Peter Jackson’s debut film Bad Taste (1987) follows four agents of the Astro Investigation and Defence Service (AIDS) as they uncover a New Zealand town overrun with denim wearing aliens. Compiling this team are the level-headed leader Barry (played by Pete O’Herne), a violence-hungry dork named Derek (played by Peter Jackson), and two gun wielding badasses Frank and Ozzy (played by Mike Minett and Terry Potter). In the team’s efforts to sabotage whatever plan the aliens have for planet Earth we learn that the aliens have arrived to harvest the townspeople in order to supply some type of galactic fast food chain. Jackson’s storytelling and cinematic voice shines through in this movie filled with bullets, bazookas, and brain goo.
Even the opening sequence to Bad Taste immediately draws the audience into its reality and perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come. A dark room filled with smoke, a shadowed man who runs the agency, visual gags such as one of the man’s hands consisting of a single finger, and a call to action for “The Boys.” When watching Bad Taste, I found it easy to forget that what I was watching was a low-budget, independent film and not a big studio production. While it still contains the tone and goofiness of a B-movie production, Jackson seems to use this to his advantage by leaning into the silliness rather than working against it by making Bad Taste partially a comedy along with horror and sci-fi. Jackson’s comedic writing and willingness to play with outrageous and cartoonish levels of gore and violence is what makes the film so enjoyable to watch. I was expecting the action and alien invasion, however I was not expecting to see over-the-top displays of gore. For example, at the film’s finale Derek gets trapped in the alien leader Lord Crumb’s spaceship. Because Derek is Derek, he uses a chainsaw to slash through an alien from head to groin, crawls through the body itself as he hacks, exits out of the alien's crotch covered in blood, and announces that he’s “born again.” Funnily, this is not the most insane kill in the film and it’s far from being the only time one of our protagonists rip through an alien’s body. Bad Taste is not only incredibly bloody but it might be one of the gooiest films I’ve seen yet. The random piles of goo made to represent brains and intestines really shot my serotonin levels up while watching this film – more directors should utilize mysterious, bloody goo globs the way Jackson has.
What stood out the most in Bad Taste was how likable each of the characters were. I loved The Boys and was rooting for them the entire time – but no one more than Derek. I was not prepared for Derek and he continued to keep me on my toes because he was the most unpredictable, batshit crazy man I’ve seen in a film for a while. I enjoyed the development his character went through as well. We start by meeting a dorky, power-hungry man who wastes an entire round of bullets on empty bushes and trees but we end with a completely unhinged, drooling, and bloodthirsty maniac who doesn’t fear death because he is death. As the audience watches Derek repeatedly lose brain matter from a gaping hole in his skull, they also watch him become increasingly more insane in the best possible splattergore way.
Derek is the most lovable character in my opinion, but the other agents – Barry, Frank, and Ozzy – are just as entertaining to follow. For the most part I believe this is because so much of their dialogue reminds me of Merry and Pippin from Jackson’s later work The Lord of the Rings. It’s a group of New Zealand men who are smartasses and live carefree and regularly care more about simple, everyday issues than the world ending threat in front of them. If you ever wanted to see characters similar to Merry and Pippin in a gorey R-rated comedy, Bad Taste is the closest you’ll ever get.
If I could change one thing about this film, I would just like to learn more about the aliens, specifically the fast food chain that the harvest is for. I don’t need much to feel more satisfied with the alien lore, though. It could be as simple as the logo for the restaurant being printed on the boxes being used to transport the meat. I just would have liked to see a crumb of more lore behind the fast food aspect of the alien’s visit; I believe that’s a very funny part of the plot that isn’t highlighted enough. There's an opportunity in the galactic fast food idea to either create a gross, sleazy alien restaurant or to parody an existing fast food chain and unfortunately neither are done. I think the notion that “Earth things” such as fast food and social media being revealed as an “every planet/galaxy does this” thing in a sci-fi movie is always a good idea. It’s cute, it’s silly, and it humanizes aliens who are supposed to be better and smarter than we are. Likewise, I always love a race of idiotic, cavemen aliens and the idea that Earth is the most developed planet out of several galaxies worth of planets.
I give Bad Taste 5 out of 5 coffins
I fought for a while whether I should rate this as a 4 or 5, but in the end my intense admiration for low-budget cinema and what can be done with it won. Not only are the special effects amazing, but the camerawork and angles have careful forethought behind it. There is a lot of craft, skill, and passion that went into Bad Taste which showcased the natural talent Jackson had as a first-time filmmaker. I don’t believe that it would come as any surprise that most people might give this film a perfect score, too. I’m unsure how large of a cult classic Bad Taste is but I imagine it has to be a very large one as Peter Jackson has become a big name in Hollywood, going on to make one of the most beloved trilogies of all time. If you have not had the opportunity in your life to watch Bad Taste yet, I highly recommend it. It has everything a splattergore fan loves along with a lot of clever comedy gags thrown in throughout.
Bad Taste is not available for streaming, however it can be found on DVD through independent sellers on Amazon and eBay (ranging from $3 to $20). Bad Taste has also been digitally restored and uploaded by the YouTube channel AI Enhanced Cinema – which seems to be the easiest place to view it.