Braindead (film)

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

Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Jackson
Produced byJim Booth
Screenplay by
Story byStephen Sinclair
Music byPeter Dasent
CinematographyMurray Milne
Edited byJamie 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]
CountryNew Zealand
Budget$3 million[2]
Box office$242,623 (United States)[2]

The film follows Lionel, a man living with his mother Vera in a Victorian mansion, who 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 Newtown into a zombie horde.

Since its release, Braindead received positive reviews from critics. Although a bomb financially at the time of its release, it has received more attention since Jackson's success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.


In 1957, explorer Stewart McAlden and his team smuggle a captured Sumatran rat-monkey, a hybrid creature that resulted from the rape of tree monkeys 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, resulting in his dismemberment and killing by his crew, who fear the effects of the bite. The captured rat-monkey is then shipped to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.

In Wellington, Lionel Cosgrove lives in a Victorian mansion with his domineering mother Vera. 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 a Spanish Romani shopkeeper's daughter, Paquita María Sánchez, who is convinced the two are destined to be together. When the two visit the Wellington zoo together on a date, Vera follows them and is bitten by the rat-monkey which attacked one of the monkeys, and though she appears fine initially, the following day she grows more and more decrepit, culminating in her eating her own ear after it falls off in a custard during a lunch with colleagues, and later eating Paquita's dog. She appears to die before reanimating as a ravenous zombie and killing the attending nurse Mrs. McTavish, who also returns as a zombie, before Lionel locks them both in the basement and keeps them sedated with animal tranquilizers. 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. Later, 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. Heavily drunk Void urinates on Vera's gravestone. Vera bursts from her grave and attacks the hoodlums. In the ensuing commotion, Void and the local priest are killed and turned into zombies, forcing Lionel to hide them in the basement, too. 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 arrives to wrangle with Lionel over Vera's estate. Discovering the zombies, which he believes to be "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 to 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 animal stimulants, which revives them. They narrowly escape the now-enhanced zombies, who burst into the house upstairs and horribly and painfully 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, havoc and chaos. Lionel enters the house with a lawnmower and proceeds to purée the zombie horde within, while Paquita starts puréeing all body parts of any zombies she can lay her hand upon. Paquita then blasts the head of zombified Les, who has been killed by a now-monstrous Vera. Vera 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, and accuses her of lying to him all his life. 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 and 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

The film was mostly shot in and around Wellington, New Zealand. Some filming locations include:


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.[11]


Braindead released on 13 August 1992 in New Zealand. It was subsequently released in the United States on 12 February 1993 under the title Dead Alive and grossed $23,765 in its opening weekend. It eventually grossed $242,623 in the country.[12]

Alternate versions

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.[13] In fact, the UK's classification board the BBFC found the film's gory content so light-hearted and comical that there was consideration on giving the film a 15 certificate, which would have granted it to be seen by a much younger audience. They ultimately decided to give the film an 18 rating because the amount of gore confounded the expectations of a 15 rating.[14]

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.[15] The gory violence has also caused the film to be banned in South Korea, Finland and Singapore.[16][17]

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.[18]


Braindead (Original Soundtrack Recording)
Soundtrack album
Stage & Screen
LabelMana Music

The film's music was composed by Peter Dasent. The soundtrack was released in 1992 by Mana Music.

Track listing
1."The Stars and Moon" (Composed by Jane Lindsay, performed by Kate Swadling)3:27
2."Sumatra 1957"3:20
3."Braindead Theme"2:31
4."Grandmother's Kitchen"1:54
5."At The Zoo"1:54
6."The Throb"1:50
7."Uncle Henrich"0:52
8."Funeral Suite"4:33
9."A Walk in the Park"2:37
10."Heat of My Thoughts"3:05
11."The Death of Mum"1:32
12."29 Steps to My Baby's Front Door (But I Lose Count at 24)" (Composed by Fane Flaws and Stephen Hinderwell, performed by Fane Flaws)2:21
13."Void's Got Guts"1:37
14."Uncle Les Loses the Plot"2:10
15."Zombie Romance"1:10
16."The Masport Waltz"0:53
17."Come to Mummy, Lionel!"1:00
18."The Hero Gets the Girl"2:19
19."The Stars and Moon (Extended version)"4:09

Critical reception

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 40 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.44/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "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."[19] Metacritic rated it 54 out of 100 based on 7 reviews.[20]

At the time of its release, David Stratton, writing for 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."[21] Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times enjoyed the film, stating that it "is the most hilariously disgusting movie ever made. It makes something like Re-Animator seem like a UNESCO documentary about Mother Teresa."[22] The film received a negative review from The Independent writer Quentin Curtis, who complained that "it never decides whether to make you tremble with laughter or fear, and has outstayed its welcome long before the last limb has been severed and entrail spilled."[23]

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.[24] Braindead placed at number 91 on their top 100 list.[25]


  • 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

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.[26]

In December 2018, Peter Jackson announced that he plans to restore Braindead, along with his previous films Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles for a possible 4K release.[27]


  • 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.[28]
  • The Sumatran Rat-Monkey appears in the tunnels in the 2007 PC game Hellgate: London released by Electronic Arts.[29]

See also


  1. "BRAINDEAD (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 10 November 1992. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  2. "Braindead". The Numbers. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  3. "Local Film (12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington)".
  4. "House map 1 (no 12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington)".
  5. "house map 2 (No 12 Hinau Rd, Hataitai, Wellington)".
  6. "Local Film (29 Sutherland Road, Melrose, Wellington)".
  7. "Local Film (Botanic Garden Playground, Wellington)".
  8. "Local Film (in Botanic Garden Playground, Wellington)".
  9. "Local Film (Queens Drive, Lyall Bay, Wellington)".
  10. "Local Film (Standen Street, Karori, Wellington)".
  11. "Privacy in New Zealand case law - [1994] PLPR 32; (1994) 1 PLPR 48". Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  12. "Dead Alive (1993) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  13. "View Title - Braindead". Australian Classification Board. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  14. "Braindead". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  15. "Alle nach §131 StGB beschlagnahmten Filme in Deutschland (" (in German). Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  16. "Braindead (1992) - Background". NZ On Screen. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  17. "Banned Movies from the 1990s". El Rey Network. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  18. "Dead Alive Rated/Unrated". Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  19. "Dead Alive (1993) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  20. "Dead Alive Reviews". Metacritic. 12 February 1993. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  21. Stratton, David (9 June 1992). "Braindead". Variety. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  22. Rainer, Peter (14 July 1993). "MOVIE REVIEW: 'Dead': Head, Shoulders Above Its Genre". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  23. Curtis, Quentin (16 May 1993). "FILM / For a few dollars, Moore". The Independent. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  24. "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  25. NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  26. "Dead Alive Blu-ray: Braindead | Unrated US Cut". Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  27. Brzeski, Patrick (10 December 2018). "Peter Jackson Returns to His "Naughty Years" With Restoration of Gory Early Films". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  28. Wloszczyna, Susan (15 December 2005). "King Kong abounds with fun facts for fanboys". USA Today. Retrieved 21 June 2006.
  29. "Hellgate: London Review". GameZone. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
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