NZ filmmakers have long shown a knack for melding different flavours on film, and as this Spotlight collection demonstrates, that extends to mixing comedy with horror. Watch Michael Hurst battle mutants (Death Warmed Up), Anna Hutchison find zombie love (Rotting Hill), spiders getting comically o...
Pre-dating Peter Jackson's arrival (Bad Taste) by three years, New Zealand's first horror movie sees Michael Hurst making his movie debut as he fights mutants (including Bruno Lawrence) on Waiheke Island. Hurst's character is out to avenge the mad scientist who forced him to kill his parents. A grand prize-winner at a French fantasy festival (with cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky on the jury), David Blyth's splatterfest marked the first of many horrors funded by the NZ Film Commission. It was also the first local showcase of the smoothly-flowing Steadicam camera.
This first episode of the animated series for kids follows germaphobic Stanley and feisty Mary-Jane down a plughole into ‘Drainworld’. There they help a plethora of slimy mutated creatures battle the evil Dr Drain. Created by Jim Mora (Mucking In) and Flux Animation's Brent Chambers, Staines was NZ’s first official animation international co-production (with Australian studio Flying Bark). The 26 episode series debuted on Australia’s Seven in late 2006, on TV2 in early 2007, and sold globally. It opens with the award-winning theme tune composed by Australian Michael Lira.
When inept environmental activists release a mutant lamb from a laboratory, thousands of sheep are turned into bloodthirsty predators. Three hapless humans are stranded far from help. As the woolly nightmare develops, they discover a bite from an infected sheep has an alarming effect on those bitten. director Jonathan King executes genre thrills and tips over a few sacred cows in his well-received debut feature. The film played was invited to more than 20 international festivals, scoring good reviews and awards along the way.
In Larger than Life Jo (Rebecca Hobbs, star of horror tale The Ugly) discovers her new house is inhabited by an array of mutant arachnids, each larger than the last. Kiwi writer/director Ellory Elkayem cleverly melds puppetry and digital effects to give his spiders maximum yuck factor, while the violin-fuelled soundtrack pays spirited homage to the 50s monster movies (Them!, Tarantula) which inspired the whole enterprise. After the success of this spider tale, Hollywood called: Elkayem answered with bug tale They Nest, and comical spider epic Eight Legged Freaks.
From a pre-Mythbusters era when science didn’t need explosions to merit primetime Saturday night screening, but after NZBC's blackboards and pointers, this series took a current affairs approach to reporting contemporary scientific research. Produced in Christchurch’s Studio 4, it was presented by Ken Ellis; Allanah James was a long-time reporter. Subjects ranged from volcanoes, underwater welding, talking lifts, STDs, mutant spiders, mussel extracts, and nude rats to the mysteries of tuatara and concert hall acoustics. The series was succeeded by Fast Forward.
In James Cunningham’s award-winning short a mutant three-fingered hand attempts a brash virtual heist, seeking to wipe a student loan debt in a government databank. The “digital action thriller” was a third collaboration between Cunningham and producer Paul Swadel. Infection’s fast-paced action, humour, and (then) state-of-the-art 3D CGI rendering (punctured eyeballs, hypodermic needles) was in confident contrast to the realist Kiwi short film tradition. Infection won selection in competition at Cannes, Sundance, and numerous other international festivals.
After being kidnapped by Bruno Lawrence in Smash Palace and battling mutants in Death Warmed Up, Margaret (aka Makareta) Umbers was one of the bandmembers on TV’s Heroes. An actor since age eight, she later acted and sang in Australia, before her character faked medical qualifications and tried to kill Chris Warner on Shortland Street. These days Umbers sings in bands, and manages a Northland music studio.
Danielle Mason graduated from Toi Whakaari in 2002; two years later she won Chapman Tripp theatre awards for Best Female Newcomer and Outstanding Performance, and starred on screen in reality TV satire Futile Attraction. In 2006 Mason starred in Black Sheep, this time playing Experience, a woman fighting for her life against mutant ovines. Mason also acts in 2012 web series High Road.
David Blyth cemented his place in the Kiwi filmmaking renaissance with two films that left social realism far behind: 1978 experimental feature Angel Mine, and 1984's Death Warmed Up, New Zealand's first homegrown horror movie. Since then Blyth's work has included family friendly vampire film Moonrise, a number of documentaries on war, and varied works exploring sexuality.