|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 20 November 2001|
First of all, be guided by the title: this movie is in extremely bad taste. There are eviscerations, brains blown all over the place, gallons of blood, vomit being passed around as a refreshing beverage, and yet more and more. At the climax, Derek (Jackson himself), who has been losing his brains throughout the movie, leaps into the alien leader while carrying a chainsaw, and emerges from his butt.
That being said, the movie is also amiable, goofy, nearly plotless and, for those with the stomach for it, very entertaining. Jackson directed and wrote the film, paying for it with his own money; he shot it over a period of two years, carefully segmenting the script so that he only needed a few people -- sometimes only himself and the camera/sound crew -- at any given time. But those who don't know how it was made aren't likely to notice this canny approach; the movie is too much fun -- occasionally -- to worry about how many were in front of the camera on a given day.
Jackson followed this with "Meet the Feebles," a nearly-obscene, wildly inventive parody of "The Muppet Show" and the awesomely, hilariously gruesome "Dead Alive"/"Brain Dead." He made an abrupt shift in style and content with his outstanding "Heavenly Creatures," and followed that with the intense, vivid and funny "The Frighteners."
And that was followed by "Lord of the Rings."
Yes, the director who, in "Bad Taste," gives us aliens who are harvesting human beings in order to corner the intergalactic fast food market, who flings brains, guts and blood around with gleeful abandon, also directed one of the most anticipated movies ever made. (Or rather three of them, since he's doing the entire Tolkien trilogy, shooting three films simultaneously.) But for those with an eye for talent, this leap is not as astonishing as it may seem to others.
"Bad Taste" is nearly plotless; we learn that aliens seem to have been abducting people in New Zealand, and that "The Boys" have been sent to clear things up. Barry (Pete O'Herne) wanders through a small seaside town that seems to be completely deserted. But he's followed by a zombie-like guy in a blue shirt, who doesn't stop until Barry blows the top of his head off. This is the beginning of Barry's troubles, not the end.
On a nearby cliff, Derek (Jackson) has another blue-shirted weirdo (also Jackson) dangling from a cliff by a rope tied to his ankle. For reasons not quite clear, he pounds a bayonet into the zombie-oid's foot.
Elsewhere, Ozzy (Terry Potter) and Frank (Mike Minett), the other two Boys, are in search of the aliens' headquarters. Hapless Giles (Craig Smith), some sort of government aid guy, is also attacked by the blue-shirted aliens, but barely gets away. He almost ends up as a human stew.
The first half of the film consists of the aliens pursuing these guys, singly and in small groups. The second half is set in and around a handsome old house (evidently a New Zealand historical site), with extensive gun battles between the aliens and our stalwart band of humans. Derek, meanwhile, having fallen off that cliff, finds his skull has popped open; he stuffs a fragment of brains back in, and wraps his belt around his head. And goes in search of aliens to kill. (Although for a while, it seems as though Derek has become possessed; clarity of plot is not "Bad Taste"'s strong point. There's a vague feeling that the plot the film ended up with is not the one with which it began production.)
The movie is a gorefest, but it's also a comedy; at no point, is anything to be taken very seriously. It opens with a shot of Queen Elizabeth, and includes a strange Beatle-mobile -- the driver and passenger area is filled with cutouts of the Beatles in Sgt. Pepper drag. The driver sits above and behind them, looking out a kind of skylight. Like the estate, this is evidently something made for another purpose that Jackson was happy to appropriate to his funny, gruesome ends.
The unusual aspect of the comedy is that while yes, there's quite a bit of slapstick -- people are always slipping on blood, guts, sheep shit, spilled brains, etc. -- a lot of the humor is surprisingly dry and understated. "We're authorized to use violence," one of The Boys explains, "when there's a threat to the planet Earth." "And the Moon," adds another.
The jaunty score by Michelle Scullion maintains a light touch even when nothing much is happening on screen. It's never really hilarious, except in the contrast between the wild gore and the jaunty attitudes of most of the human beings. But it's consistently amusing and involving enough that even when you might fast-forward through something particularly nauseating (like, say, the vomit scene), you'll return to the movie pretty quickly just to follow what's going on.
Anchor Bay has presented this inexpensive film in a deluxe version, not just in Dolby 5.1, but DTS ES (6.1) (other options are available for those who don't have DTS decoders). The sound is surprisingly crisp and vivid; the makers of low-budget films rarely pay this much attention to this area of filmmaking. And that's especially true when the films are, like "Bad Taste," shot almost entirely outdoors. The sound has a very fresh tone; it's so realistic that you can almost feel, as well as hear, the cool coastal winds. The crisp crackle of evergreen needles under foot, the particular squish made when a machine gun is shoved entirely through a body, the similar but different squish of brains being stuffed back into a cranial cavity -- all these sounds and more are rendered with sometimes disquieting realism.
There are, unfortunately, almost no extras; a commentary track by the affable Jackson would have been a great addition, considering the long production history of the movie. There's a strange trailer with no titles, no narration, and a good, surprisingly detailed biography of Peter Jackson. But really, "Bad Taste" is interesting enough that a little more effort should have been put into the extras. However, this is visually an excellent presentation, and, if you're not queasy, well worth watching.