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Low-Budget Aussie Import Shows Few Signs of Life

Two years after its home-country release, Undead, the brainchild of Australian twins Peter and Michael Spierig, has limped into American theaters like so many cannibalistic corpses stumbling dazedly after a fresh victim. The timing couldn't be worse. Just days after George A. Romero returned to the zombie genre with Land of the Dead, a superlative scarefest with enough bite to distinguish it from the average geek show, out crawls this sprawling mess, a no-budget mix of horror, comedy and sci-fi that never quite adds up.

The story is ridiculous, but then, no tale of flesh-eating ghouls would be complete without some absurd rationalization. A meteorite shower rains down on the quiet village of Berkeley, Australia, leaving the water supply contaminated with a mysterious toxin that transforms sedate residents into bloodthirsty monsters. Those who survive the ensuing massacre take refuge at the farm inhabited by the local eccentric, Marion (Mungo McKay), a slick-shooting hick whose triple-barreled shotgun might just save the day.

There's enough gore and cleverly conceived executions here that some critics will undoubtedly compare Undead to another Australian import -- Peter Jackson's Dead-Alive, a campy classic in which an overwhelmed mama's boy attempts to preside over a house infested by insatiable ghouls. And while superficial similarities do exist, Undead lacks the energy, wit and exuberance that made Dead-Alive such a silly, sordid thrill. It meanders listlessly for too long before, regurgitating every cliché of the genre before arriving at a stunningly nonsensical, and surprisingly original, conclusion.

Does the end justify so much plodding prologue? Hardly. But it's about time someone had the sense to blast those damn zombies into space, leaving them to hang like tattered old coasts in a cosmic attic.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars