Written by Jackson with his partner Fran Walsh and Stephen Sinclair, the film 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. The film is widely considered to be one of the goriest films ever made.
The "Sumatran Rat-Monkey" is a hybrid creature that, "according to legend", resulted from the rape of tree monkeys on Skull Islandby plague-carrying rats. Stewart, an explorer returning from the depths of the island with his team, is carrying a rat-monkey in a cage and is stopped by fierce warrior natives that demand the return of the monkey. They escape to a waiting jeep, but Stewart gets bitten by the Rat-Monkey. Seeing the mark of the monkey's bite on his right hand, Stewart's men hold down the explorer and amputate it. A bite mark is then seen on his left arm, which results in the removal of that limb. Finally, they see a set of bloody scratches on Stewart's forehead and kill him. The captured rat-monkey is shipped to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.
Lionel Cosgrove lives with his domineering mother, Vera. To Vera's dismay, Lionel falls in love with a shopkeeper's daughter, Paquita. While snooping on the two during a visit to the zoo, Vera is bitten by the rat-monkey. The animal's bite turns her into a ravenous zombie. Lionel tries keeping her locked in the basement while simultaneously trying to maintain his relationship with the oblivious Paquita. Vera escapes and is hit by a tram.
As the townspeople assume she is dead, Lionel tranquilizes the 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 keeping them concealed in his home. However, Lionel's uncle Les arrives to wrangle with Lionel over Vera's estate. 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 Les and his friends arrive for a housewarming party. However, the poison turns out to be an animal stimulant; since the zombies came from the bite of an animal, it gives them more energy. The zombies burst from the ground to attack the party guests.
Lionel goes into a room where he saw Paquita fighting with Les, and informs them of the zombie outbreak. Les escapes through a window while Lionel pulls out a large hanger with clothes, which distracts the zombies and gives Paquita a chance to escape. Les later goes into the basement, where he encounters Vera, who has turned into a giant zombie. She kills Les.
Lionel kills most of the zombies with a running lawnmower. The group are now fighting with dozens of zombies, animated intestinesand spinal cords, severed heads and disembodied legs. During the conflict an open gas pipe ignites, setting the house ablaze. Lionel manages to kill all of the zombies, until Vera, who has become a hyper-oestroegenised gargantuan monster with a grossly distorted head and spine and huge breasts, pursues Lionel and Paquita to the rooftop. Paquita is left hanging onto the edge of the roof while Lionel confronts his mother.
Lionel declares that he is no longer afraid of Vera and she opens her womb, engulfing Lionel, declaring that he is "such a good boy" and that "none will ever love you as much as your mother". Vera then tries to kill Paquita by removing her hands from the roof. Lionel cuts his way out of his mother's body, causing her to fall into the burning house. Lionel and Paquita escape the building and walk away arm-in-arm as the fire department arrives.
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Principal photography took place over 11 weeks on location in and around Wellington, New Zealand on a reputed budget of around $3 million. 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 his previous film Meet the Feebles (1989).
The first scene to be shot 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 shot was the section in the park with Lionel and the zombie baby Selwyn. The film was finished one week ahead of schedule and with NZ$45,000 remaining, so 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 film.
The film was subject to a lawsuit: In Bradley v WingNut Films Ltd  1 NZLR 415, it was alleged that the comedy horror film Braindead had infringed the privacy of the plaintiffsby 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.
The film was released in a number of different versions:
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 an 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." However the film only has a score of 54 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 7 reviews.
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 Braindeadwasn't made for them."
In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films.Braindead placed at number 99 on their top 100 list.
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