Bad Taste is Peter Jackson's first completed feature. Essentially splatter-comedy from beginning to end, the story revolves round the catching and dispatching of a band of alien cannibals.
Being a job for real men, the team from AIDS (Alien Detection and Investigation Service), led by the hapless Derek (played by Jackson), do the deeds, with all weapons at their disposal: guns, knives, axes ... anything that'll do the trick.
Very low budget, very bad taste, loved by some, hated by others; it was a breakthrough film in many ways. Jackson delights in exploding sacred cows (or famously, sacred sheep) of decency and genre.
The movie (originally begun as a short) was funded out of his earnings as an apprentice photo-engraver at Wellington newspaper The Evening Post. It was shot primarily on weekends over the course of four years (to fit around mates' soccer matches) at an initial cost of around $25,000.
Peter not only produced and directed, he played two roles, shot most of it (on a 25-year old 16mm camera), built a lot of his own equipment, and devised the special effects. Masks in the film were baked in his mother's oven, and the weapons were made using aluminum tubing. Actors had to shake them to simulate the recoil (a flash and sound effect was added in post-production).
The filmmaking world in New Zealand was unprepared for the renegade and gory nature of the movie, but its essential humour and off-the-wall structure had enough charm to change most doubting thomases into certified fans.
The reassuring Country Calendar-esque bleat of a sheep minding its own business in a paddock a moment before it's blown to smithereens by a rocket is classic Jackson humour (it's a sequence that is now iconic in its own right).
As one of the team involved in it's completion, I can safely report that working on the film was great fun from start to finish. Jim Booth, who was CEO of the NZ Film Commission at the time, was responsible for making it happen, after Peter wrote him a number of witty letters seeking support. Jim eventually left the NZFC to become Peter's producer, and died of cancer in 1994, a tragic loss to his family and friends, and to the industry.
Shooting the rest of the film and the post-production cost more than the first three years of shooting, but these financial constraints were overcome because we were all convinced it was a winner.
Screenings at the Cannes marketplace returned the budget within a week. Horror fans immediately dubbed Jackson ‘The Sultan of Splatter', but there were still detractors in the wings. At the 1989 NZ Film and TV Awards The Navigator cleaned up and Bad Taste got nothing. As Costa Botes (who loses the lower half of his body in the movie) reflected, "The brain eating, green vomit exploding, eyeball popping of Bad Taste just didn't fit the preferred profile for 'New Zealand Cinema'."
Next day on the radio, a TVNZ executive spoke out against the film, and in a TV interview a reporter asked ‘Do we need films like this?' For all of us involved in making Bad Taste the answer was definitely Yes!
The film is now acknowledged as a DIY masterpiece. It went on to launch Peter's career and the genre of ‘splatstick' that he would make his own.
Criticism? The one-fingered salute on the promotional poster says it all.
- Television veteran Tony Hiles was asked to assess footage from Bad Taste before filming was completed. The NZ Film Commission then invited him to assist Peter Jackson in finishing the movie.