Saturday, October 10, 2015

#217: Bad Taste (Peter Jackson, 1987)

Oh, Peter Jackson. I'll probably catch up to the Hobbit movies and The Lovely Bones someday, mostly because I tend to be a completist about film directors I like, but my enthusiasm for the task is fairly low. I liked the Lord of the Rings well enough, as far as long and expensive CGI blockbusters go, and there were enjoyable moments in all three movies, especially the first one. I felt much the same about King Kong, particularly some of those beautiful shots of Kong and Naomi Watts in fantasy-movie Old New York before all hell broke loose, though there were some troublingly racist elements early in the film. He makes a pretty good CGI blockbuster, but any of you who have read more than two posts of mine know how I feel about CGI blockbusters.
I miss the old, varied, weird Peter Jackson, the guy who made low-budget splatter horror-comedies Bad Taste and Dead Alive, the behind-the-showbiz curtain expose of sex and drugs and crime and violence except they're all puppets Meet the Feebles, the sensitive character study/true-crime indie drama Heavenly Creatures, and the dryly funny film history mockumentary Forgotten Silver. This was an unpredictable, independent-minded guy with a great sense of humor taking his own weird path. Even The Frighteners, his first major-studio release that looks overstuffed with CGI and undercooked in terms of character development in retrospect, is pretty odd and endearing and human, with a story about small-time con artists that turns into a Ghostbusters homage and then morphs into a slasher movie, with a likable performance from Michael J. Fox in one of his last leading roles before his Parkinson's forced him to reduce his acting schedule. I'm happy Peter Jackson is successful and doing what he wants and has won some Oscars and continues to film in New Zealand, but I miss the weird and I don't think the weird is coming back. I hope I'm wrong.
Bad Taste, Jackson's first feature film, is weird and funny and disgusting and full of handmade effects and imagination. There's no real attempt at storytelling or character development, but that would only get in the way of the crazed, goofball fun here. This is a real nerdy young man's movie with no female characters, though it doesn't come off like malicious exclusion. Instead, this is a good-natured sausage party made by dorks who probably hadn't met many girls yet. Jackson would get better at including women very soon.
The film opens with a shadowy figure using a severed finger to call in a small government team to the fictional New Zealand village of Kaihoro. The humans have disappeared. In their stead are murderous aliens inhabiting human bodies. This is part of a larger conspiracy orchestrated by an intergalactic fast food conglomerate trying to regain their spot as the most popular fast food chain on their home planet. Humans are apparently delicious, so the aliens are using isolated New Zealand as the initial test batch of people meat. They plan to bring the slaughtered New Zealanders back to their planet in boxes and feed them to their stockholders. If all goes well, the aliens can then return and harvest the billions of other humans for their menu.
The aliens underestimated how resourceful a handful of goofy New Zealanders can be. The team includes Ozzy (Terry Potter), Barry (Pete O'Herne), Frank (Mike Minett), and Derek (Jackson himself), as well as a rescued public health and welfare worker named Giles (Craig Smith), who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and almost became the main ingredient in a stew. The team battles the aliens, who morph back into their original pig/ape/old man hybrid form, and much blood, guts, brains, spit, vomit, and slime ensues. In addition to the alien bodies, seagulls are smashed and sheep are exploded. This is not a film to be enjoyed while eating. God, I miss the days of handmade guts and slime (stares wistfully in the distance).
Bad Taste is a film where the action starts from the very beginning and continues until the crazed, Rocky Horror-nodding end. This nonstop action is exhausting and uninspired in CGI films, but not in handmade horror and action movies. Bad Taste is immature, gross-out fun, an innovative labor of love from a young guy who would one day become a powerful Hollywood producer and director. It's probably the only movie made by an Oscar winner where an alien eats the brains of another alien directly from the blown-apart skull of the latter alien with a spoon. Can anyone check on that? There may be a few others.
Peter Jackson made this movie with his own money on weekends over the course of four years, using whatever friends were available. (One friend was fired and rehired because his religious wife wouldn't let him work on the Sabbath day, and his eventual divorce allowed him to come back to Sunday work duty.) Most of the leading actors played dual roles, and the alien costumes were created in Jackson's mother's kitchen. The alien heads tilt back because the latex had to be pushed in that direction to fit in the oven. Jackson eventually received a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission toward the end of production that allowed him to finish the movie and find distribution. The film ran into some censorship in Australia, but became a cult hit at home, and a video favorite in the United States. I enjoy it a great deal, and I hope you do, too.

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