Sumatran Rat Monkey

"Dead Alive" redirects here. For the X-Files episode, see Deadalive. For the Misfits album, see Dead Alive!.

Template:Use New Zealand English

German theatrical poster
Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Jim Booth
Screenplay by Peter Jackson
Stephen Sinclair
Fran Walsh
Story by Stephen Sinclair
Starring Timothy Balme
Diana Peñalver
Elizabeth Moody
Ian Watkin
Music by Peter Dasent
Cinematography Murray Milne
Editing by Jamie Selkirk
Studio WingNut Films
Distributed by Trimark Pictures (US)
Release date(s)Template:Plainlist
Running time 103 minutes[1]
Country New Zealand
Language English
Budget $3 million
Box office $1,870,578

Braindead, released as Dead Alive in North America, is a 1992 New Zealand zombie horror comedy gore film co-written and directed by Peter Jackson.

The film was written by Jackson with his partner Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair. It was a commercial failure at the time of its release, but has since gained a cult status following Jackson's fame with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, receiving positive reviews from contemporary critics.[2][3]


The first scene sets up the danger of the "Sumatran Rat-Monkey," a hybrid creature that "according to legend" resulted from the rape of tree monkeys on Skull Island by plague-carrying rats. Stewart, an explorer returning from the depths of the island with his guide and team, is carrying a rat-monkey in a cage and is stopped by fierce warrior natives that demand the return of the monkey. Stewart escapes with the cage to the rest of his team and a waiting Jeep, leaving his guide behind and the natives in hot pursuit. As the jeep takes off, Stewart's guide catches up and jumps on board. In the ensuing melee, Stewart gets bitten by the Rat-Monkey. Seeing the mark of the monkey's bite on his right hand, Stewart's men immediately hold down the infected explorer and amputate the appendage. A bite mark is then seen on his left arm, which swiftly results in the removal of that limb. Finally, they see a set of bloody scratches on Stewart's forehead and kill him. The title screen follows the man's dying scream, and as the opening credits roll the captured rat-monkey is shipped to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.

Wellington, 1957, Lionel Cosgrove lives with his domineering mother, Vera. To his mother's dismay, Lionel falls in love with a local shopkeeper's daughter, Paquita, and while snooping on the two during a visit to the zoo, Vera is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey; she subsequently crushes its head. The animal's bite slowly turns her into a ravenous zombie. Lionel is horrified, but, ever the dedicated son, is determined to care for her. Despite his efforts to keep her placated with periodic doses of veterinary anesthetic, Vera starts murdering other townspeople, turning them into zombies. He tries to keep them locked away in the basement, while simultaneously trying to maintain his relationship with the completely oblivious Paquita. Vera escapes, however, and is hit by a tram.

As the townspeople assume she is dead, Lionel tranquilizes the still-kicking zombie for her funeral. After she is buried, he returns to the graveyard to administer more anesthetic, but is accosted by a gang of hoodlums. Vera bursts from her grave, resulting in more deaths and zombies. As their numbers grow, Lionel manages to keep the zombies under relative control with repeated injections, and tries to keep them concealed in his home. However, Lionel's uncle Les, arrives to try to wrangle with Lionel over his mother's estate. Uncle Les discovers the "corpses" and blackmails his nephew into giving up his inheritance in return for his silence.

Lionel reluctantly administers poison to the zombies ("killing" them) and buries them, just as Uncle Les and a crowd of his friends arrive for a housewarming party. However, the "poison" turns out to be an animal stimulant, and since the zombies came from the bite of an animal (the Rat-Monkey), it only gives them even more energy. The zombies burst from the ground to attack and infect the party guests in a gory finale.

Some of the guests are running, and some are being eaten by the zombies. Lionel goes into a room where he saw Paquita fighting with Uncle Les, and informs them of the zombie outbreak, which horrifies them. Uncles Les manages to get out through the window, while Lionel pulls out a large hanger with clothes, which distracts the zombies and gives Paquita a chance to escape. He later kills the zombified Void by splitting his body in half, but his intestines come to life and try to kill him. He escapes into the attic where he finds a vault containing a corpse. He notices that it is his real father. He stumbles down from the attic upside down while a rope hangs on his feet. Paquita, Rita, and Mandy barricade themselves in a room. A man was being eaten on the window and they try to help him, but when they pull him inside, his body is half eaten. Mandy screams and a zombie knocks her down and crushes his hands on her mouth, killing her. Paquita hides in a cabinet where she finds Rita. They go to the kitchen and barricade themselves there, but the zombified Mandy is there with the baby. The baby bites Rita's neck, and the two see Uncle Les screaming for help. They save him by pulling him inside, but the room was damaged so the zombies were able to get in. As the girls run upstairs, Uncle Les is bullied by the baby zombie as he follows it. He goes into the basement, where he sees Lionel's mother, who has turned into a giant zombie. She pulls him up and separates his spinal cord and head from his body.

As Paquita and Rita are chased by the zombies, Lionel appears and holds a running lawn mower, bottom outwards, with which he kills most of the zombies, with graphics depictions of limbs, blood, and body parts flying around. The group are now fighting with dozens of zombies, animated intestines and spinal cords, severed heads, and disembodied legs. As Paquita fights some of the zombies, she notices something is wrong with Rita, and as she talks to her, a baby's hands appears on her ears and splits her head in half; the baby killing Rita. Just as it attacks Paquita, Mandy's head (impaled on a bulb) ignites, and manages to ignite gas flowing from an open gas pipe, setting the house ablaze, killing the zombified Rita in the fire. Lionel manages to kill all of the zombies, until his mother, who (possibly because she was the one originally bitten) has become a hyper-oestroegenised gargantuan monster with a grossly distorted head and spine, and huge, ballon-like breasts, pursues Lionel and Paquita to the rooftop. Paquita almost falls and hangs onto the edge of the roof, while Lionel finally confronts his mother about the truth regarding his father's demise. It is revealed that she drowned Lionel's father and mistress after she found them in the bathtub together. Lionel declares that he is no longer afraid of her, and she opens her womb, engulfing Lionel, closing him inside her body, declaring that he is 'such a good boy' and that 'none will ever you love you as much as (the one who bore you)' as Paquita screams in horror. Lionel's mother then tries to kill Paquita by removing her hands from the pole she's holding, and in an over-the-top Freudian "rebirth", Lionel cuts his way out of his mother's grotesquely changed, gigantified body using the cross he got from Paquita's grandmother, falling out in a river of blood, and then being 'reborn' from a pile of gore (placenta) after his mother falls into the fiery house below. Lionel and Paquita escape the burning building, and walk away arm-in-arm covered in gore, as the local fire department arrives on the scene to put out the flames.


  • Timothy Balme as Lionel Cosgrove
  • Diana Peñalver as Paquita María Sánchez
  • Elizabeth Moody as Vera Cosgrove, Lionel's mother
  • Ian Watkin as Uncle Les Kalkon, Vera's brother
  • Brenda Kendall as Nurse Emma McTavish
  • Stuart Devenie as Father Jon McGruder (The Kung-Fu Priest)
  • Jed Brophy as Thomas Jacob "Void" Randell
  • Stephen Papps as Zombie Jon McGruder
  • Murray Keane as Pete "Scroat" Otis
  • Glenis Levestam as Mrs. Nora Matheson
  • Lewis Rowe as Mr. Albert Matheson
  • Elizabeth Mulfaxe as Rita Bridell
  • Harry Sinclair as Roger Tryton
  • Davina Whitehouse as Mary Sanchez, Paquita's grandmother
  • Silvio Famularo as Slaver Don Sanchez, Paquita's father
  • Daniel Sabic as Baby Zombie Selwyn Matheson
  • Tommy Dee Jacy as Sumatran Rat-Monkey/Various Zombies (voice; uncredited)
  • Bill Ralston as Zoo official Stewart McAlden
  • Forrest J. Ackerman as Forry (Tourist at Zoo with Monsters of Filmland magazine)

Production notes

Filming took place over 11 weeks on location in and around Wellington, New Zealand on a reputed budget of around $3,000,000. The nighttime cemetery scene was filmed at the Karori Cemetery in the Karori neighbourhood of Wellington.

Jackson reused the song played on the organ as the mourners wait to enter the church prior to the embalming scene. It is Sodomy from Jackson's previous film Meet the Feebles (1989).

The first scene to be filmed and the opening scene, filmed on "Skull Island", was actually filmed at Putangirua Pinnacles, the same location he would later use for the Paths of the Dead in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Bob McCarron, recently known for his on-screen appearances as Dr Bob from the UK television show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and its German version Ich bin ein Star – Holt mich hier raus!, designed the special prosthetic makeup. He was awarded at Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival and nominated for Saturn Award (see below for all awards).

The final scene to be filmed was the section in the park with Lionel and the zombie baby Selwyn. The movie was finished one week ahead of schedule and with NZ$45,000 remaining, so Peter Jackson used all this remaining budget to film the park scene over the course of two days. He has gone on to say that this is his favourite scene and the funniest in the whole movie.


The film was subject to a lawsuit. In Bradley v WingNut Films Ltd [1993] 1 NZLR 415, it was alleged that the comedy horror film Braindead had infringed the privacy of the plaintiffs by containing pictures of the plaintiff's family tombstone. After reviewing the New Zealand judicial authorities on privacy, Gallen J stated: "the present situation in New Zealand ... is that there are three strong statements in the High Court in favour of the existence of such a tort in this country and an acceptance by the Court of Appeal that the concept is at least arguable." This case became one of a series of cases which contributed to the introduction of tort invasions of privacy in New Zealand.[4]


The film was released in a number of different versions:

  • In some nations, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the 104 minute film was shown in full.
  • In countries where the censors balked at the extreme gore, the film was initially banned or left unrated before being heavily cut. In Germany a 94 minute version was seen with major cuts to some of the film's grislier scenes, but was widely ignored. A FSK 16 rated version was released in Germany under the American title "Dead Alive", omitting almost the entirety of the violence. The uncut version is banned in Germany, though it is still widely available, also under the American title "Dead Alive".
  • In the United States, where the film was released as Dead Alive (because of another film with rights to the practically identical title Brain Dead), the R-Rated version is only 85 minutes with most of the gore scenes removed, while the unrated cut is 97 minutes with the gore scenes mostly intact. The USA 97-minute version is Peter Jackson's preferred version, as he was given the opportunity to "apply some additional spit and polish" to it.

Critical reception

Although Braindead did not receive much critical attention at the time of its release, Jackson's fame with The Lord of the Rings led to more interest in his earlier films. The contemporary response to the film was positive: the film received a 86% rating of positive reviews based on 28 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The website's consensus is: "The delightfully gonzo tale of a lovestruck teen and his zombified mother, Dead Alive is extremely gory and exceedingly good fun, thanks to Peter Jackson's affection for the tastelessly sublime."[3] However the film only has a 54% rating on Metacritic, based on 7 reviews[5]

At the time of its release, David Stratton of Variety gave a positive review, calling it "Jackson's best film to date" and praising its humour, acting, and technical qualities (gore effects, makeups). He stated "Kiwi gore specialist Peter Jackson, who goes for broke with an orgy of bad taste and splatter humor. Some will recoil from the gore, but Braindead wasn't made for them."[6]


  • Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival – Silver Scream Award (1993);
  • Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – Grand Prize (1993);
  • Fantasporto – International Fantasy Film Award, Best Film and Best Special Effects (1993)
  • New Zealand Film and TV Awards – Film Award, Best Contribution to Design, Best Director, Best Film, Best Male Dramatic Performance and Best Screenplay (1993);
  • Catalonian International Film Festival, Sitges, Spanien – Best Special Effects (1992);
  • Fantafestival – Best Actor and Best Special Effects (1992).

Home media

The film has had several releases on VHS and DVD around the world. It was released on Blu-ray with the US 97 minutes cut for the first time on 4 October 2011 by Lions Gate Entertainment.[7]


  • Actor, comedian, and friend of Jackson Simon Pegg wrote in his 2012 book Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy's Journey to Becoming a Big Kid that the film Braindead is one of the main influences on his 2004 zombie film Shaun of the Dead.
  • In Jackson's version of King Kong (2005), the cargo hold of the ship has a box reading Sumatran Rat Monkey—Beware the bite!, in reference to the eponymous animal from Braindead.[8]
  • In the video game Left 4 Dead (2008), a room can be found (in the Blood Harvest campaign) containing an upturned lawnmower with a rope attached and a considerable amount of blood, referencing a particularly gory scene from Braindead.
  • The Sumatran Rat-Monkey appears in the 2012 film Hotel Transylvania. The Sumatran Rat-Monkey is referred to as "it".

See also

Giant Rat of Sumatra


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • TCM Movie Database
  • Template:Allrovi movie
  • Box Office Mojo
  • Rotten Tomatoes
  • Metacritic
  • Anything Oz or New Zealand Films site

Template:Fran Walsh

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