Monthly Archives: April 2014

Peter Jackson – the Gory Years

Sometimes greatness springs from the oddest beginnings. Not that those beginnings aren’t great but, well, different.

Famed writer/director Peter Jackson creating horror and splatter films? Say it ain’t so! But yes, Jackson wasn’t always the go-to guy for big budget epic movies. Everyone has to start somewhere, even award-winning artists. And sometimes, those humble beginnings become career landmarks themselves.

Bad Taste, Peter Jackson’s moviemaking debut (1987), is a far cry from his later, more serious projects Heavenly Creatures, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit movies and the King Kong remake. An unabashed gore/sci-fi comedy, Bad Taste was made over a four year period by Jackson, members of his family and friends during the evenings and on the weekends.

Jackson wrote, directed, produced and played two roles in the cinematic gorefest. Low budget, yes, but the special effects, makeup and, of course, gouting blood and splattering viscera, are very creative and well done. And did I mention that it’s funny? It has to be for laughing out loud at the sight gags and jokes takes your mind off of the stomach-churning violence being committed onscreen.

Shapeshifting aliens have landed on earth in their starship (which looks like an English manor house) and are harvesting humans for their intergalactic fast food franchises. What some fresh brains? Just lop of the top of some poor Earthling’s head and scoop them out with a spoon!

The hero, Derek, and his buddies discover this cosmic culinary conspiracy and, of course, try to stop it. A lot of blood is spilled, bodies ripped and torn and organs devoured before the end. Be prepared for the absolutely hilarious “drinking of the grog” scene and the “exploding sheep.” You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gag.

Dead Alive, Jackson’s revolting third film (1992, again directed and co-written by him), is a zombie splatter comedy with even more blood and guts than its predecessor. Lionel’s mother hasn’t been feeling well and Lionel doesn’t understand why until Mom becomes a full-blown zombie thanks to the bite of a Sumatran Rat-Monkey.

As an added result, anyone then bitten by Mom becomes a zombie and then anyone bitten by those zombies become one and so on and so on, literally ad nauseum.

So, as more people are bitten and the zombie hordes swell, the besieged characters, from Lionel and his girlfriend, to a priest who, while executing deadly martial arts moves on a group of attacking undead, declares, “I kick ass for the Lord!” attempt to fight off the shambling scourge.

One of the final scenes has more fake blood in it than any other twenty horror films combined with Lionel literally slipping, sliding and practically swimming in it.

Neither movie is for kids or the faint of heart but definitely worth watching to see how a now respected filmmaker got his disgusting, vomit-inducing start and just how creative (and absurdly funny) one can be when limited to a shoestring budget.

Hey, it can happen to anyone.

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Werewolves: New Twists on an Old Monster Tale

In my novel, The Sixth Precept, there are genetically-modified hybrid creatures called Shadow-Trackers wreaking havoc. They’re part human and part dog, the dog part giving rise to their “tracker” sensibility and name. However, when visualizing and describing them, they came out pretty much as werewolves (who could talk and reason but were programmed to hunt). I’ve always had a soft spot for those full moon beasties so it was nice discovering a trio of movies which tried to put a little different spin the whole werewolf mythos.

Dog Soldiers

Dog Soldiers (2002), written and directed by Neil Marshall (who later went on to write and direct The Descent, Doomsday and The Centurion) pits a pack of werewolves against a military unit staging exercises in a remote area of the Scottish Highlands. Starring Sean Pertwee (son of actor Jon who portrayed the third Dr. Who) Dog Soldiers is a combination of gore, black humor and intense, violent action.

The story turns the werewolf mythos on its head by depicting not just one but several werewolves with the point-of-view focusing strictly on the humans being hunted (no touchy-feely, internal human persona vs. animal persona conflict here!). The struggles of the military unit’s members and the mysterious woman who helps them are front-and-center as they can either give in to fear or stand and fight the horror surrounding them.

Some elements of Aliens and Night of the Living Dead are evident in the film but the characterization and action elevate the movie above the usual “monster on the loose” story. And, refreshingly, the werewolves themselves are actors in makeup, not computer-generated.

Skinwalkers

Skinwalkers (2006 – not to be confused with the Tony Hillerman novel of the same name), directed by James Isaac and starring Jason Behr, Rhona Mitra and Elias Koteas, depicts a pack of dangerous werewolf bikers on the loose. They are “skinwalkers,” according to Navajo lore–humans who are able to change their forms into those of animals.

Opposing them are good skinwalkers who are trying to live their lives without killing. They do this by shackling themselves to the inside of their RV on the nights of the full moon. If they taste human blood for the first time, their animal nature will take over completely. And their human personas must remain intact in order to protect the one member of their family who has the power to end the werewolf curse once and for all–a 13 year-old boy who is half human and half skinwalker.

The expert werewolf facial makeup was done by the late, great Stan Winston, giving credence to the expression, “Less is More.” These werewolves really look bestial without the makeup effects being over-the-top or cheesy.

Underworld

The big budget entry of this trio of films, Underworld (2003), directed by Len Wiseman and starring Kate Beckinsdale, Scott Speedman and Bill Nighy, reimagines werewolves and vampires as rival gangs engaging in high-tech urban warfare. Stylishly cool and sexy, the film shows both groups adapting very well to the modern era. The vampires shoot bullets containing silver nitrate at the “Lycans” and the werewolves return fire to the “Death Dealers” with bullets that emit ultraviolet light. Both opposing groups utilize laptops, the internet and cell phones as tools in their centuries-long struggle.

In addition, the werewolves are trying to create a powerful vampire/werewolf hybrid to help them in their battle against the blood-suckers. They live beneath the city streets (the “underworld” of the title) while their vampire foes reside in luxurious mansions replete with state-of-the-art technology.

Oddly enough (with a couple of exceptions), the much bigger, more powerful Lycans get their behinds kicked in this film. Preferring to get down and dirty in their werewolf forms, most of them fall easy victims to the Death Dealers’ modern weaponry.

Stylized action sequences and an in-depth backstory on the ancient war between these two toothy groups give this film a little more substance than most run-of-the mill creature features.

At the end of the day, a werewolf is a werewolf is a werewolf, but kudos to those artists who won’t take the easy way out. Their imaginative slants on classic horror tropes make the old seem new again.

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