- Brain Dead
- Director: Kevin Tenney
- Writer: Dale Gelineau
- US 95 min.
In the late Eighties/early Nineties, I had been out of high school for a few years and was floundering in a low-quality college (or two) doing everything I could to not do anything. But one of the things I did do on a regular basis was watch low-budget horror videos. This was back in the day when you had to be kind and rewind otherwise pay a fine.
One of the best little films that I watched during that time was called Night of the Demons. It was a little sleazy, very gory, and surprisingly brutal. I loved it! That film was directed by Kevin S. Tenney, who to my surprise, is the director of tonight's adventure in bad taste.
And I mean that in the best of ways.
Brain Dead (I don't really have to clarify that this isn't the classic Peter Jackson film do I? It's also not the Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton film from 1990 – what the hell was that?) isn't as good as Night of the Demons, but what it lacks in energy it makes up for in boobs. Wait, what?
Yeah, this is the first really old-school exploitation-style zombie movie of the marathon and it goes for the gusto, with nearly every single female character getting naked in the first twenty minutes. And except for one young lady, I mean full frontal, usually with lots of water involved. The light-hearted nudity is balanced by horrifying gore exploding across the screen without any warning and the sarcastic humor of a smart-ass lead character.
This is one of those films that is made on a shoe-string budget and follows a very strict formula so that it can really only make money. It doesn't try to be anything that it's not, making no grand existential statements about life and death, unlike many entries in the zombie genre. No, there's none of that.
This is all about boobs, brains, and bad jokes.
And there ain't nothing wrong with that.
This isn't your typical boobs, brains, and bad jokes film though. Or maybe it is, now that I think of it. When Jim Wynorski, the director of films like The Bare Wench Project 1, 2, 3, and The Final Chapter, The Witches of Breastwick 1 and 2, The Breastford Wives, Cleavagefield, The Hills Have Thighs, and the Busty Cops series, is on hand to play the sheriff, you can tell that the DNA of this project is a little more soft-core than say, having Lloyd Kaufman do a guest spot. Although to be fair, Wynorski also directed low-budget '80s "classics" like Chopping Mall, Not of This Earth, and Return of Swamp Thing.
For this film, Tenney does a commendable job directing, showing a lot of flair in the scene transitions and knowing exactly how to milk a gore effect for the maximum gross-out potential. In fact, there were a couple of really graphic zombie attacks here that reminded me of something out of Tokyo Gore Police, with eyes gouged out and heads ripped in two – leaving that succulent brain whole and ready for gobbling.
The story is pretty straight-forward, our hero, Clarence (Joshua Benton) is handcuffed to violent murderer Bob (David Crane) and on their way to the hoosegow, when their paths cross with zombies. Well, sort of zombies. While these aren't as far afield as the vampires in Strigoi, they're still not your traditional zombies.
They're actually the product of creepy black ooze from space that gets in you and consumes your brain, making you its slave in the hunt for more brain matter to feed on. The recruits from the initial infectee are more like demonic possessions than zombies, but they're still all about eating the brains. And vomiting black ooze onto victims' faces to infect them.
Yeah, this is not one for the more intellectual out there.
On the run from the law after Bob murders a police officer (with a head-exploding shotgun blast), they hide out in an abandoned hunting lodge. They are quickly joined by to med-school sorority sisters who got lost hiking, and a TV preacher and his young nymphet companion. Then, right on schedule, the zombies/alien-parasites/demons attack.
Benton does the best job in the cast as Clarence, and is the only actor with the ability to deliver lines naturally (with a bit of an Owen Wilson vibe). So don't go into this one expecting to feel anything about the characters. Except maybe some creepy adolescent lust at all the boobies (if that's your thing).
It's all pretty forgettable, but not a bad way to waste an evening; especially if there's booze involved. It's nice and gory when it needs to be, in that cheesy, low-budget way that can sometimes really take you by surprise. The humor isn't very impressive, but would probably have played better if it was being delivered by actors with more experience (and talent – let's be blunt, shall we?). But at least there's the boobies.
Did I mention there are lots of boobies?
And a truly horrific up-skirt shot.
This is really all about making a fast buck in order to finance other projects, according to the Prodigy Entertainment website – the company founded by Tenney and his musician brother Dennis. They're working on finding funding for a mainstream supernatural thriller called The Board (a return to Witchboard, if IMDB is to be believed), and given that these are the minds behind the classic, original Witchboard films of the Eighties, I'd really like to see what they have planned when revisiting that concept.
Hopefully there were enough boobs, brains, and bad jokes in Brain Dead to get them closer to their goals.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.