Peter Jackson's Goofy, Gory First Film Has A Wholesome Origin Story

Peter Jackson's career really took a dramatic turn with the production of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" in 2001. A big-budget studio production, "Lord of the Rings" was a special effects laden adaptation that brought the J.R.R. Tolkien's epic books to life. It was an elaborate production for a trilogy of blockbuster movies that dominated the box office in the early 2000s — and his career hasn't been the same since. It's all very boring. 

The early days of Jackson's career, however, were truly a time of wonder. Throughout the late '80s and the whole of the '90s, Jackson turned out fascinating pieces of low-end, nauseating, gore-and-vomit-soaked shlock the likes of which the world hadn't seen before. His 1992 film "Braindead" (known as "Dead Alive" in the United State) is a masterpiece of the highest order and rightly holds a reputation as one of the goriest films of all time (be sure to sit tight for the lawnmower scene). Prior to "Dead Alive," in 1989, Jackson made the resplendently disgusting "Meet the Feebles," a filthy puppet movie that dared posit a world where the Muppets were ugly to look at, made adult films in their basement, were addicted to drugs, caught sexually transmitted infections, and threw up on stage. "Meet the Feebles" is on Tubi

The good taste of baked beans

Peter Jackson's first feature film, however, was 1987's "Bad Taste," an extremely low-budget alien invasion flick that was presented in the quality of its title. "Brain Dead" is about an invading alien force that has eaten the population of a small New Zealand town, and intends to use human meat in an off-world fast-food franchise. It turns out that Jackson and his friends kind of stumbled into making "Bad Taste" after their habit of making short horror movies for fun kind of snowballed into something unexpectedly bigger.

In a 2015 interview with Kitley's Krypt, a horror blog, several cast members of "Bad Taste" — Craig Smith, Pete O'Hearne, and Mike Minett — gathered to reminisce on the project, and what fun they had shooting it over the course of four years. "Bad Taste" began as a short film called "Roast of the Day," but gradually transformed into the feature it became. Originally, the project that was set to cost a mere $25,000, but the New Zealand Film Commission, upon hearing of the film, actually invested an additional chuck of cash. 

Peter Jackson video night

O'Hearne recalls the transformation of "Bad Taste" from a low-budget vampire movie called "Curse of the Grave Walkers" — inspired by Jackson's love for the Hammer Horror movies — into something else entirely.

"Pete was very much into Hammer Horror films as we all were. I remember we used to see all of them at the time and they are still great today. So Pete ordered a Cinescope lens from England and we would go out any chance we got to shoot this. I was the bad guy in it, playing a vampire. And, as it was only a few of us, I got to play the undead too. It was halfway through this film that Pete came up with the idea for a group of SAS soldiers who raid a house. This film was only going to be about 10 minutes long but became 'Bad Taste.' ... He [Jackson] sort of just came up with the idea for a short film while doing 'Curse of the Grave Walkers,' and he put it to me and we were keen as we just enjoyed what we were doing. And it kept us off the streets too."

"The boys" would all gather, they would hang out, talk movies, and shoot footage. A truly adorable interview was conducted with Jackson's mother Joan who recalls the time as being very casual, and having to prepare a lot of baked beans on toast.

'I got a chunky bit'

Minett, meanwhile, had a very different impression, and more sharply recalls the times he and his friends would hang out and watch Jackson's childhood monster movies. For Minett, it was entertainment and something he could share with his buddies. It took him a while to see that Jackson was essentially showing off his demo reel, very much intending to continue with his habit of making horror flicks:

"I know absolutely nothing about this. When we used to go round to Pete's for those 'video' nights, we watched films and stuff that Pete, Pete O'Herne and Ken had made as kids. I thought they were pretty amateur and didn't give them much thought. But now I realize they were part of the dream and love of movie making that Pete had inside him. This may sound corny, but you could say that Pete was driven from a very early age to become what he is today."

The video revolution

Minett also recalls his conversations with Jackson and his friends, and how obsessed with spooky movies Jackson appeared to be. This was all sparked by the sudden availability of home video recording equipment that was infiltrating the market in the mid 1980s. Consumer-grade video equipment inspired an entire generation of young filmmakers, and inspired already-interested young cineastes like Jackson to push forward:

"Pete and I worked together and most of the talk was about films and stuff. Video recorders had more or less just come out and he would talk non stop about this film and that film and also about movies he had made or was making. Real oogy stuff like vampires and spooks. All new to me, as I was more into music and bands and guitars. Things went on from there. In the end, I ended up going out to wherever he was filming and helping out until finally he included 'The Boys' into the script. The rest is history."

Roast of the Day

The original film started pretty dull, and Minett, Smith, and O'Hearne all recall how the project mutated from a collection of random footage — mostly silent reels of Smith driving around in Jackson's car — into a short about a man being cooked and eaten by aliens, into a short about soldiers invading an old house, into a feature film about alien fast food restaurateurs. Says Smith:

"Basically it was going to be the charity collector walking into town, being captured, and cooked by the aliens – hence the working title Roast of the Day. The further we got into shooting the more ideas started being incorporated, and the film became more complex."

O'Hearne more closely remembers the military aspect of the short, and explained that The Boys simply kept on having good ideas:

"Actually the original plan for 'Bad Taste' was a raid on an old homestead by a group of elite soldiers, as we were fans of TV shows from England like 'The Professionals.' The reason it became a full length feature was because we kept coming up with more material as we went along."

Talk about ham it up

And, finally, Minett pointed out that, when Smith had to leave the production (for reasons not disclosed), he and O'Hearne had to expand their roles. That would lead to larger ideas, and eventually a feature:

"All I can remember about this is that Pete had shot a lot of boring film of Craig driving around in that little car of his. We had seen the footage at his place with no sound and man it was pretty unexciting. Ha! I'm not sure exactly what happened, but after Terry and I came onto the scene Pete somehow decided to spice up the film. So he kept what he had shot already but added a new story line and included us more and more. Lucky us. I remember Craig went away for a while, so we got more and more parts. We loved it. Talk about ham it up."

The finished film is a low-budget goof full of blood, chainsaws, and vomit-drinking. It's a delight. It's on Hoopla, Tubi, and Popcornflix. Prepare yourself some baked beans on toast and fire it up.