"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Friday, October 30, 2015


With the absence of a steady supply of John Carpenter films in the late 1990s and beyond, David Twohy stepped up and began making unabashed genre films in the Carpenter spirit with The Arrival (1996), a paranoid thriller cum the aliens are among us a la They Live (1988). Twohy followed this up with Pitch Black (2000) featuring an anti-hero very much in the same vein as Snake Plissken in Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981), which makes his bloated sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), his Escape from L.A. (1996). To continue this analogy, Below (2002) is Twohy’s variation on The Fog (1980) albeit fused with Das Boot (1981) – a spooky ghost story set on an American submarine during World War II. Like Carpenter, Twohy populates his films with outsiders that fight against overwhelming odds or a group of people that must put aside their differences and work as a team against a common threat. Below definitely falls into the latter category as a crew of seamen investigate the mysterious events transpiring aboard their sub.

Right from the get-go, Twohy establishes a beautiful style of economical storytelling by showing a WWII bomber, short on fuel, spotting survivors in the Atlantic Ocean and delivering them a message that they’ll send help. Sure enough, the USS Tiger Shark, an attack submarine, shows up and rescues two British men and a woman while a German warship off in the distance is bearing down on their position. Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood) orders the sub to dive and hopes that they weren’t spotted.

One of the survivors is gravely injured and the woman – Claire (Olivia Williams) – informs Ensign Odell (Matthew Davis) that they were aboard a hospital ship that was attacked two days ago. To make matters worse, the other man, known as Kingsley (Dexter Fletcher), claims he saw a U-Boat before their ship went down. Something doesn’t seem quite right about the survivors. Maybe it is the clandestine conversation between Claire and the wounded man or the gaps in her story. As the journey progresses, other strange things begin to happen, which suggest the possibility of supernatural activity that may have something to do with a secret that Brice shares between his two officers – Lieutenant Coors (Scott Foley) and Lieutenant Loomis (Holt McCallany). Already on edge, thanks to the threat of the German warship, these unsettling, unexplained occurrences spook the crew something fierce.

Twohy does a fantastic job of ratcheting up the tension when the sub tries to avoid an advancing enemy warship. The crew are instructed to be as quiet as possible because of how sound travels and the deafening silence is soon interrupted by a Benny Goodman tune suddenly playing on a record player at ear-splitting volume. Was this an act of sabotage, as the crew suspects, which is intensified when they find out that the wounded man is in fact a German. As expected, all hell breaks loose. After enduring a barrage of depth charges, one bumps and scrapes along the sub’s hull without exploding and we are white knuckling it right along with the crew.

Twohy effectively uses the claustrophobic confirms of the sub to maximum effect with the atmospheric sounds of being underwater adding to the things-that-go-bump-in-the-night vibe. Every clank and groan can be explained away as the typical sounds of a being in a sub but it is nonetheless creepy. The director enhances the soundscape by enshrouding rooms and hallways in shadow or bathing them in hellish red light. He also teases us with quick glimpses of dead bodies or something else out there in the water.

Bruce Greenwood leads a solid cast of character actors. Ever the reliable thespian, he does an excellent job of portraying a commanding officer gradually unraveling as the stress of captaining a sub under trying conditions gets to him. Greenwood has the gravitas to play a believable leader of men while also using his expressive face and eyes to suggest buried guilt that threatens to surface under the stress of the situation. He’s supported by the likes of television mainstays Scott Foley and Holt McCallany as his fellow officers, the sympathetic Matt Davis as the rookie ensign that suspects something’s not right with Brice, and Olivia Williams as the persuasive doctor not afraid to stand-up to Brice. Rounding things out are Zach Galifianakis in a rare straight man role, Jason Flemyng as one of the superstitious and increasingly twitchy crew members, and Dexter Fletcher as the other Brit survivor who, alas, gets little to do.

Below received mixed reviews from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, “In its best moments it can evoke fear, and it does a good job of evoking the claustrophobic terror of a little World War II boat, but the story line is so eager to supply frightening possibilities that sometimes we feel jerked around.” Entertainment Weekly gave the film a “B+” rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, “The cool thing about this B-plus-quality B movie … is that nothing is certain, and every camera shot looks good. (Everything sounds good, too: Twohy understands the power of aural mystery – the whispery sound, for example, of seaweed brushing a sub's hull.) The downside is that nothing is clear, either. Dramatic murk is the condition Twohy likes best, and sometimes Below drifts into confusion.”

In his review for The New York Times, Dave Kehr wrote, “this is a film of great technical precision, in which every shot has been thoughtfully selected for maximum expressiveness and the crisp, creative editing propels the story along. Below may not mark Mr. Twohy's emergence into the mainstream, but his promise remains undiminished.” The Los Angeles Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote, “If Below had been released in 1943—the year of its story—it would have come in at an agile 70 minutes instead of a protracted 104. Twohy has said he studied the work of Jacques Tourneur, the director of sleek 1940s thrillers such as Cat People. You can see Tourneur's imprint on Below, which makes better use of shadow than most neo-noirs.” In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann wrote, “Twohy's overwrought, comic-book theatrics work against him, as does the hokey script that he, Lucas Sussman and director Darren Aronofsky all fiddled with.”

Below is a fantastic fusion of WWII sub movie and ghost story, pitting forceful personalities against each other with Claire and Brice at the center of the conflict. He’s hiding something and she’s trying to uncover it. The attention to period detail is well done without being too showy but is evident in the little things, like how the crew speaks to each other both in sub lingo and period jargon. Much like Carpenter ensemble films such as The Fog or Prince of Darkness (1987), Below has no clearly defined lead protagonist, opting instead to spread the screen-time around, using the confined space of the sub as another character. The real test of the lasting power of this film is that it holds up to repeated viewings even after you know what the plot twist is and that’s because of Twohy’s efficient direction, the well-written screenplay (by Lucas Sussman, Darren Aronofsky and Twohy), and the wonderful performances of the entire cast. Like most ghost stories, the one featured in Below hinges on guilty and how the sins of the past literally come back to haunt those responsible.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sole Survivor

I know it is stating the painfully obvious but death is unavoidable. It comes to all of us eventually but what if you managed to temporarily cheat it? Would death still come for you? This unsettling question is posed by Sole Survivor (1983), the memorable directorial debut of Thom Eberhardt (Night of the Comet).

Anticipating Final Destination (2000) by many years, Sole Survivor chronicles the troubled life of Denise Watson (Anita Skinner), the only person to survive an airplane crash. Shot on a low budget, Eberhardt gets around showing the actual crash by depicting the aftermath, his camera gliding over strewn wreckage and dead bodies before settling on Denise, still in her seat, gripping the arm rests and staring off into space. Her shell-shocked expression and the sound of a jet engine on the soundtrack effectively establish the film’s unsettling mood.

The film actually begins with shots of deserted city streets not unlike the ones in Night of the Comet (1984), Eberhardt’s follow-up film. We finally get a shot of a city bus driving by and even it only has one passenger – a fidgety Denise with a handgun. It turns out to be a nightmare or, rather, a vision by Karla Davis (Caren Larkey), actress and part-time psychic. A doctor (Kurt Johnson) checks Denise out and other than claiming to feel “odd,” is fine mentally and physically. She even flirts with the good-looking M.D.

The first indication that something isn’t right occurs when Denise leaves the hospital and a shadow passes over her but no one is there. On the hospital loading dock, she spots a little girl soaking wet only to narrowly avoid being crushed by a truck, moving out of the way at the last second. Denise has narrowly escaped death, but fate seems to have other plans as the Grim Reaper and its minions come for her.

Anita Skinner is excellent as Denise. I like that she has a good job and Skinner convincingly plays her as a smart, good-looking woman experiencing strange things that she can’t explain. Denise is a producer of television commercials and seems good at it, judging by the nicely furnished, rather large house she inhabits, and is respected by her peers. She’s not afraid to ask out the doctor that checked her out and their first date is a believable encounter between two people that seem genuinely attracted to each other. As a result, we start to care about and empathize with her, which is crucial when her life starts falling apart later on. Denise deserves to be just as highly regarded as other smart, resilient female protagonists in the horror genre.

Eberhardt does a nice job of conveying how the littlest noises in a house when you’re all alone can be unnerving. Things like a faucet dripping or the moving eyes on a wall-mounted cat clock can be creepy. And he does it in a wonderfully economic and subtle way, gradually building a feeling of dread, which acts in sharp contrast to Denise’s attempts at resuming her life. Eberhardt continues the creepy vibes out in the world, like when Denise sees an old man in a housecoat just staring at her in the park. Later, she sees a different man standing stiffly and silently in the rain. He gets a lot of mileage out of locations like a deserted parking garage with its echoey acoustics. Sole Survivor is a slow burn kind of film as we begin to question her sanity.

The low budget and cast of unknown actors only adds to the film’s authenticity by grounding the story in the every day and populating it with people you recognize and identify with – chief among them is Denise, who, as portrayed by Skinner, manages to elicit our sympathy right from the get-go and keep it for the entire film. With the is-she-dead-or-isn’t-she vibe and the haunted atmosphere that plagues Denise, Sole Survivor feels somewhat indebted to Carnival of Souls (1962). Where the Final Destination movies resort to cheap scares and increasingly elaborate and gory set pieces, Eberhardt’s film utilizes disturbing images and an unsettling sound design to create an overall feeling of impending doom that keeps you on edge throughout.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter

Along with The Devil Rides Out (1968), Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1972) remains one of the great missed opportunities for Hammer Studios. Intended to be the first of a series of films featuring the titular hero, it was a commercial failure and thus nixing any future installments, which is a shame because it is such an entertaining and engaging take on the vampire genre, creating its own unique rules for how to dispatch these creatures. More than simply a horror film, Captain Kronos is also a rousing action/adventure tale complete with a brooding swashbuckling hero portrayed by Horst Janson.

Someone is attacking young women from a village and draining their blood, which ages them at an alarming rate until they die. One of the town elders – Dr. Marcus (John Carson) – calls on his old army buddy Captain Kronos (Janson) to investigate this strange phenomenon. After the suspenseful prologue, Kronos and his sidekick Professor Grost (John Cater) are introduced riding through the countryside to a rousing score in a way that suggests a gunslinger arriving in town to rid it of bad guys.

Along the way, the two men encounter a beautiful gypsy woman named Carla (Caroline Munro) shackled out in the middle of nowhere for dancing on a Sunday (?!). Kronos frees her and she joins them on their journey. The film becomes something of a whodunit as Kronos and Grost try to figure out who among the townsfolk is killing these young women, employing deductive methods that are fascinatingly unique to this film, like putting dead toads in boxes and burying them in the ground throughout the forest where the attacks took place. If a vampire passes by one of them its essence will reanimate the toad. As Kronos tells Marcus, “It’s an old folk rhyme but like most of them there is a grain of truth in it.”

Horst Janson plays Kronos as an enigmatic hero that says little but carries himself in a way that suggests an air of confidence and intelligence. The actor conveys this through body movement and in the way his character interacts with others. It isn’t until more than 40 minutes in that we get an example of Kronos’ impeccable fighting credentials when he deals with three hired thugs that interrupt him questioning the village barkeep. One of them says, “Tell me, did you lose your battles or win them?” Kronos replies, “A little of both and not enough of either.” He then proceeds to dispatch them in quick and decisive fashion reminiscent of how Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name took down opponents in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Later on, Janson has a nice moment where he recounts a story about how he returned from the war to find that his mother and sister had become vampires. He was forced to kill them and this provides crucial insight into his character as well as compelling motivation for his current occupation.

I like that Grost isn’t the typical sidekick, which would have seen him providing the comic relief what with a hunchback and all. Instead, Kronos or Carla never mention his physical condition because it’s never an issue and it only comes out when three tough guys make fun of him in order to provoke Kronos. John Cater plays Grost as the Dr. Watson to Kronos’ Sherlock Holmes. He’s smart and empathetic, taking Carla under his wing. He may not be the badass with a sword that Kronos is but he has his own notable attributes.

Caroline Munro does a nice job portraying Carla. Her character is more than simple eye candy and while she’s not Kronos’ equal, she’s not his servant either. Carla helps him with the investigation but it is implied that she can leave whenever she wants. Munro delivers a sexy, spirited performance of an outcast that finds purpose with Kronos. It is her who initiates their love scene, which director Brian Clemens artfully and tastefully shoots among well-placed shadows.

Veteran screenwriter Clemens (The Avengers) crafts a solid screenplay that does a fantastic job of building its own unique world. At one point, Grost gives some tantalizing insight into this world’s mythology when he tells Marcus, “You see doctor, there are as many species of vampires as there are beasts of prey. Their methods and their motives for attack can vary in a hundred different ways,” to which Kronos adds, “And their means of their destruction.” Another memorable exchange establishes a playful vibe between Kronos and Carla as he asks her if she’s staying with them during their investigation. She suggestively replies, “I’m staying. If you’ll have me.” He gives her a sly look and tells her, “Oh, I’ll have you.” Cut to Carla and the camera zooms in on her smoldering eyes. However, before they can act on the sexual tension between them, Kronos is called to duty.

With creepy perspective shots and gripping music, Clemens gives the daytime scenes where women are attacked a real sense of menace as they are easily and quickly isolated only to be killed in a way that leaves few clues. He goes against the traditional practice of having vampires attack at night and thus from the outset announces that this film will be subverting the usual conventions of the genre. For a first-time director he has a keen eye for framing, like a particularly nice shot of one of the victim’s sister in the background with a giant bell looming in the foreground so that it is a frame within a frame. A little later there is another excellent shot of a woman praying in a church with a giant cross in the foreground. Its shadow gradually changes so that the horizontal bars bend and the woman is attacked off-camera. Clemens cuts to a chalice tipping over all by itself and then she screams. It is a particularly effective scene that leaves something to the imagination.

After writing Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), Hammer Studios executive Michael Carreras asked Brian Clemens to create a screenplay for a vampire movie. The screenwriter wasn’t a fan of the genre and decided to research it by watching several of them. He found that they were very similar: “same buildup, same premise, same stake in the heart. I proposed bending the established conventions and inventing my own.” Clemens had written and produced And Soon the Darkness (1970), but didn’t like the way director Robert Fuest did things. Clemens realized that he should have directed and decided that he would do so with Captain Kronos.

Clemens originally envisioned Captain Kronos as a series of films featuring a time travelling protagonist that encountered different kinds of vampires in several places and eras. He spent three weeks writing the script. Carreras provided the $400,000 budget and promised it to Paramount Studios as the bottom half of a double bill with Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), but there was no guarantee it would be released in the United Kingdom.

When it came to casting, Clemens chose John Carson and John Cater, both of whom had worked on The Avengers television show as did the filmmaker. At the time, Caroline Munro was under contract to Hammer and they wanted her to play Carla. Clemens heard that she couldn’t act and had her read the part naturally. From that, he reworked her role to suit her inexperience. Horst Janson was hot off a popular appearance as an Austrian ski instructor in the English T.V. soap opera Coronation Street and had appeared in big budget films like The McKenzie Break (1970) and Murphy’s War (1971). The actor’s agent gave him the script for Captain Kronos and he found it funny and entertaining. Janson liked the story and knew of Clemens because The Avengers was very popular in Germany.

Captain Kronos began principal photography on April 10, 1972 with an eight-week schedule, five of it in the studio and the rest on location but Clemens was able to complete it in seven and on budget. However, Carreras was not happy with the final film: “Clemens’ team didn’t have the proper expertise with this type of material.” He felt that Clemens and co. didn’t make Captain Kronos with the “same reverence as the experienced Hammer team … Maybe I didn’t understand their style, but I just didn’t like it.” Some have alleged that Carreras “killed” the film and used it for a tax write-off. At the very least, he didn’t support it properly and it died on the vine. With the financing deal that he made no distribution was guaranteed and it wasn’t released in Britain until April 7, 1974 and in the U.S. in June of that year.

The first half of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter is dedicated to the hero’s thoughtful, methodical investigation and we are kept guessing as to who is the vampire terrorizing the village. It has a witty, well-written script that cleverly re-imagines the vampire genre in subtle but significant ways while also deftly mixing genres. Captain Kronos is a horror film that dabbles in action/adventure with comedy sprinkled lightly throughout while managing to avoid being out-and-out camp. Clemens doesn’t forget what’s at stake and doesn’t take lightly the horror that has beset the village. Our hero also goes from a hired gun of sorts to someone personally invested in the resolution of these murders. While it is a pity that more films weren’t made chronicling the further adventures of Captain Kronos, at least we have this one to enjoy.


Hallenbeck, Bruce G. “Brian Clemens at Hammer: The Making of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.” Little Shoppe of Horrors. No. 18. 2006.

Kinsey, Wayne. Hammer Films: The Elstree Studio Years. Tomahawk Press. 2007.

Sommerlad, Uwe. “Horst Janson.” Little Shoppe of Horrors. No. 18. 2006.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Who Can Kill a Child?

Killing a child on-screen is definitely one of the taboos in mainstream cinema. The common perception is that showing such an act is so upsetting to an audience that they will be turned off the movie. The people who made Who Can Kill A Child? (1976) didn’t care about this particular cinematic taboo as the film proceeds to transgress it over the running time.

The opening montage lays it on thick by documenting how children have been abused and killed during war throughout history. It all comes across as heavy-handed and drags on for far too long, but once the story kicks in, the film gradually builds narrative momentum. A woman washing up dead on a popular Spanish beach turns out to be an ominous bit of foreshadowing. The local authorities quickly realize that she didn’t die from drowning but from several knife wounds!

Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) are on vacation in Spain. The first third of the film is important as it not only introduces the two protagonists but also presents them as ordinary people on holiday. They do all the usual tourist things, like take in the sights, watch fireworks and take pictures of their gorgeous surroundings. It is this normalcy that lulls us into complacency, which will then be turned on its head in the film’s second act. It also gets us to identify and empathize with this couple so that we care about what happens to them later on.

Tom and Evelyn decide to visit an island off the southern coast. They are first met by several children that seem friendly enough except when Tom gets a little too nosey with one child’s fishing gear and the tyke gives him a dirty look complete with accompanying foreboding music. As they make their way through the village there’s a noticeable lack of activity. In fact, aside from the children on the dock there’s no one around. They go into a bar and it looks like the inhabitants left in a hurry some time ago.

Pretty soon the lack of life becomes downright unsettling. This isn’t helped by a young girl that appears briefly before Evelyn and who takes an unusual fascination with her unborn child. This scene is made uncomfortable by the sound of the unborn child’s heartbeat playing loudly on the soundtrack along with some creepy music.

Once Tom and Evelyn arrive on the island, director Narciso Ibanez Serrador establishes a tense, slow burn as they investigate the village, offering up little moments that create an almost unbearable feeling of dread as we sense that something isn’t right with this place and it keeps us on edge until the kids surface. The first real indication that something is horribly wrong occurs when Tom spots a young girl beating an old man to death with his cane. When Tom confronts her, she just giggles gleefully and runs away. This is only the beginning of the nightmare that Tom and Evelyn will encounter. Then, the film shifts gears to a white-knuckled battle for survival as the vacationing couple must try to find a way to escape and avoid these homicidal children.

Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome are believable as a nice couple whose lives are turned upside down when they land on an island where the balance of order is out of whack. The actors do a fantastic job of portraying the increasing fear that their characters experience as they realize what has happened on the island. This fear soon turns to sweaty desperation as they struggle to survive, their very lives at stake.

The child actors are surprisingly effective. They look adorable and innocent but their eyes look a bit dead, suggesting something not quite right. The glee they display in killing an adult is particularly chilling. There’s one scene, in particular, where one of the killer children converts another one by intently staring into her eyes for a few moments that is quite powerful and achieved through simple camera setups and judicious editing proving yet again that when it comes to horror less is more.

Serrador does an excellent job of gradually ratcheting up the tension as Tom discovers what happened to the adults in the village and it turns out to be quite chilling in nature. What also adds to the tension is that we only know what the couple does and find out things as they do. In doing so, we share in their growing dread. In some respects, Who Can Kill A Child? is a riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of The Birds (1963) only with children. Serrador’s film doesn’t offer an explanation as to why the children are behaving so irrationally – they just are, which makes it that much more unsettling. The film offers some tantalizing clues and heavy-handed symbolism but no definitive answers.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bad Taste

Watching Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) again was a potent reminder of how much fun his early films were before he made the transition to respectable Hollywood filmmaker after the critically-acclaimed art house hit Heavenly Creatures (1994). His early efforts playfully give the finger to respectable cinema as they revel in cheesy gore and silly humor. Bad Taste is a 90-minute "splatstick" spoof of alien invasion movies as Jackson became New Zealand's answer to Sam Raimi. Shot on weekends over three years for only $11,000, Jackson's film utilized a small, but dedicated cast and crew with all the rough-around-the-edges charm of a low budget horror movie.

Jackson’s tongue is firmly embedded in cheek right from the get-go as the opening scene, with its shadowy government operative, takes the piss out of the James Bond movies. A small-town has been overrun by a nasty bunch of "astro bastards," alien beings bent on harvesting the Earth's population for their own greedy consumption. Fearing that they're being visited by, as Derek (Peter Jackson) puts it, "a planet full of Charlie Mansons," it's up to the brave men of the Astro Investigation and Defense Service (or AIDS for short - as one character says, "I wish we'd change that name.") to stop these "intergalactic wankers" from taking over the world.

We meet Barry (Pete O’Herne) as he encounters a shambling man with an ax. He says to Derek over the radio, “Geez, he could be Ministry of Works or something,” to which his buddy replies, “Nah, he’s moving too fast.” Barry pulls out a gun and blasts away, blowing the top of the man’s head off. Jackson makes sure to show a close-up of the brain matter complete with squishy sounds. The ongoing exchange between Barry and Derek is quite funny as the former laments, “Why can’t aliens be friendly?” while the latter replies, “There’s no glowing fingers on these bastards.” Barry and Derek are hilariously inept in dispatching the aliens while their cohorts, Frank (Mike Minett) and Ozzy (Terry Potter) drive in a muscle car and are rather adept at killing these otherworldly invaders.

Derek is the most hapless of the bunch, surviving on a seemingly endless supply of dumb luck as he spills all kinds of alien blood that splashes all over him before suffering a nasty injury of his own. Jackson gets a lot of mileage out of his very expressive face whether it is the goofy looks he gives as Derek of the even goofier ones as Robert (an alien also played by Jackson) and yet still finds amusing variations on each character.

Bad Taste is one of those movies that has a ridiculous, irrepressible charm all its own. The amateurish acting, the non-existent production values, and crude, yet effective special effects actually work in favor of the film much in the same way as Raimi's first two Evil Dead movies. There is some pretty inventive gore, like one alien getting a hammer in his head when another alien is shot by Derek who then proceeds to shoot its arm off. We then get an image of an alien with a hammer in his head and the arm still attached to it! What Jackson and company lack in budget and flashy special effects they more than make up for with hilariously memorable dialogue ("I’m a Derek and Dereks don’t run!") and plenty of local humor, complete with regional slang and references to Kiwi culture.

For such a low budget feature it is impressive just how stylish it is with Jackson’s creative camerawork that swoops by aliens and tracks along with our heroes. At one point, he pays homage to and manages to surpass the lunacy of Bruce Campbell fighting himself in Evil Dead 2 (1987) by playing two different roles, Derek and an alien named Robert, with the former torturing the latter. Through some clever editing, Jackson ends up fighting himself in an exciting battle atop a cliff.

In 1983, Peter Jackson planned to shoot a 10-15 minute film for the Wellington Film Festival. Originally entitled, Roast of the Day, it would eventually evolve into Bad Taste. Childhood friend Ken Hammon was enlisted to co-write the screenplay with Jackson and said, “The original idea was a guy who was collecting for a charity to fight starvation. He goes to a small town where these strange hillbilly people eat him.” At some point, they decided that the hillbillies were aliens in disguise. Jackson funded the entire production with $17,000 from working as a photo engraver at The Evening Post, Wellington’s largest newspaper. His parents loaned him $2,500 to buy a 16mm bolex camera with a sync speed motor and built all the other equipment himself, including dolly tracks, a crane and a steadicam. His crew consisted of himself and Hammon who spent hours shooting and carrying Jackson’s equipment over several locations on cold, sometimes wet Sundays for months. For the cast, he enlisted work colleagues who ended up spending years shooting the film on that particular day because everyone worked six-day weeks.

After a year, Jackson took a week off to edit the footage he had shot and assembled a 60-minute rough cut but realized that he didn’t have an ending.  He wrote one and started shooting again, deciding to make it gorier when he felt that the rough cut was boring: “The film was vastly improved at this point, and much more entertaining.” Eventually, Jackson ran out of money and screened the footage for the New Zealand Film Commission’s executive director Jim Booth who liked it and had the ability to approve small amounts of money for script development. Booth gave him $30,000 in $5,000 checks over time, which allowed Jackson to quit his day job and buy costumes and sets. The Commission gave him $200,000 to finish post-production, which included blowing it up to 35mm, hiring a composer, doing a sound mix, and color timing among other things. Bad Taste had its world premiere at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival where Jackson sold it for a tidy sum of money and the film went onto have its New Zealand debut at the Wellington Film Festival.

Bad Taste not only skewers staples of the science fiction and horror genre, like E.T. (1982) and The Shining (1980), but isn't afraid to poke fun at itself with numerous in-jokes about New Zealand. This is a wonderful introduction into Peter Jackson's low budget roots, especially for people who only know him as the director of The Lord of the Rings films. This cult film gleefully trashes many of the sacred cows of the horror and science fiction genre while celebrating the low budget, no-holds-barred aesthetic of classics like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).


Botes, Costa. “Peter Jackson: Made in New Zealand.” NZEDGE.com. May 30, 2002.

De Semlyen, Nick. “The Making of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste.” Empire. January 2015.

Ihaka, James. “From Splatterfest to Epic Tale: The Price of Building an Empire.” The New Zealand Herald. November 26, 2012.

“Lord of the Cinema: Sir Peter Jackson Interview.” Academy of Achievement. June 3, 2006.

Williams, David E. “Braindead: An Interview with Peter Jackson.” Film Threat. February 17, 1992.