the film, going from broke beauty queen fleeing her responsibilities to embracing her role as zombie-killing protector of innocents. Unlike Marion she doesn’t make assumptions and asks all the right questions, such as what a zombie plague has to do with the unseasonable rainfall or the nudist aliens lurking around Berkeley (yes, it’s that kind of film). Despite this, the conclusions she reaches are actually pretty sensible; guns have their role in an outbreak situation, but they must be balanced with effective containment measures and timely medical intervention. Not bad for a movie that could only afford one song for its soundtrack.

It’s a crying shame this neat little horror-comedy didn’t make more of an impact, especially since Shaun of the Dead went on to be so wildly popular the very next year. The most likely culprit is the misleading advertising, which suggested something much bleaker. With audiences expecting a grim survival story, Undead’s eccentric blend of comedy and gore would not been well received. That said, if you’re in the mood for an imaginative film that gleefully thumbs its nose at its own genre, this is the one for you.

V.J.

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