Carrying on with our Who’s laughing now?! theme, we have two horror comedy gems. It is hard to imagine after the Bored of the Rings trilogy (apologies not, I have not managed to get through one of these films without dozing off) or that cartoon-like overlong remake of King Kong, that Peter Jackson was actually once upon a time a splatter film directorial genius. Even after all these years the two movies I will be focusing on today remain some of the most innovative and exciting gore films I have seen to date. Strongly influential in the creation of the splatstick genre (mixing heavy and gross out gore effects with black humour) Peter Jackson produced some really outstanding stuff in the 80’s and early 90’s which is hard to rival even with today’s technology.
Starting with Bad Taste a story of aliens descended to earth to farm humans for food, this really is a movie that lives up to it’s title in every way. Low budget yes, but that does not necessarily mean it is lacking. Peter spent 4 years on the making of this movie, and relied on a cast and crew of unpaid friends and family to ensure it was made. Where normally low budget splatflicks are turned out in mere weeks, this was a labour of love for the director, who also appears in the movie playing two roles. The special effects are nothing short of genius when you consider they were produced with very little money, ($26,000 to be exact) a secondhand camera, dollies and tracks were constructed with basic woodworking tools, and Jackson and his crew even managed to construct a fake flying house for the ending scenes which apart from the bit when it is flying in space you have to wonder how the hell did they do that so effectively on so little money? In an almost Kubrick style fashion it was Peter’s dedication to detail that makes this feature so special, as well as writing, acting and directing he also personally created the effects painstakingly, including constructing guns from pieces of wood and metal, the alien heads were made from latex and baked in his mothers oven, and three models of the house were built by hand. He also made an extremely lifelike version of his own head for the vomiting scene.
As the script goes, it is fairly simplistic, but hilarious all the same, and this is mainly down to the gross out humorous moments with oodles of OTT gore and nothing is off limits. Called to contain the alien invasion ‘the boys’, Ozzy, Barry, Derek, and Frank, descend on a deserted town to find a hoard of zombie like human impersonators headed by the sinister Lord Crumb, marauding around waiting for their first decent meal in years, cooking pot at the ready, and it is conman Giles who ends up stuffed in there with an apple in his mouth. This lays the scene for complete carnage with shooting, stabbing, garroting galore, exploding sheep and a bit of vomit eating thrown in to add to the gross factor. We see one of the main characters Derek played by Jackson, fall down a cliff and stumble around for most of the picture with his brains falling out of his head (which he periodically has to stuff back in) after landing in a nest of seagulls and crushing them all to death. While taking on the alien hoard he is re-birthed in a particularly gory sequence through an alien body, all good fun.
It is apparent that there was a lot of love involved in making this movie, with the cast clearly having a good time in making it, and while not actually real actors, it matters not one bit as their camaraderie and enthusiasm shines out on screen. Interestingly there are no female characters in Bad Taste but given Peter was relying on his mates it is understandable. One of the guys involved died 22 times as various aliens in different wigs and guises! With most of the cast doubling, or tripling up on roles and then taking a turn backstage as well, the dedication involved really has to be admired. When they made this picture they had no idea how influential it would be, and just days after screening at Cannes Film Festival it was picked up by a number of countries for release, and the rest is history.
There is something very special about Bad Taste, it is a perfect example of how pure determination and hard graft with a bulk load of talent thrown in can pay off immensely. I remember seeing it in the late 80’s and wondering what the hell did I just watch?! All I knew was I loved it , and seeing it all these years later it still holds true as original and exciting and my admiration for this movie has only grown.
It is not surprising that given Peter Jackson’s obvious talent displayed in Bad Taste producers were willing invest some of their hard cash into his next splatstick venture, (including the Zew Zealand Film Commission), Braindead aka Dead Alive, and the result is nothing short of a marvel in blood splattered shenanigans. I cannot say I have ever seen a film to rival the amount of gore and originality in this movie. Following the story of poor lamentable Lionel (Timothy Balme) ‘never been kissed’ and desperate to escape the clutches of his overbearing and vile mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody), things take a turn for the worst when suspicious and stalking mother Vera follows Lionel on his first date with the beautiful Paquita, to the zoo and gets bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey for her snooping. These things were said to be the result of what happens when tree monkeys were raped by plague carrying rats, with just one nip meaning a fast track to an untimely and uncomfortable demise followed by zombification for those bitten. Following the usual rule of zombie bites, Lionel finds he soon has a basement full of these revolting creatures, after mum goes on a bit of a spree and infects half the town, and he desperately tries to control the situation and conceal them from his new girlfriend Paquita (Diana Penalver) and greedy uncle Les (Ian Watkin) , by keeping them sedated on tranquilisers while locked up in his basement. Sadly though it is only a matter of time before things get out of hand, and Lionel’s problems are compounded when two of his new found undead friends manage to copulate on the dining room table and produce Selwyn the cheeky and rather dangerous zombie baby.
While it seems nothing was off limits in Bad Taste, the higher budget of Braindead makes the aforementioned flick tame in comparison as Peter really goes to town showing us just how gross and gory he can get. Although costing a meagre $1.8 million (when contrasted with Hollywood budgets of films made around the same time) it is also testament to how frugality does not necessarily mean poorly made. It has been speculated 300 litres of fake blood, and guts were being pumped out every 60 seconds in the climatic scenes making Braindead a splatterific spectacle to behold, and is declared as the goriest film on record. Again there is an immense attention to detail everything was dilligently storyboarded, the house scenes took place on a specially constructed stage so the special effects artists could take charge of puppetering from below the scenes, and the ample amounts of blood could be cleared away between takes.
There is some unique talent evident in this movie with special effect worker Christian Rivers going on to work with Peter later in King Kong and Lord of the Rings, and Stuart Conran went on to do films like Shaun of the Dead and The Cottage. We have zombie hoards and animated disembodied body parts, including a zombie which after being beheaded walks around with a garden gnome stuck in his gaping neck wound, animatronics, puppets, zombie massacre by lawnmower, all manner of household and garden implements used to create the most goretastic deaths imaginable, a farting colon detached from its now undead owner which follows Lionel around, a scene when Lionel takes zombie baby Selwyn for a walk in the park and ends up in a public punch up with the tot, rutting zombies, zombies with their body parts falling off at the dinner table, and a kung fu fighting vicar who kicks ass for The Lord. The movie never lets up pace, and while hilarious it also has a certain amount of tension, especially when the survivors fight to the death while surrounded in the final scenes, the result is a gory rom-com of sorts which never fails to deliver. All culminating in one of the most bizarre and fantastically mental endings I have ever seen, when Vera becomes the worlds first super zombie complete with gargantuan breasts as she attempts to reclaim Lionel to her womb.
These two movies are great to watch as a double bill, if you can take it, and are guaranteed to have you splitting your sides and vomiting in your own mouth simultaneously. It is such a shame Peter Jackson left the horror genre so prematurely, but given the completely bonkers pace and over the top gore in both these flicks even he would be hard pressed to top them. While I am not a fan of his modern day work I have to salute Peter Jackson for bringing these two pieces of gore soaked wonder into my life, seminal work indeed and truly deserving of the cult statuses they hold today.