Bad Taste (1987)
"One thing the aliens hadn't counted on was Derek, and Derek's don't run!"
A four-man paramilitary unit is sent into a small town to investigate why the entire population seems to have disappeared. They find that the town has been overrun by aliens and the resident have been harvested for food.
All great things must start somewhere. Multi-million-dollar film director Peter Jackson, he of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and King Kong fame, began his filmmaking days in this hilarious low budget splatter flick back in 1987. Compare this: it took four years between filming commencing on The Lord of the Rings series and to the cinematic release of the final instalment in the original trilogy, whilst it took Jackson the same amount of time to make Bad Taste in the 80s. It just goes to show what a difference twelve years makes but it also goes to show just how committed Jackson is to a project that he feels is a labour of love. Bad Taste’s props are all home-made, the alien masks were baked in his mum’s oven, he crafted the camera dollies and cranes himself, the film was shot over weekends during the four-year period when time would allow, and his main stars were himself and his friends. Four years is a long time, particularly as hairstyles, fashion, body types and all sorts of variables change and so maintaining continuity becomes the biggest concern. But imagination and creativity go a long way in filmmaking and Jackson utilised every trick in the book he had learnt to really make Bad Taste greater than the sum of its parts. Jackson eventually secured a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission but the bulk of this is pure hard individual graft.
It’s virtually impossible not to have heard of at least one of Jackson’s early splatter flicks now that he is famous and the media like to bring these things up, though I definitely prefer Bad Taste to his later, more famous gore-soaked offering Braindead. Fans who’d never heard of Jackson when he took The Lord of the Rings mantle must have had a heart attack if they decided to check out his early works. Look behind the low budget and you see a film which has a clear vision of what it sets out to do and delivers it in buckets. Bad Taste might be low-budget but that doesn’t stop Jackson from showing everyone what a supremely talented filmmaker he is behind the camera. Lots of scenes have little to no dialogue because he’s content to allow the images to tell the story. In one early scene, Jackson (playing two roles) fights himself. In pre-CGI days, it’s amazing to see how a little editing and camera trickery could be used to pull off such a feat – I didn’t realise it was two different people when I first saw this as an impressionable teenager back in the 90s.
Those easily offended by gore best look away. There is a reason the film is called Bad Taste: it is an absurd mess of gross-out visuals, so much so that it becomes jokey, not realistic. Heads are sliced off. Brains trickle out onto the floor. Chainsaws are used. Sheep are blown up. Even seagulls aren’t immune to a bit of a headbutting. Bombarding the audience with as much blood, guts, rotting flesh and green goo and slime as possible, Bad Taste doesn’t let up for one moment once the ball starts rolling. Arguably the most stomach-wrenching scene in the film (quite literally) involves one of the aliens spewing up a load of green sick into a large bowl and allowing all of his fellow aliens to take a big old swig of it, right up until they reach one of the human characters who has infiltrated the base. You can almost taste and smell the festering bowl of green gunk as he takes a drink from it, borking and gagging as he does so. There is no limit to what Jackson will throw at the screen aside from his imagination. The fact that everything you see is real is even more remarkable. Some sequences do drag out for too long (such as Derek picking up and putting bits of his brains back in) and the story itself is little more than a flimsy link between these set pieces but when they’re this much fun, it’s hard to complain.
Not only is the gore laughably over-the-top, but the script is witty and sharp. Lord Crumb, the leader of the aliens, has some fantastically droll lines. This is a comedy-horror after all and the laughs fly thick and fast, mainly down to the situations the humans find themselves in. As I’ve said, Jackson used his mates for the cast and they do have a good camaraderie, bouncing off each other with jokes whenever the script requires them to do so, whilst keeping some mundane reactions in reserve for more comic effect at other times. Don’t think Bad Taste is all silliness and stupidity though. When the film isn’t playing itself for laughs, there are some exciting chase sequences, a tense fight atop a cliff-edge and more. The balance between the comedy and horror is almost perfect, though it’s more repulsion than fear as far as the horror goes. You will need a strong stomach to sit through this.
Bad Taste is a fantastic debut from one of Hollywood’s most famous directors and one that he is not shamed to admit he made, almost wearing it like a badge of honour to have started at so humble a position and end up where he has. All of the skill and talent Peter Jackson has shown as a mature director is evident in this charming rookie production where you will happily forgive its shortcomings because of how much love and passion has gone into making it. This is Jackson’s labour of love and it’s bloody brilliant.
Director(s): Peter Jackson
Writer(s): Peter Jackson, Tony Hiles (additional material), Ken Hammon (additional material)
Actor(s): Terry Potter, Pete O'Herne, Craig Smith, Mike Minett, Peter Jackson, Doug Wren
Duration: 91 mins