FILM (1987)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am

Bad Taste
Terry Potter, Peter O'Herne, Peter Jackson
Director: Peter Jackson

Of all the 1980s horror directors who broke free from the 'low-brow' genre and found mainstream acceptance - such as Sam Raimi and David Cronenberg - none had an upward trajectory as strange as Peter Jackson's. The Oscar-winning director may be universally celebrated for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but there also exists a smaller cult who endlessly rewatch his absurd earlier works.

Cult favourites Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive (also known as Braindead) were instrumental in paving the way to the Shire, but all the Muppets shooting up heroin and zombie lawnmower bloodbaths can't compete with his debut, the appropriately titled Bad Taste.

Filmed on weekends over four years and working without a script, the director took a basic sci-fi/horror scenario - human-eating aliens take over a small town and a band of morons (led by Jackson himself) have to save the day - and used it as a springboard to create a truly bizarre film.

Brains leak out of skulls and are stuffed back in, life-size cardboard cutouts of The Beatles drive around in vans, and aliens chow down on vomit as they proclaim: 'Aren't I lucky? I got a chunky bit.' It's hard to know whether to cringe, cry or crack up, and it all culminates in the glorious, final 20 minutes: a classic '80s-era sequence of pure hardware, with rocket launchers, chainsaws and spaceships. Then there's the hilariously creepy born-again finale which sees Jackson donning an alien skin and heading towards their home planet to take revenge.

Bad Taste never makes much sense and there isn't any rhythm, but it doesn't matter: Jackson wasn't concerned about such minor quibbles as 'characterisation' and 'plot'. Instead, he took his biggest influences - the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, 1950s horror flicks - and carved out a big-screen career through absurdity that even Albert Camus would be proud of.

But of course, the critics didn't see it that way, and while Jackson meandered along the absurd path in his next two films, he eventually gave in to mainstream pressure. He's an auteur these days, don't you know? Churning out Oscar-baiting fare with regularity, he sometimes hints at a sequel to Bad Taste, but the pen-wielding intellectuals will hear nothing of it.

There's a funny critical world out there: rationality and absurdity are respected in the film world, but there's a time and a place for each. Hairy-footed little people and magical rings are all well and good as long as you justify the events.

On the flip side, an irrational film about bourgeois folk at a dinner party who are unable to leave is fine because it's set in the real world. Mix the two together - say, in a genre that isn't respected, with cardboard Beatles and aliens - and you have what the critics like to call 'low-brow fare'. Now that's absurd.



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

FILM (1987)

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive