Anybody who feels a craving for an Ed Wood epic can get a latter-day helping in this combination zombie movie-science fiction flick (the same combination as in Wood’s infamous “Plan 9 from Outer Space”) from Australian brothers Peter and Michael Spierig. Sort of a “Night of the Living Dead” with an explanation that demonstrates why George Romero was smart not to explain things, “Undead” is also, from the technical standpoint, a home movie that ought to have stayed there, with effects (both of the dismemberment and the spaceship variety) that–like the ones Wood employed–are defiantly amateurish.
The movie begins with a meteor shower that turns most of the residents of a tiny Queensland town into hulking, hungry zombies. Escaping the contagion are local beauty queen Rene (Felicity King), who’s just lost the family farm to the bank; her bitter rival, the pregnant Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham) and her husband Wayne (Rob Jenkins), a stumblebum pilot; and cops Harrison (Dirk Hunter), an abrasive boor, and Molly (Emma Randall), a nervous rookie. They take refuge in the bleak house of backwoods macho-man Marion (Mungo McKay), who turns out to be a gun-wielding, high-flying dude with peculiar ideas about how to deal with their mutual menace. Some “Living Dead” stuff follows, none of it especially well staged; but before long the movie lurches in a different direction as aliens intervene to address the humans’ crisis. Here the Spierigs manage a few visual effects that are at least cheesily imaginative if not particularly convincing. But even that isn’t enough: the boys have a final twist to offer–one that inexplicably takes the movie back into horror territory with a “Max Mad” component (and threatens a possible sequel).
As a candidate for cult midnight-movie status, “Undead” has what it takes. If properly fortified with alcoholic spirits or even stronger stuff, one might find its puerilities and fan-boy effects amusing. But on a more ordinary basis it would certainly help if the characters were anything more than the cruddiest comic figures (the loudmouth Harrison is particularly obnoxious, but the shrewish Sallyanne and brutish Marion aren’t far behind). One doesn’t expect any deep levels in a more like this, but it would be nice to have at least one person in the narrative to care about, even slightly. As it is this movie doesn’t even have the idiotic charm one might expect of a “Plan Ten from Outer Space.”
There is one aspect of “Undead” that genuinely tickles the funnybone. It comes when Marion has a flashback to his first encounter with the zombie-infecting meteorites. Seems he was out fishing, and the rocks hit a few of his catch as they lay in his boat. Revivified, they came after him with a dexterity their lumbering human cousins will only be able to dream about. Flying zombie fish–now there’s something we haven’t seen before–a deranged idea, to be sure, but a fun one. Unfortunately, it’s an isolated moment that the movie never repeats or equals. As for the rest, one can cite a bit of dialogue early on, when Wayne describes the the state of his aunt Aggie, whom the zombies have already ripped to shreds. Explaining why he and his wife have sought shelter on foot rather than in their truck, he says of dear Aggie, “She’s got the keys. But she hasn’t got a brain.” Unfortunately, the latter part of the description applies equally well to “Undead.”