Sunday, February 20, 2011

Z is for Zombie: BRAIN DEAD (2007)

Director Kevin Tenney burst onto the horror scene in the mid-80s with the very enjoyable WITCHBOARD (1986).  It was one of those “little” films that Fangoria pimped and turned in a modest box office (just over $7 million) back when these kinds of films could still play in theaters.  Tenney quickly followed it up with the horror features NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988), THE CELLAR (1989; where he was hired to replace the original director) and WITCHTRAP (1989).  They were all enjoyable, competently made and definitely serviceable little horror films.  However, the film that I hold as Tenney’s masterpiece is PEACEMAKER (1990). Doing the popular good alien/bad alien routine, this sci-fi actioner starring Robert Forster won me over with some incredible shootouts and stunt work that still impress to this day.  Do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven't already.

Sadly, Tenney’s prolific output (5 films in 4 years) dwindled in the 1990s with some routine stuff, including scripting WITCHBOARD sequels (one of which he directed) and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 3.  Even worse, the new millennium saw NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, his most popular title, scooped up for an awful remake while Tenney went years between projects. Thankfully, that all changed when he got the sci-fi horror zombie flick BRAIN DEAD off the ground.  You know you’ve got guts (or brains) to name your zombie flick that title in the wake of Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. The synopsis from the DVD:

Two escaped convicts, two lost hikers, a televangelist and his young assistant stumble into a deserted fishing lodge miles from civilization. The convicts capture the other until they discover the missing fisherman have been decapitated or turned into brain-eating zombies by a parasitic alien goo. Brain Dead is an independent, extreme, gory, cult zombie horror-comedy from the director of Witchboard and Night Of The Demons featuring state-of-the-art effects, gratuitous nudity, and laugh-out-loud humor.

Yeah, you can’t get more basic than that.  This is straight up EVIL DEAD (1982) territory and BRAIN DEAD is not going to win any prizes for screenplay innovation.  What it will win is my heart when you open a film with a guy getting a tiny meteor lodged into his brain, turns into a zombie and rips his fishing companion’s head in half like this:

Tenney’s zombiethon feels like the film he should have made right after PEACEMAKER.  Yet somehow he made this totally late 80s/early 90s feel movie in the late 2000s.  Tenney is clearly having fun here and that translates to the action on screen.  Pretty much everything you could want from a horror exploitation film is here.  You have gooey alien zombies and ultra-gory deaths (with 90% of the work being done with practical effects by Gabe Bartalos).  You have random nudity. And you even have some humor, most of which is delivered by lead Joshua Benton, whose delivery reminds me of SUMMER SCHOOL’s Dean “Chainsaw” Cameron. There is also a catfight and a surprisingly great acting turn by director Jim Wynorski as the Sheriff.  There is even one shocking bit (which I won’t spoil here) that would have surely gotten the film an X-rating.  It is refreshing to see an older filmmaker (Tenney was in his 50s while making this) be willing to push the envelope.  BRAIN DEAD isn’t going to change your life, but it will leave you entertained for 90 minutes with its focus on the three Bs (blood, boobs and beasts).  What more could you ask for?

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