“Undead or Alive” is the sort of low-rent horror-comedy that plays on the SyFy Channel all the time. From that perspective, you have to go in with extremely lowered expectations for the movie. I call these kinds of movies “filler” films, because they are the sort of thing you can watch, be entertained by, and then never think about again. Not bad enough for outright scorn, nor good enough for repeat viewings.
It stars former SNLer Chris Kattan as a cowboy. Okay… let me repeat that so you can wrap your brain around that concept. Chris Kattan rides a horse, punches people, and fires guns in this movie. Thankfully, the filmmakers were wise enough not to have him playing an outright bad-ass, so Kattan’s cowpoke is a bit of a goofball, but it’s still a bit jarring to see him playing any kind of action hero. Bruce Campbell certainly won’t be worried about losing his status as B-Hollywood’s number one monster basher.
Slightly more believable in the rugged, Wild West setting is James Denton (of Desperate Housewives fame) as a Union army soldier who recently deserted his post. He gets to say “kid” a lot and tries to squint like Clint Eastwood. That’s really all that his character amounts to, although he is serviceable enough in his cowboy role that you do wonder why he puts up with Kattan.
At this point I should mention that the “undead” in the title are zombies. Which puts this squarely in the realm of gross-out horror comedies like Brain Dead or Evil Dead II, although with none of those films visual audacity. The zombies themselves are fairly inconsistent in appearance. Some of them, like “Ben” played by Brian Posehn, are impressive. Others simply look like people with green face paint – possibly an homage to the original Dawn of the Dead, but I doubt it.
Like most zombie films there are the zombie “rules” that are established. But this flick doesn’t seem to ever quite nail them down. Are these smart zombies or stupid zombies? Slow or fast? Head shot or no head shot? It seems to change from scene to scene and that gets annoying, because you’re constantly having to keep count of the ever-changing “rules.”
It’s a shame, because the movie is entertaining in brief bits. I really enjoyed Navi Rawat (Feast) as a butt-kicking, anachronistically costumed Native American maiden. Matt Besser is also good as the menacing, mustached Sheriff and leader of the zombie posse. The idea of combining horror/comedy with the Western is a promising one indeed, but it’s a shame this flick doesn’t quite pull off either genre with full gusto. With a little spit and polish, this could have been a cult classic. Instead we’re just left with something mediocre. Those hungry for horror comedy could do far worse than this flick, but they could also search and find something a lot better.