Stars: Chris Kattan, James Denton, Navi Rawat, Brian Posehn | Written by Glasgow Phillips, Scott Pourroy | Directed by Glasgow Phillips
Undead or Alive tells the story of army deserter Elmer Winslow and local wannabe cowboy Luke Budd. The two go on the run after escaping from, and then robbing, the corrupt Sheriff Claypool. Whilst running from Claypool and his posse Elmer and Luke meet an Apache warrior, who’s goal in life is to avenge the decimation of her people at the hands of the US Army. She teams up with the pair after Elmer offers to show her the way to a nearby Army outpost. At the same time, a curse put upon the white man by the great Apache Geronimo spreads across the desert, turning all the people into zombies! Things come to a head when the Army outpost is surrounded by a now-undead posse out for Elmer and Luke’s blood.
From the opening sequence, Undead or Alive sets out exactly where it sits on the horror-comedy scale. The opening scrawl that intro’s the movie, telling the legend of Geronimo and his white man’s curse, ends with the phrase: “The part where you have to read is almost over,” after which we are presented with a zombified Brian Posehn (from The Sarah Silverman Program), who bites the head off a chicken, stands on a hoe and gets hit in the face and gets a pie in the face from his wife. We’re talking Three Stooges style slapstick comedy in a zombie setting, ala Dawn of the Dead.
The comedy in Undead or Alive (which on screen is called “Undead or Alive: A Zombedy”) is very much hit and miss. The film takes cues from comedy classics such as the Three Stooges, Blazing Saddles and even Benny Hill. Kattan’s character, Luke Budd, looks and sounds like he’s stepped straight out of Blazing Saddles. He even riffs on Benny Hill when Navi Rawat invites him to join her in having a bath and he does an impromptu Benny Hill style speeded-up undressing. Benny Hill is referenced again when the three protagonists are on the run from the zombie posse – which is done as homage to the legendary chase sequences that proliferated Benny Hill’s work.
What isn’t hit and miss about the film is the gore, which hits the right notes every time. The SFX in the film are by effects legend by Robert Kurtzman and he doesn’t skimp on zombie action – there’s toe chewing, throat ripping, lips chewed off, heads torn off, a head splitting by sword, there are even horses chewed up! The special effects also offer up a couple of film firsts: a sequence where Kattan’s character Luke hits a zombies neck with a spade, then after the zombie falls to the floor he jumps up and down on the spade like a pogo stick until it’s head comes clean off! And disembodied zombified penis in “the flesh” so to speak…
Undead or Alive, like a lot of modern zombie flicks following the success of Simon Pegg’s zombedy, references modern pop culture – from martial arts movies (Navi Rawat’s Apache kicks some mean ass!), to Evil Dead’s iconic “zombie in the cellar.” At one point in the film Navi Rawat chops the head off a zombie (which in this film are nicknamed “Geronimonsters”), and to my untrained ears I could swear it was accompanied by the musical cue from Friday the 13th when Jason’s mother loses her head.
In the end, Undead or Alive is a wild-west version of Shaun of the Dead - only with less comedy and more gore – and walks a very fine line between the comedy and horror. Whilst the mix is not as successful as genre favourites such as the aforementioned Pegg film, it does have something to offer even the most hardened zombie film fan and Undead or Alive puts the fun back into zombies! It’s just a shame that the outtakes are funnier than the movie…