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Bad Taste

(Directed by Peter Jackson)

There is NO WAY in Hell that somebody watching this for the first time in the 80s would say; “Hey! You know what this guy needs to do as a future project? A family-friendly large-budget studio-backed movie version of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ novels!”. That’s not to belittle this ridiculous low-budgeted sci-fi horror comedy, or what Jackson achieved during its long production. It’s just… Man! ... you can not get more polar opposite to a visually sumptuous box-office hit than this! The fact that Jackson went from this and is now just as highly regarded for his WWII cinematic restoration work (the frankly astounding “They Shall Not Grow Old”), is just as mind-boggling. The making of the film has become just as well-known as the director himself, and a go-to guide for any prospective filmmaker. It was shot by Jackson and his close friends on weekends-only during four-years, funded by the crew’s own money and equipment, and from a script mostly made-up on the spot. It was shot by Jackson (who also played two roles in the movie) using a 25-year-old 16mm camera, and with alien masks baked in his Mom’s oven! It’s an obvious labour of love from all those involved and is highly influenced by US horror and Tom Savini’s FX work. Much of it is filmed around Jackson's hometown of Pukerua Bay (Seriously!), north of Wellington. Although it eventually ran into censorship problems in its own territories, the production has that unique brand of infantile but infectious New Zealand humour that continues to run through later genre films like “Deathgasm”. The ramshackle “plot” concerns a mass disappearance of the occupants of a NZ township, which is investigated by members of the super-secret organisation Astro Investigation and Defence Service (AIDS… yes, that is the level of the one-liners during the running time). It turns out that the populace has been eaten by gangly aliens, who have packaged their tasty flesh and have plans to turn Earth into one big fast-food takeaway. But they have reckoned without ace agent Derek (Jackson), who is more than their equal… even with his brains literally falling out of his head!

Basically the whole thing is deliriously nuts, but played relatively straight, like a down-under Troma film taken to serious extremes. It starts with some gleefully gory set-pieces, as one poor dude gets the top of his noggin blasted off… and to add insult to injury, one of his colleagues later scoops stuff out of his cranium with spoon, in the manner of a soft-boiled egg. By all rights it shouldn’t really work, but you can’t help loving the sheer randomness of the “story” and the obvious fun everybody’s having on it. The early parts of the film might drag on a little (Derek’s cliff escapade goes on forever) and the cheapness of the SFX and gun-fights are noticeable. But by the time you’ve got used to the OTT gory laffs, and action sequence pastiches, you’ll be revelling in the splattery shenanigans. The evolution of Derek in particular is a sick delight. Originally a nerdy-but-violent government operative, he seems to make an early exit after tumble off a cliff. Instead he later comes to in a seagull nest, with his brains spilling out of a large slot in the back of his head. He circumvents surgery by wearing a hat and then a belt, to stop losing more… occasionally topping up the grisly contents of his skull with alien guts and bird gizzards. And if that doesn’t tickle your horror funny-bone, then you probably aren’t in the main target audience, but you’re missing a sick treat. Later sequences are superbly puerile, with alien vomit being served up as gruel (“Aren’t I lucky! I got a chunky bit!”). As well as some really silly lines (“I suppose you’re wondering why you’re soaking in 11 herbs and spices?”). Despite playing at Cannes to good reviews, the film was widely disowned by the NZ film and television authorities at the time, especially as they partially funded the release. Censored heavily by various countries, it happily became a cult favourite and launched Jackson’s career. Even if the humour and “splatstick” is not to your taste, you have to admire what the crew accomplished with practically zero budget and no “professional” equipment. Two characters played by Jackson even convincingly fight themselves at one point, despite the footage existing in different time-frames. After this, he went on to the gross adult Muppet satire (“Meet The Feebles”… STILL miles better than the recent “The Happytime Murders”), and the wonderful “Braindead” in 1992. BTW, if you’re wondering where the “Born Again” scene in that last film came from… let us introduce you to Derek and his chainsaw in the “Bad Taste” climax. You’ll thank us for it.