Undead (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: May 30, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Undead (Blu-ray Review)


The Spierig Brothers

Release Date(s)

2003 (February 28, 2023)


Spierigfilm (Umbrella Entertainment/Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: B-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A-

Undead (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Undead was the 2003 feature debut of Australian filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig, a pair of identical twins also known as the Spierig Brothers. As the title would indicate, it’s a seemingly standard zombie film, although there are a few twists and turns along the way. Like many examples of the genre, the basic story pushes together a diverse group of characters in a fight for survival, including a beauty pageant winner (Felicity Mason), a mysterious survivalist (Mungo McKay), a young couple expecting a child (Lisa Cunningham and Rob Jenkins), and a pair of overwhelmed police officers (Dirk Hunter and Emma Randall). In typical Night of the Living Dead fashion, the reluctant team starts by barricading themselves into the survivalist’s house, but these zombies just won’t take no for an answer, so they’re quickly forced to abandon this shelter in favor of going on the run instead. Yet escaping this zombie apocalypse won’t be quite so simple, because it’s not necessarily the end of the world, but rather something that’s been contained to their home town of Berkely, Australia—although exactly who is doing the containing, and why, is one of the film’s biggest twists.

The Spierig Brothers came into the business the old-fashioned independent way, starting with a Spielbergian childhood spent shooting their own short films using their friends and family as cast and crew. After graduating from college, they worked on directing television commercials, and even created their own short subject The Big Picture in 2000. Eventually, they went the Robert Rodriguez route of scraping together all of their savings (as well as some short ends of 16 mm film left over from their commercial work) to create Undead in 2003. The duo ended up serving as producers, writers, directors, editors, sound mixers, and visual effects supervisors. It was hardly a two-person show, as they surrounded themselves with a capable crew, but there’s no question that Undead can legitimately be called a Spierig Brothers film, just like El Mariachi was clearly a true Robert Rodriguez film. Possessory credits can be dubious sometimes, but not in these cases.

Undead doesn’t necessarily break new ground in the zombie genre, but that’s hardly a requirement for making an interesting zombie movie. Acknowledging what has gone before is at least as important as trying to do something new, and the Spierig Brothers definitely walked the path established not just by the giant of all giants, George A. Romero, but also by their fellow splatstick filmmaker from Down Under, Peter Jackson. Given the limited resources that they had available—the budget was somewhere between $75,000-$80,000 AUD, which is the equivalent of about $50,00 USD—they accomplished quite a bit with Undead, shooting everything on 16 mm film, but taking full advantage of digital video in post. Their hard work paid off, since the success of Undead resulted in the pair making a giant leap to their next film, the $20 million Lionsgate production Daybreakers in 2009. Their career has had its ups and downs since then, but Undead remains a fine example of what talented filmmakers can accomplish on a shoestring.

Cinematographer Andrew Strahorn shot Undead on 16 mm film (in Super 16 format) using Arriflex 16SR and Bolex cameras with spherical lenses. The film was scanned to D-5 digital video tape for post-production work, although it’s not clear at what resolution. (D-5 HD could support anywhere from 720p to 1080p.) The final D- 5 master was scanned back out to 35 mm film to create an internegative which was then used to strike theatrical prints. This Blu-ray master was created directly from the D-5 master tapes, and according to the Spierigs, it’s the highest-quality transfer ever created for the film. That said, expectations do need to be tempered given the nature of the production—Undead is never going to look like a Hollywood blockbuster, nor was it ever intended to do so. The image was heavily processed from beginning to end, so it doesn’t have a naturally filmic look. The overall level of fine detail remains a bit soft throughout, and there are some signs of light damage to the original negative, including some speckling. The thematic color scheme is deliberately artificial-looking, with some scenes bathed in a harsh yellow glow, others in blue, and still others are heavily desaturated. The contrast is inconsistent, with the black levels varying from scene to scene and even from shot to shot. It’s not necessarily beautiful, but it’s faithful to the Spierigs’ intentions.

Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Undead was released theatrically in both Dolby Digital and Dolby Stereo, and they’re represented respectively by the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks here. While the 2.0 version is matrix surround encoded, the 5.1 track is definitely preferable. There’s plenty of directionalized effects in the mix, and they’re steered more accurately in the discrete version. There’s also some pretty decent bass extension at times. The dialogue is clear, although some American audiences may struggle with a few of the accents. Overall, it’s a pleasantly active mix for such a low-budget film.

Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Undead is their first North American title thanks to a new partnership with Vinegar Syndrome. (Note that they still have their own version in Australia as #12 in their Beyond Genres line, with different artwork, but otherwise identical disc-based content.) It’s a two-disc set that includes a soundtrack CD with Cliff Bradley’s score, a 12-page booklet, and a foldout poster with new artwork from Chris Barnes. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 2,000 units, featuring the Barnes artwork. The following extras are included:


  • Audio Commentary with Peter and Michael Spierig and Andy Strahorn
  • On the Set of Undead (Upscaled SD – 47:22)
  • Attack of the Undead (Upscaled SD – 37:25)
  • The Making of Undead (Upscaled SD – 37:28)
  • Home Made Dolly Video (Upscaled SD – 2:09)
  • Undead Camera and Makeup Tests (HD – 1:45)
  • Stills Gallery (HD – 11:37, 139 in all)
  • Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:31)


  1. Prologue – March of the Undead (2:49)
  2. Welcome to Berkeley (1:56)
  3. Rene (:59)
  4. Marion (2:41)
  5. Zombies at the Door (2:13)
  6. Farmhouse Escape (7:52)
  7. Acid Rain (1:51)
  8. The Wall (3:50)
  9. Return to Berkeley (2:46)
  10. To the Airfield (5:43)
  11. Wayne Flies to the Rescue (1:43)
  12. Ghostly Figures (5:19)
  13. Military Intervention (1:16)
  14. The Clouds Recede (1:45)
  15. Epilogue (1:56)
  16. End Credits (3:16)
  17. Little Green Men (4:18)

The commentary features the Brothers Spierig along with Andy Strahorn, reminiscing about making Undead twenty years down the road. They spend a lot of time talking about the experience of making a feature with such limited resources—the budget for the contact lenses that were used in Daybreakers was higher than the entire budget for this film. Even at that, half the money that they had went to cameras and film stocks, so the practical budget was even lower than it may seem—for example, there was only $7,000 AUS to build nearly a dozen sets. Yet counterintuitively, they had more time for rehearsals and a longer shooting schedule than they’ve had on any project since then. They also cover the release and legacy of Undead, and express amazement that it got reviewed by real critics like Roger Ebert (who needless to say, was less than complimentary).

The rest of the extras were produced in-house at SpierigFilm. On the Set of Undead is a fly-on-the-wall collection of footage shot during the production of the film, while The Making of Undead is more of a conventional making-of documentary. The latter features interviews with various members of the crew, including the Spierigs, Andy Strahorn, makeup effects designer Steve Boyle, production designer Matthew Putland, creature FX animator Bevan Lynch, and more, as well as actors Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins... and more! It’s a nice overview of the whole production, and it includes plenty of its own behind-the-scenes footage as well. The Home Made Dolly Video is a look at how they jerry-rigged their own dolly and crane setup for the film, while the Undead Camera and Makeup Tests is a compilation of raw lighting and frame rate tests for the makeup effects. Finally, Attack of the Undead is one of the Spierig Brothers short films that served as an inspiration for Undead, and it’s interesting to see how they explored techniques here that they would refine later for the feature film.

Note that this version of Undead is the 96-minute international cut, which is the Spierigs’ preferred version. When Undead was first released in Australia, it ran approximately 104 minutes, but the Spierigs decided to tighten it up later, and as they explain in the included booklet, the shorter version is their preferred edit, and “in our opinion, (it’s) a better film.” While some people may complain that the longer original version hasn’t been included here, Undead is long enough at 96 minutes, and it really doesn’t need to be extended any further. (It’s also worth pointing out that the 2022 Australian Blu-ray release only includes the 96-minute version as well). There’s an argument to be made that it would have been nice to at least include the deleted footage as an extra, but Umbrella and Vinegar Syndrome have offered up a pretty expansive collection of extras here, so like the film itself, it’s enough. This Blu-ray set is definitely a must-buy for fans of Undead.

- Stephen Bjork

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