Monday, October 06, 2003

Undead: Horror for the rest of us?

While I'm sure it'll always be a cult flick, Australia's latest zombie movie Undead has a lot of things going for it that other horror-type films lack. In the campy, self-mocking tradition of the Evil Dead movies, this film takes horror movie subversion to a new level by presenting us with a female beauty queen protagonist who, although screaming and scared as fellow town members start being gored by flesh eating monsters, still has what it takes to pick up that shotgun and start kicking undead booty.

Rene, desperate for cash to keep up the family farm, enters small town Berkeley's local pageant and wins the vaunted title of Miss Catch of the Day. But despite her small success, it's not enough to save the farm from foreclosure, and she's about to head off to the big city for a new start when mysterious meteors start falling from the sky. She's stopped in the midst of her flight by a car accident on the road. It looks like everyone's dead... or are they? But her true spirit shines through as she picks up the steering wheel lock and swipes it through her first zombie.

Not long after, she encounters Marion, the town crackpot who claims he was abducted by aliens. He thinks the aliens are behind the strange meteor shower and the zombification of the town's residents. It's the end of the world, he declares, and only the strongest are left to defend humanity in this final battle. Certainly, it does seem like something supernatural is going on: there's a giant spiky wall surrounding the town and trapping everyone in with the zombies. And why does the rain start to smoke when it hits the few humans left? And what are those weird lights beaming down from the sky and making things disappear?

The zombie invasion turns out to be something quite different in the end, but Marion does get something right: only the strongest are left at the end. Rene is the only one who learns the truth about the meteors. Earlier in the film, someone tells Rene that as Miss Catch of the Day, it's her job to look after the best interests of the town. And in the end, it's the Beauty Queen standing between humanity and a brain-sucking, horrible undead fate, with cowboy boots and a giant shotgun. Rene is a survivor, and in the end it's not her looks that keep her alive.

I know zombie flicks aren't for everyone-- many can't stand the gore, cheesy special effects, the absurd situations, and find the action predictable. And in the case of Undead, there are also plenty of inside Aussie jokes that might pass most moviegoers by. But it also shines as a gem among the throng of Hollywood Night of the Living Dead knock-offs, and certainly there's something compelling about a gutsy feminine hero who subverts the horror genre's female stereotypes.

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