Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #54
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: December 11, 1987 (NZ), June 16, 1989 (US)
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Ken Hammon, Tony Hiles
Special Effects: Peter Jackson
Cinematography: Peter Jackson
Score: Michelle Scullion, Jay Snowfield (uncredited)
Editing: Peter Jackson, Jamie Selkirk
Studio: WingNut Films, New Zealand Film Commission
Distributor: Image Entertainment (US), PolyGram Films (UK)
Stars: Terry Potter, Pete O’Herne, Craig Smith, Mike Minett, Peter Jackson, Doug Wren and Tony Hiles as Coldfinger
Suggested Audio Candy:
Shakin’ Stevens This Ole House
Over the past decade or so, New Zealand’s most valuable export Peter Jackson has become one of the most prolific blockbuster filmmakers on the entire planet. His Lord of the Rings trilogy made an absolute mint at the box office, gaining him a clean sweep of eleven glistening Oscars for The Return of the King including the first ever best picture award for a fantasy feature. He also received pretty much the keys to tinsel town in the process. He is currently providing J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with the similar trilogy treatment although, regrettably, I fear that I won’t have the 13-plus man hours required to sit through another of his epic journies.
This for me was the main quandary with the Rings series. It was admittedly awe-inspiring when you managed to set an evening aside for them but by the third journey to Middle Earth I was rather fatigued and fed up with hunting for that wretched ring. The four-hour running time chilled me to my very core and it took over a year to muster up the will to subject myself to the ordeal. Of course, by about the five-minute mark my ears had begun to grow pointy and fur was sprouting on the pads of my feet but that’s not the point I wish to make here.
Sometimes I just hanker after the good old days. You know, before he shed almost half his body mass and donated a little of his soul to the Hollywood “dream machine”. Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, Braindead, The Frighteners and captivating dark fairytale Heavenly Creatures were all marvellous films in their own right.
Granted, by the time he had sufficient clout to enlist the likes of Michael J. Fox he was already plotting his fast route to mega-stardom but despite the distended budget, it still remained a Jackson vehicle at heart. To decipher this man’s cerebral code however, I feel it necessary to return to the commencement of his pilgrimage; the most raw and unpandering of the lot. WingNut Films positioned themselves on many radars right from the offset courtesy of a charming little home-made film fashioned from a budget beyond miniscule that set its sights higher than it had any right to.
Anyone familiar with my appraisal for Blood Runs Cold will be aware that it was produced for a sixth of the resources available to Jackson and two-and-a-half decades later to boot, but it didn’t have to contend with crafting a mansion cum space shuttle (think Nostromo with net curtains) and horde of brain-chowing extraterrestrials chowing down on his reserves. It is quite astonishing that he managed to pull off this audacious feat at all and, despite the effects looking pretty damn crude even by eighties standards, it somehow burrowed its way into the hearts of horror aficionados the world over, mine inclusive.
Michelle Scullion The Boys Attack
Jackson mirthfully steps the other side of the camera to bring us Derek, a tenuously hinged bonehead who, along with fellow “boys” Ozzy (Terry Potter), Barry (Pete O’Herne) and Frank (Mike Minett) is assigned a top-secret mission to save the planet from an impending alien invasion. Of course, they’ll need transportation and the agency provides the finest set of wheels Jackson’s fast diminishing budget can afford, complete with cardboard Beatles sun visor. From his tasty opening, Jackson sets his stool out doggedly, and his primary goal is to both gross us out and induce hysterics at every viable opportunity. He fluently achieves this, revealing a considerable aptitude for meshing comedy and splatter that he sadly seems to have left by the wayside in recent years.
The outstanding but dreadfully depressing The Lovely Bones wasn’t exactly loaded with belly laughs, while he didn’t exactly pile on the blood and guts for King Kong. As the years passed, an increased kitty afforded him the chance to deliver the grue in abundance for Braindead and the censors must’ve found something highly amusing to let that one pass unmolested. Bad Taste may have lacked its glossy sheen and FX wizardry, but from where I’m seated, it is every bit as good a movie.
Once we’d been introduced to our unlikely lads and Derek has escaped from a real cliff-hanger by the skin of his cranium, we make our way up to the headquarters of the nefarious Lord Crumb (Doug Wren) for a nice bowl of steaming alien vomit (searching optimistically for that elusive chunky bit, I might add). By this point in proceedings the boys have been set a fresh sub-mission, that being, to save the damsel in distress. With Bad Taste being made on next to nothing, Jackson can’t afford to pull in any Hollywood A-Listers at this time, so we have to make do with Giles (Craig Smith), a travelling salesman who, in all the hullabaloo, has exchanged the cosy confines of his automobile for a cauldron chock full of fresh vegetables (good to see Jackson being an advocate for our five-a-day).
While Giles is coming to the boil and marinating nicely in his own juices, the boys are hatching an ingenious plan to break him free, save the planet and get down to the local pub for a swift pint by tea time. The problem is that, after misplacing a fair share of his overspilling brain matter, Derek has begun to go a little postal. Not playing for any side now other than Team Derek, he has his own plan for bringing down this evil empire and commandeering their six-bedroom detached space shuttle. By hook, by crook or by fuck off chainsaw, he embarks on his mercy mission, cerebral goo glugging from the freshly formed flap in the back of his fragmented skull-cap.
Madlight Rock Lies
As our ridiculous (in the very best way) fable reaches its crescendo, the boys’ cover is blown and they are left surrounded by a horde of famished aliens preparing for their tasty treat. Fortunately “Dereks don’t run” and all hell then literally breaks loose as he continues with his inside job of taking control of Crumb’s empire. Time is of the essence, presumably so he can get himself to the nearest emergency room and swap the flimsy belt holding his head together for some well placed stitches.
Every bit as utterly preposterous as it sounds on paper, Bad Taste is a small film with a large vision and an even more generously proportioned heart. No doubt the Weinsteins were reading between the lines when they sat down to watch this and spotted the unrefined talent he possessed, even at such an early stage in his film-making career. As he reinforced his potential with progressively more bloated resources, and began to tackle more conventional material, his fortunes changed dramatically.
Every journey has to start somewhere though and Jackson’s began with cheap rubber aliens (before moving onto homicidal hippos and gutter press junkie flies). Within a small number of years he was opening doors with Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners and Middle-Earth began to look like a far more likely proposition. In the history of things I did not see coming, this may well be the champion. I’d say that’s worth celebrating wouldn’t you? Tell you what Peter, help yourself to a bite to eat. You’ve earned it buddy. But don’t forget to save me a chunky bit.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: With such limited resources the grue on display here is never likely to be big, nor clever but, what it lacks in quality, it more than makes up for in quantity and is available both profusely and on tap. While certain effects admittedly hold up better than others, every last drop of schlock is most welcome and, with Jackson himself on FX duties, I’d say he performs something of a minor miracle, all things considered.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)