A curse is spreading across the Old West, one that makes its victims hunger for human flesh while their own rots from their bones. When Elmer Winslow, a U.S. Army deserter, and an effeminate cowboy named Luke Bed get into a bar fight, they are soon after tossed into a jail cell by the town's corrupt Sheriff Claypool, who takes the liberty of claiming all their personal possessions for himself. Their cell is next to that of Ben Goodman, a sickly looking man who is set to hang the following day for the ghastly crimes of murdering his wife and daughter, devouring parts of their brains in the process. When Elmer and Luke make their escape, relieving the sheriff of their money and much of his own his entire savings before fleeing town, both Claypool and his dim-witted lackey, Cletus, are bitten by Ben.
Elmer and Luke make haste to put the town behind him, certain that the enraged sheriff will be hot on their heels. The next day they are ambushed by Sue, the niece of the infamous Geronimo, who after hearing their story reluctantly agrees to help them escape in exchange for information on the whereabouts of the U.S. Army battalion that killed her uncle, on whom she's sworn her revenge. Soon the new-found companions discover that they are in far greater trouble than they thought, as the sheriff, Cletus, and their entire posse all have the same curse that drove Ben to kill his family.
Pursued by the Army, Sheriff Claypool, and his posse of hungry zombies, the unlikely trio must work together to stay alive while making a mad dash for the Colorado River.
Undead or Alive contains examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: Luke. One of the outtakes even has the actor playing Elmer lampshade it.
- And Then John Was a Zombie: When Elmer makes the mistake of punching an infectious zombie in the mouth, he almost immediately realizes that he is beginning to turn, and uses the last few moments before the hunger overwhelms him to attempt to make a Heroic Sacrifice. He fails.
- Bittersweet Ending: The majority of the zombies that were after the main characters are gone, Luke and Elmer got cured of their curse by at the expense of eating Sue, who was the descendant of Geronimo. Now Luke once again lost his girlfriend then lost his favorite horse and, with the exception of Elmer, is alone again. You also still have a lone zombie that still roams around, also other zombies who didn't get blown up or cured wandering around.
- Charge-into-Combat Cut: This camera trick is used as part of the finale, when Sue is about to square off against the zombified pair of her former companions, Elmer and Luke. She charges at the pair with her sabre in hand before the camera cuts away, and only the aftermath is later shown.
- Chekhov's Gun: Midway through the film, Sue (Geronimo's niece) remembers that the cure for the curse is to eat the still-living flesh of the one who cast the curse in the first place. Since Geronimo was dead before the film began, this is derided as a useless bit of information until Elmer and Luke, having been infected, realize that consuming the flesh of Geronimo's living relatives still counts.
- Unless Sue actually cast the curse.
- Inconvenient Itch: Luke's nose starts to itch when he and Elmer are stripped naked and forced to ride on a horse together with their hands bound. Once they are finally untied, Luke spends several moments flailing about with his now-numb hands trying to scratch it.
- Knee-capping: After the protagonists find out that the zombies pursuing them can't be killed with a bullet to the brain as one would expect, Sue opts to shoot out the zombified sheriff's kneecaps to make it much harder for him to catch up. This leads to a humorous scene later in which Cletus is forced to carry him piggy-back while chasing the heroes.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: The attitude of Elmer, who doesn't seem to realize that his fiancée is the town prostitute. This leads to him attacking Luke when he sees her getting flirty with the newcomer near the beginning of the film.Elmer: "I'm not gonna just sit there and watch you soil my Princess!"Luke (laughing): "I hate to break it to you, but she ain't your princess. She's a whore!"Elmer: "Why you potty-mouthed son of a bitch!"
- Mystical Plague: The "White Man's Curse" that causes its wild-west era victims to rise from the dead and hunger for human brains is revealed to be a spell cast by the medicine man Geronimo before his death at the hands of the U.S. Army.
- Noble Shoplifter: When the trio of outcasts raids an unoccupied general store for supplies in the midst of an emerging Zombie Apocalypse, the cowboy-wannabe Luke wonders if it's not wrong to be stealing despite the circumstance. Elmer counters that rather than stealing, they're about to become the owner's "favorite customers" before tossing a large wad of bills on the counter.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: Though the creatures of the film are walking, decaying corpses that hunger for human flesh (even sometimes groaning "Brraaaiiiinnss"), they are never referred to as Zombies in-universe. In fact, the only label they're given at all is "Geroni-Monsters" by Luke.
- Our Zombies Are Different: The curse victims retain much of their mental faculties, as they can still talk, reason, and even desire to carry on a healthy family life (just with an endless hunger for non-infected flesh.) Additionally, they can't be killed by being shot in the head.
- Pistol-Whipping: Elmer does this to a sleeping Cletus during their jail break, so that he can retrieve the boots Cletus previously appropriated for himself.
- Prison Rape: Threatened by Cletus when he informs Luke and Cletus that they're going to be horse-whipped after being arrested by Sheriff Claypool.Cletus: "They'll leave you hangin' on the rail. You ain't even gonna know who it is comin' up behind you to take a dig at your dirt-mine. But don't worry, when it's my turn I'll be sure to whisper somethin' real sweet..."Elmer (sighing): "This day is turning out terrible!"
- Public Execution: The fact that a public hanging was to be held the morning after the heroes' escape from jail gave them a head start, as the angry sheriff could not afford to draw the ire of the townsfolk who had assembled to witness the death of Ben Goodman, who had killed and eaten parts of his wife and daughter. (Since Ben was a victim of a zombifying curse, the hanging didn't quite take in the end.)
- Recycled IN SPACE!: Zombies in the Wild West!
- Title Drop: This is done during the film's jaunty, country-esque theme, aptly titled "Undead Or Alive".Better lock your doors and windows tightly
Cause that's me knocking from outsiiiide
Undead or aliiiiveeee...
I'll meet you on the other side, undead or alive