When George A Romero gave the dead a new lease of life with Night Of The Living Dead, who knew there was such scope for comedy in the zombie genre? Sadly not the people behind this curiosity, though they didn’t let that bother them.
When there’s so much mileage in a genre, as there has been in the zombie field since 28 Days Later, it’s only sensible that people eke it out by spinning it, so in its defence, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a zombie western. At least they came up with a sound enough premise to make it work; hunted down by the US army, Apache warrior and medicine man Geronimo works up a poison as his final act - a White Man’s Curse, which causes the obligatory grave-dodging and brain-slurping affair.
Having deserted from the army and pitching up in a saloon bar in dirtbowl town, Elmer (James Denton) ends up in fight with sappy cowboy Luke (Chris Kattan) and on the wrong side of the town’s dodgy sheriff. Dumped in the cells with Luke and robbed of his money, Elmer meets his other fellow prisoner, a man due to hang for eating his wife and daughter’s brains.
Luke and Elmer escape, relieve the sheriff of his money and inadvertently feed the deputy to the zombie, with the intention of riding off into the sunset knocking up a kooky buddy movie vibe as they go about it.
None to pleased about being robbed, the sheriff raises a posse in pursuit, with the White Man’s Curse slowly consuming the gang. Up pops Sue (Ravi Nawat), Geronimo’s cousin to provide a bit of love interest for the boys, along with a possible cure for the curse.
As Peter Jackson with Braindead and Pegg & Wright with Shaun Of The Dead proved, there’s plenty of comedy mileage to be had with zombies if you know what you’re doing: Undead Or Alive shows what happens if you don’t. Billed as a zombie comedy, it fails to find its level in any way - its humour is far too light, to the point of negligible, when it screams out for a twisted approach, especially ironic considering the man behind it was a former writer on South Park.
Allied to this is the low schlock factor. Granted it’s a low-budget affair with a 15 certificate, but what would have made this work is a a trashy B-movie ideal that relishes the carnage and gore and gives it a guilty pleasure escape clause.
The funny thing is, weak as it is, Undead Or Alive is perfectly watchable. It’s competently executed and chugs along neatly enough. The problem is it lacks any distinctive qualities beyond its basic concept, and by not playing to the field it’s targeting, reigning in its darker, maniacal possibilities, it loses its potency altogether.
Starring: James Denton, Chris Kattan, Navi Rawat.
Directed by: Glasgow Phillips.
Extras: director commentary, featurettes