The combination of the undead, cowboys and Indians should be a no-brainer. I mean, the wild west was one of the most violent and turbulent places the world had ever seen. So much so, that the legends that were created by stories of shootouts behind corrals and horseback train robbery’s have spawned countless movie interpretations and made stars out of people like Clint Eastwood and “The Duke.” Zombies have succeeded in having good movies in almost every setting. The jungle, the suburbs, the country-side, metropolis’s, shopping malls, and even outer space. But as of yet, I have not seen a good western zombie mash up. And while Undead or Alive tries it’s hardest to be that definitive crossover, it falls short of reaching that goal in some key areas.
Let’s start with the plot.
Army deserter Elmer Winslow and local cowboy Luke Budd are on the run after robbing the evil Sheriff Claypool, stealing his money and fleeing the town, they find themselves with an angry posse on their trail. Joining Elmer and Luke is an Apache warrior, who’s out to wreak vengeance on behalf of her decimated people; her plan is to attack the U.S. Army wherever she can find it, and she takes Elmer up on his offer to go with her to the nearest Army outpost he knows. Their plans become complicated when they discover that, as a result of the great Apache Geronimo’s curse on the white man, all the people of the surrounding areas have turned into zombies. Anonymous on imdb.
I have no complaints with this. Not over-complicated, but it has enough events to warrant the 90 minute run time. The problems come up when we start getting subplots, like the one of the priest in the town. So much time was taken up by his plight, and in the end, nothing really came of it. The zombies in the town don’t factor in at all to our main trio of characters and their finale.
Speaking the of climax, it’s awful. The movie, as least from my viewing, ends like 5 times. So many fade to blacks and dramatic last shots make it seem like the directors and writers didn’t know if they wanted to end the film with things not working out to well for our heroes, or with an open-ended sequel ready finish, or with a happy ending. Instead we see all those endings, and then end up with a weird combination of all of them being our true, final end.
The ever-changing ending wasn’t helped by the film’s tone. Undead or Alive goes from serious, to satirical, to goofball “national lampoon” comedy, to…I don’t even know. Just when your settling in, thinking the flick is going to calm down and stick to one mood, your thrown completely off by Chris Kattan (of SNL fame) doing some 3 Stooges level physical comedy. That makes it sound like I’m bashing Kattan’s performance here, and I’m not. Kattan and Denton actually make this movie watchable, prying every morsel of fun and charm out of their onscreen persona’s as possible. Sheriff Claypool is a great villain, and it was a shame that we didn’t see more of him, and less of Sue, the Indian woman and token female member of the outlaw set of Elmer and Luke.
The music in Undead or Alive really is the final blow however. It just sucks. There’s no way I can be eloquent about this. A combination of a soundtrack and a score, it makes my head swirl with anger that they couldn’t just decide to have a score or a soundtrack, and then when they created a hybrid, the music was so annoying it nearly makes the scenes they are played in unwatchable. If you want a lesson in how to let the audio completely ruin pieces of your film, watch Undead or Alive.
Ironically enough, the producers money that didn’t go into having a descent set of music to accompany their film, apparently went to having amazing special f/x, gore, and make up. Zombie design is simple yet brilliant, and some of the kills are completely new to me. Robert Kurtzman of famed KNB effects was the special effects adviser though, which explains why the f/x were so well done.
For the zombie completist, this is worth a rental if only see something new and different. For all other interested parties, there are much better “zombedies” out there, such as Dead and Breakfast and Shaun of the Dead that deserve your time more than Undead or Alive. For those waiting for the successful marriage of cowboys, Indians, and the walking dead, we will just have to wait some more.