Bad Taste (1987)


Every director has their starting point, and often it is a labor of love.  Rarely a masterpiece, and Bad Taste definitely isn't, but typically a budding film maker will learn a lot about what they can do and can't do, and many ways to overcome the latter.  It's that one film that you make on weekends with your friends, most of you playing multiple roles and taking on many roles on and off the camera. 

And, if you are in New Zealand, you may just find yourself getting some government funds and a pat on the back even if what you are making is a violent alien invasion comedy. 

Bad Taste took four years to make.  In that time, one of the cast members got married, left the production, got divorced and returned.  Hairstyles, sock colors and other continuity errors pop up.  The actor playing the lead villain passed away.  Ultimately, the result was a movie that laid the foundation for director Peter Jackson to make the movie Braindead (released in the United States as Dead Alive) a few years later, resulting in that particular cult film making a cult film of Bad Taste (and Jackson's second film, Meet the Feebles).  While Braindead often gets most of the credit for garnering him the resources to make Heavenly Creatures, which got him noticed outside of the horror genre, it was really all three of his early movies taken as a whole that did so.

When it appears that extraterrestrials have killed the population of the coastal New Zealand farming village of Kaihoro, the Astro Investigation and Defense Services (A.I.D.S.) is called in to investigate and help wipe out the alien threat.  The organization, in addition to having a problematic name, is largely made up of scientist Derek (Peter Jackson), his more level-headed friend Barry (Pete O'Herne), the gung-ho Frank (Mike Minett) and the psychotic, weapons-obsessed Ozzy (Terry Potter).  Derek manages to capture the alien Robert (Jackson) and attempts to torture information out of him.  Meanwhile, Barry finds the village deserted except for mobs of blue-shirted, mute aliens that have taken on human form, and barely survives an attack when they leave to rescue Robert from Derek.

Enter the unsuspecting Giles (Craig Smith), who shows up to collect donations for a famine relief program.  He quickly finds himself marinating in a pot so that he himself will become famine relief for the aliens.  Their leader, Lord Crumb (Doug Wren) soon reveals that he is there to collect human samples, as he intends to make Homo sapiens the new featured menu item for his restaurant chain, Crumb's Country Delights. 

While the rest of the team tries to rescue Giles and survive an extended gun battle with the third class aliens, Derek, who originally appears to have died, manages to shove most of his brains back in his head and come for Crumb himself.

If you are familiar with many of the gore effects (especially the gooey, almost pudding-like consistency of the blood) in Braindead, you see their origin here.  Peter Jackson was heavily influenced by Tom Savini, and in addition to directing and editing the film he also designed the alien costumes, special effects and makeup.  While there are many unique shots that would become Jackson trademarks (including a heavy influence in style from The Evil Dead), it is the inventive gore scenes and effects that are often the star of this film.  While a good part of Bad Taste is obviously a bunch of friends trying to get enough footage together to complete a coherent film, Jackson managed to make a decently articulated mask for Crumb (worn by Dean Lawrie in the scenes where his alien form is revealed).

There is not so much room for development, so the characters (except for Derek) generally stick their assigned roles.  That is fine in this situation since the movie is supposed to be as much a comedy as anything else, with the idea that New Zealand's crack anti-extraterrestrial team would consist of a bunch of guys cruising around in a Ford Falcon and a modified van with cutouts of the Beatles in the window. 

Derek, despite being gone a good portion of the film (since Jackson also had to play Crumb's main henchman, Robert), manages to be the most memorable character.  He's pretty much insane to begin with, but having random pieces of his brain fall out of the back of his head doesn't help.  He manages to do some impromptu surgery, headbutt a seagull and lend a hand in the end with the aid of a large chainsaw.  Jackson's completely immersive portrayal makes him stand out from the rest.

While far from a financial success, Bad Taste did play at Cannes, and got a decent reception.  What money that was made went into making Meet the Feebles, which was like watching John Waters's version of The Muppet Movie.  It's not a stretch to say that the audience for these two movies are quite limited to Peter Jackson fans, but at the time that Braindead came out there was a curiosity in where this guy suddenly came from, and the fan base that movie created largely embraced his first two.  By the time Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners were released Jackson had a fanbase not just of horror fans, but of people who understood that maybe this guy did have what it takes to finally bring Lord of the Rings properly to the big screen.

Bad Taste (1987)
Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Peter Jackson, Peter O'Herne, Terry Potter, Mike Minett, Craig Smith, Doug Wren
Director: Peter Jackson

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