UNDEAD OR ALIVE
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
A quiet stranger named Elmore (James Denton) and a dumbass wannabe cowboy named Luke (Chris Kattan) have just broken out of jail and stolen the Sheriff's stash. But they've got bigger problems. The Sherrif and his posse have becomes victims of "Geronomo's Curse", and are now wisecracking flesheating zombies! Leading the duo through the west is a tough as nails native girl named Sue (Navi Rawat), but that might not be enough to save them as the curse spreads and everybody they meat wants to munch on them!
Is it good movie?
Zombie movies are, right now, being overdone to death (or would that be undeath?). They all seem to follow the same basic Night Of The Living Dead formula: survivors stuck in a barely defensible location while an army of the undead assaults them from outside. But Undead Or Alive makes some interesting departures from the norm that are both hilarious and entertaining, and they lift this shambling corpse of an SNL comedian above the pack of shitty zombie movies crowding the video store shelves. While the whole romantic zombie comedy has been done better before (Shaun Of The Dead), combining them with the western genre seems like a recipe for comedy gold. And it even manages to be gory and pretty creepy too! Unlike the steaming turd that was the futuristic zombie western The Quick And The Undead, this one's got some recognizable stars who can actually act, some wicked zombie makeup and killer gore, some terrific laughs and a few boo scares, and it's all presented with talent behind the camera and some impressive western locations that really add to the whole mix.
Aside from Denton's stoic straight man performance, it's really Kattan and Rawat who carry this whole flick. I like Kattan, and even though his roles have been hit or miss (Corky Romano anyone?), this one was clearly written with his smartass/dumbass persona in mind. His turn here as the hapless Luke is at times sad, very pathetic, and always hilarious. When combined with Rawat's showing as a college educated native warrior (and the niece of Geronomo) is practically a revelation. I've seen her before (most notably on Numb3rs), but here she shows the chops to make a name for herself and really hit the big time (being wickedly sarcastic, smarter than the dumbass guys and smoking hot helps too)! Their chemistry together is nothing short of awesome, whether they are arguing the finer points of Native/European Settler relations, or verbally abusing each other yet again, or debating just how to kill those pesky zombies. In almost every scene of their burgeoning romance soon to go horribly wrong, they are hilarious and believable. Their performances really showcase the stellar writing done by director Glascow Phillips, whose background as one of the South Park madmen really shows through in the zany action, funny as hell plot twists and some decent one liners that had beer shooting out my nose. Nice bloody job!
Acting aside, what really sets this one above the rest are the liberties it takes with the generally accepted 'rules' of both zombies and traditional westerns that most movies stick too. In this very unusual western, there is never any quick way to kill a zombie, such as "shoot them in the head" or some other such convention. As well, much like the comedy classic Return Of The Living Dead, the zombies have some amount of resoning and judgement, and can talk. But it's not all new shit, and there are some comforting western and zombie trappings to keep fans of both genres happy. Halfway ino this chucklefest the heroes run into the U.S.Army company that brought Geronomo's Curse down on the white man, and for a while here the movie does use the tried and true zombie movie staple of survivors holed up in a surrounded location, with hilarious results. And the western setting works for the comedy and adds a little spice to the horror. I've been waiting for a nice mix of the western genre with zombies for a while. And the nice, gruesome twist at the end (which is funny as well as kind of horrifying when you think about it) was a nice capper on one hell of movie. Yep, this is the Wild West gone horribly wrong, and from where I'm sitting, that's a very good thing!
On the dull side of the bullet here, some of the comedy does fall a little flat, and some of the zombie action is pretty formulaic. But the wit and skill that the actors tackle this shite makes it not half as bad as it would have been. But even with the several small problems aside, with a couple of beers and if you're in the mood for a laugh (with plenty of gore and a hot actress too boot), then this one is for you. If only for the killer homages to some classic Romero/Savini kills, you have to see this one!
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1.
Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround) and subtitles in English and Spanish.
Aside from the short blooper reel that plays during the end credits, we are also treated to two of the now standard Making Of Featurettes, where we see Phillips talk about his background with South Park and about his idea to make a zombie western. Interesting stuff here, but short. There is a wicked Audio Commentary by Phillips, Kattan, Denton and Rawat, that's almost as funny as the movie itself. I think Kattan is kind of like Robin Williams: he's always switched into the on position, and most of the things that come out of him are unbelievable, but always hilarious. There's also a Trailer for the film, and the menus allow you to hear some of the music from the movie (including the title song) by Ivan Koutikov, which is almost as classic as Zack Selwyn's stuff from Dead And Breakfast.
This is a very good movie that brings the laughs and the gore, it never seems forced or overdone and it's all in one package. Most comedies and zombie movies don't bring the goods seperately these days, so it's great to see such a mix of genres actually pull it off. It was natural that this would be comedy considering Phillips' background, but I would still like to see a zombie western that was all horror, without the comedy. Or any mixing of genres with horror that doesn't use comedy to parody either horror or itself. But for being oe hell of a funny movie, well written and with some great actors, Undead Or Alive scores high in all areas. It will be great to see what Phillips comes up with next. Maybe Hong Kong cops who are top secret vampire special agent kung fu masters! You know what, that does sound cool. I need to get out more.