Undead or Alive

A Native American curse is about to make the Wild West a whole lot wilder

There are two things in films that are guaranteed to peak my interest. One is the Wild West and the other is the undead. So you can probably imagine how excited I was when I popped the review copy of Undead or Alive into my DVD player, a horror-comedy that throws together cowboys and zombies. What could possibly go wrong?

According to the opening preamble, just before he died Geronimo created a ‘medicine’ called White Man’s Curse as his revenge on those who killed him. Those afflicted will rise from the dead and crave the taste of human flesh, and anybody they kill will in turn become a flesh-munching zombie. Lovely.

A fistful of TV stars
The actual story follows the exploits of a US Army deserter Elmer (Desperate Housewives’ James Denton) and lovelorn cowboy Luke (Saturday Night Live alumni Chris Kattan) who get into trouble with a corrupt small town sheriff. Going on the run together, the duo cross paths with Geronimo’s sexy niece Sue (Numb3rs’ Navi Rawat), who is looking to get revenge on the soldiers responsible for Geronimo’s death. However, all of their plans are thrown out of the window when it becomes clear that the Wild West is being overrun by the undead, and they must work together to destroy them and the White Man’s Curse once and for all.

The directorial debut of Glasgow Phillips, who cut his teeth as a writer on South Park, Undead or Alive essentially boils down to 88minutes of utter stupidity. There’s plenty of gore, some good zombie effects and a never-ending parade of gags that achieves a fifty-fifty ratio of good against painfully unfunny. What makes the film really work is the chemistry of the three leads, with Denton and Kattan playing wonderfully off each other, while Rawat adds some much appreciated glamour amongst the gore.

Dances with zombies
But even if it doesn’t manage to set your world alight or really capitalise on the idea of zombies in the Old West to the fullest extent, Undead or Alive is an entertaining enough diversion - especially if you’re planning a beer-fuelled late night movie session. There are some good laughs along the way, and it all passes pretty quickly. To be honest, it’s more of a rental than a keeper, but given the appealing budget price-tag for what is actually a fairly well-specified disc (more on which in a minute), you might want to take a gamble on this amiable zom-com.

By opting to shoot on location in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Phillips has given his low-budget horror-comedy a much grander scale and sense of visual splendour than you might expect. Presented anamorphically at 2.35:1, the detailed and colourful transfer helps keep things looking impressive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn’t quite as immediately impressive, but there is some good use of the surrounds and the audio is cleanly rendered and well balanced throughout.

Little big extras
Pleasingly, despite being a budget release, Lionsgate hasn’t gone the easy route and issued the film as a barebones release. Leading the way in the extra department is a feature-length commentary by Glasgow Phillips and the film’s three leads. Clearly they all had a blast making the film and are enjoying themselves on this chatty track, mixing jokey anecdotes with just enough info about the shoot itself. From South Park to the Wild Wild West is a 14minute featurette finds the director talking about his career. Finally, we come to Geronimonsters! The Zombies that Walked the West, a 12minute featurette about the film’s zombie makeup (crafted by KNB Effects legend Robert Kurtzman).

Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Region 2 DVD, £13, On sale now