Today’s Chilling Classics entry comes from Blake Lynch, who not only knows plenty about movies, but knows plenty of people connected with creating them. I’m really happy that he chose to talk the early career of Peter Jackson. We share a love of Meet the Feebles.
Bad Taste (1987) by Blake Lynch
Out of all the winners of the Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Peter Jackson may very well be able to claim the strangest directorial debut. The man who would go on to direct greatly nuanced films like Heavenly Creatures in 1994, The Lovely Bones in 2009, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, began his career by directing the x-rated puppet film Meet the Feebles in 1989 and Bad Taste in 1987.
What’s Bad Taste about? Well, it’s a low budget film set in New Zealand about aliens who want to kill humans for their fast food franchise. It’s the sort of film that isn’t that terribly compelling based on the tagline alone. The film, though, is a wonderfully experimental, bizarre, at times grotesque independent picture that reveals Peter Jackson’s love of trying out new things with the special effects budget.
Bad Taste began as a 20-minute short film. Eventually, the film turned into a feature and was shot on weekends over a period of four years in Jackson’s home of Pukerua Bay, New Zealand.
The production lasted so long that one of the film’s characters died and another actor’s voice had to be dubbed in during post-production. Another character got married during the production of the film and had to be written out of Bad Taste because of his religious wife’s objections.
There are only four actors visible in the entire film with many other actors hiding behind alien costumes, which were made in Peter Jackson’s mother’s oven. Peter Jackson plays one of the roles and three others roles are played by Jackson’s friends.
Jackson funded the film by himself until the very end when the New Zealand Film Commission awarded Jackson money. The budget was so tight that the production couldn’t afford guns for the characters, camera mounts, a steady-cam device, and many other film essentials.
68 total deaths or .74 kills a minute
1 death by mallet
2 alien kills while a gun is lodged in another person
1 disemboweled seagull
1 alien who has his brain eaten out of his head
1 alien who has his head pulled off and used like a soccer ball
1 death from a balcony fall
1 alien cut in half due to a car collision
5 aliens, 1 house, and 1 sheep destroyed by rocket launcher
2 aliens split in half by a chainsaw
1 house that turns into a spaceship
There are some ways in which it isn’t very helpful to approach Bad Taste. For one, viewers shouldn’t read much into the dialogue in Bad Taste. There are great stretches of the film that don’t have many words spoken, while other scenes spend way too much time on exposition and unimportant details.
Likewise, it’s not helpful to look for a meaningful story in the film. There isn’t one. The only momentum between the film are changes in location: the cliffs, the house, the car, the spaceship.
I’m not saying Bad Taste is a bad film because it lacks these details. The film is definitely worth watching, if nothing for the glimpse of the genius that would become Peter Jackson. Instead, I’m trying to say that Bad Taste has all of the trappings of a no-budget independent film.
The film begins with the Astro Investigation and Defence Services sending Derek, Frank, Ozzy, and Barry to determine why a whole New Zealand town is now empty. While the streetwise Barry (Peter O’Herne) fends off alien attacks, Derek (Peter Jackson) attempts to look for signs of life in the town.
Immediately after contacting Frank (Minke Minett) and Ozzy (Terry Potter), we encounter by far the strangest scene in the film. Derek tortures an alien named Robert. That’s a neat scene, you might think. It might even remind you a bit about a similar sequence in George Romero’s Day of the Dead. But, what’s completely baffling about this bit of the film is that Peter Jackson plays both the alien who is being tortured as well as the person who is doing the tortured. You wouldn’t be wrong in saying the scene depicts Peter Jackson torturing himself.
Ever the masochist, Peter Jackson then films another character injury scene when Derek falls down a cliff while being chased by aliens. When he wakes up in a seagull’s nest, Derek discovers that his brain is leaking from his head. To keep his brain from leaking out of the back of his head, Derek throughout the film relies on hats and belts. I am fairly certain that this is not appropriate medical treatment to be followed in the case of such an event. I watched Bad Taste over a decade ago and this is visual of strapping your brains into your head with a belt is the only thing that I remembered about Bad Taste.
Around this time in the film, we encounter Giles (Craig Smith), a charity collector who ends up trying to run from aliens but ends up stuck in a pot for alien stew. Giles turns out to not be the only one that the aliens have attempted to turn into food. Instead, the aliens turn out to have turned all of the residents from the now empty town into alien fast food. In what is probably the second most viscerally disturbing thing in the film, Robert vomits into a bowl that is eaten by the aliens. Legend has it the vomit was actually just a combination of yogurt and muesli, but one glimpse at the greenish blue concoction is enough to make most people sick to their stomach.
At this point, the film turns into an effort by Frank, Ozzy, and Derek to rescue Giles from Lord Crumb (acted by Doug Wren, voiced by Peter Vere-Jones) and the aliens. It’s at this point, we enter into an action-filled sequence that leads to the conclusion of the film. I won’t discuss what happens here for several reasons. For one, there’s not really any type of plot development. Instead, this sequence is all about a series of action sequence after sequence. Two, I’ve already hinted at what you’ll see in my drive-in totals. And three, there’s actually a bit of a surprise with how Bad Taste ends that I won’t reveal.
Do I like this film? I struggle alot with independent films like this. I know the legacy. I know it has a huge cult following. I know that Peter Jackson went on to win Academy Awards, work with Spielberg, and do all sorts of wonderful creative projects. There’s glimpses of a creative mind in this film that are worth watching. If it comes to early Peter Jackson, though, I’m a Feebles man through and through.
Bad Taste was approved by the New Zealand Film Commission, but was later banned by the Queensland Film Board in Australia. Because the Australian Film Commission viewed the Queensland Board’s decision to break up the film as unprofessional, the Queensland Film Board was broken up as a result of Bad Taste.
After a screening of the film in 1988 at the Cannes Film Festival, Jackson managed to sell the picture. Jackson’s subsequent film, Meet the Feebles, was filmed with financial support from Japanese investors as well as assistance from the New Zealand Film Commission. The film did not, however, receive much recognition at the 1989 New Zealand Film and Television awards.
The film has a devout cult following. While the band Flesh Grinder named an album after the film, the band Kaihoro took its name from the town in the movie and the band Skinny Puppy used clips from Bad Taste in one of the band’s music videos.
In 1993, Peter Jackson approached the New Zealand Film Commission with plans to make a Bad Taste 2 and 3 for $7 million in which Derek would be rescued from the alien planet and the aliens seek revenge. As of November 2018, these films have still not entered production.