40×40: Undead (2003)

Written, edited, directed and produced by The Spierig Brothers.

“Tap water’s tank water. Tank water’s rain water. Rain water is part of the attack.”

Why Did I Get This?

I love a good zombie movie, and I probably have a bit more time than I should have for bad zombie movies too. However cheap, nasty or poorly acted they are, there’s usually something fun, silly, imaginative or inventive, even in the scrappiest low-budget zombie film to make them worth a watch.

I’m pretty sure I picked up Undead after reading something about it being created by two brothers – Peter and Michael Spierig – using home computers to create the computer generated effects. As I’ve mentioned before, I also love stories of young directors doing everything they can to get their movies made, so between that and the striking triple-barrelled shotgun on the cover, I had to buy this.

Aside from that image though, I don’t really remember anything much about the movie though, so let’s see how it holds up almost 20 years after it was released.

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will contain spoilers for the movie. If you want to avoid them, scroll straight down to the next heading!

As residents in a small town begin turning into mindless, flesh-eating creatures following meteor strikes and acid rain, a small band of survivors join forces to try and survive or escape.

With Late Reviewer, I always try to find positive elements to whatever I’m watching, so it’s always a pleasure if they’re pretty easy to find. With Undead, thankfully, there’s a lot to like.

Is it perfect? No. Is it scary? Not particularly. But it’s charming and funny and the product of a hell of a lot of hard work, which makes it worth a watch in my book.

I’m still amazed that the digital effects were created on home computers by a couple of lads. Despite having dated slightly (as have pretty much all computer effects from 2003), they still look far better than they have any right to. The effects on the opening meteor explosion, for example, are better than some of the effects from the Croatian Bruce Campbell films I’ve written about previously (sorry Bruce).

You do get the odd repetition of an effect they’re obviously proud of – specifically an exposed spine sticking out of the top of a pair of staggering legs after zombies have been blasted in half. Again, I’m not averse to that as it’s a great gag, looks pretty good, and got a groaning laugh each time I saw it.

The digital effects extend to stuff away from gore too, as our hero tosses a couple of pistols into the air, dispatches a zombie with another weapon, then catches them on the way down and continues blasting. Elsewhere, there’s a nice reflection shot of our heroine in the side of a grimy saucepan which was definitely added in post – it’s noticeable, but charmingly lo-fi.

It’s not all digital though, and viewers are treated to some classic physical gore effects too, such as this nod to Romero’s Day Of The Dead…

But you also get some digitally-assisted kills too, as meteors punch holes in pensioners and the odd green-screen backed decapitation…

Whether it’s a gruesome kills or the accents (more likely a mixture of both), this feels very much like a love letter to early Peter Jackson films – y’know, the ones he made before he went all respectable?

But it’s also a kind of love letter to Australia too. When our heroine Rene (Felicity Mason), takes on a horde of zombies in a hardware store using a saw disc on a broom handle, we get a slow motion shot of the aftermath as an Australian flag flutters to the ground behind her – a real hero shot. A few moments earlier, an unexpectedly-placed shovel peels off a zombie’s face, in a kill Jackson himself would be proud of.

The small town setting and humour feels like early Jackson too, and I dug the background gags (like the store named Elvis Parsley’s Grapelands), the barely noticed background granny death by meteorite, and the brilliant revelation post acid rain shower that our moody hero Marion (the brilliantly-named Mungo McKee), is walking around bollock naked and nobody has noticed. His back story of fighting zombie fish and being kidnapped by aliens is nicely told too, and the fishing trip is laugh out loud funny while also creating some lore for the survivalist nutjob the town considers him to be.

Eventually, the film reveals the zombies are infected with some sort of space virus and the acid rain and enormous spiked wall around the town are measures taken by aliens to help the population. It’s a great twist, and while the practical alien head looks better than the CG creations, it’s a good look – there’s even a funny gag about alien nudity which made me laugh out loud.

When our heroes realise the zombies they’ve shot, bisected, decapitated and otherwise slaughtered would actually have turned back into their normal selves if they’d been allowed to be cured by the aliens, there’s a brief moment of regret which throws up quite a moral quandary. It’s not explored much though, which is a shame because it was a neat twist.

A particularly striking image from the film’s third act is of a small aircraft flying over the clouds of acid rain and the mile-high protective wall the aliens have placed around the town, where the pilot sees thousands of residents hovering in a Christ-like pose while bathed in white light. This sequence, according to a leaflet that came with the DVD took a year to create and render on the Spierig brothers’ home computer, and frankly, it looks really good.

It turns out, this is what the aliens have been doing to protect the townsfolk and cure them of the space infection, but by escaping the town, the pilot has spread the disease and doomed Australia. With that, the film ends on something of a downer, as our hero and countless others are in the zombie state while Rene keeps watching the skies for the aliens to return and cure everyone – a bold move, but again, one straight out of the Romero playbook.


There are a lot of ideas in Undead – mashing together tropes from zombie movies and alien invasion movies works fairly well, and the effort that’s gone into creating it is undeniable. Some of the performances are too shouty or weak, but then that’s also a trope of these genres, and while it occasionally tries really hard to create iconic shots and characters, it feels like it comes from a place of love.

It probably won’t win over anyone who isn’t already partial to a gory horror, and it was never going to win an Oscar, but that’s not what this film is about. It’s not particularly scary, but it doesn’t need to be. It is funny, and there’s a lovely charm to it that carries you along its 100-minute runtime.

With pun fully intended, Undead looks like blood, sweat and tears have gone into it, and seeing what two Aussie lads managed to create with some imagination and very hard work makes it well worth a watch.

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