Peter Jackson was born in New Zealand on October 31st, 1961 (and oh what an appropriate day that is). An only child, Jackson was given an 8mm camera at the age of eight, which he utilized to the fullest extent imaginable. As a youth Jackson made quite a few low budget independent films, a few of which even earned him notice.
"WORLD WAR TWO" and “THE VALLEY” were two such short films made by Jackson during his teenage years, and both afforded Peter some notoriety early on, as the blossoming filmmaker managed to incorporate some impresve stop motion effects regardless of functioning on a non-existent budget. Despite a lack of formal training, the New Zealanders initial love for special effects and short films have steadily evolved into successful major motion pictures.
In an interview with David Stratton, Peter Jackson once said “I wanted my special effects movies to have little stories and plots. And so the concept of writing and directing was something that very slowly sort of grew on me, almost without me knowing.” It’s a good thing. Throughout the years Jackson has gone on to write, produce, and directed a wide variety of quality films. From comedy to carnage, the man has run the gamut. While the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy may be his most recognizable work, it’s important to note that Jackson has never strayed far from the horror genre. In fact, Jackson is responble for some of the better horror contributions to hit the market over the last few decades.
In 1988 Jackson wrote, produced, directed and even starred in his first full length feature, BAD TASTE. It’s comedy (Monty Python meets Abbott & Costello after dining with The Amazing Johnathan) gold, with enough severed limbs, vomit drinking and exploding heads to cater to the diehard gore fans. In this twisted tale a group of extraterrestrials vit earth in order to capture humans to supply a fast food restaurant in space. If you’re thinking it sounds absurd, you’re right. It’s a damn entertaining film, though! BAD TASTE is technically rough around the edges, but a great debut effort from a man who would go on to create multiple clascs.
While this blood soaked debut didn’t exactly receive an overwhelming amount of praise (or even attention for that matter), it served it’s purpose in letting Jackson test the cinematic waters, and really enabled him to have a good time while doing so. Recently released on DVD, BAD TASTE is quickly becoming a much sought out addition of avid DVD collectors.
1992 saw Jackson’s return to the horror genre with the surprise gem BRAINDEAD, now better known as DEAD ALIVE. Universally recognized as one of the goriest films in history (claims that up to 20,000 plus gallons of fake blood were required to compile this messy marvel!), this early Jackson effort phons just as many comical moments as nauseating. When Lionel’s (Timothy Balme) mother (Elizabeth Moody) is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey, she transforms into a flesh chompin’ zombie. Anything and everything she bites, also transforms. Soon a life-threatening conflict that Lionel must resolve escalates to frightening, and outlandish levels.
With a seriously neglected theatrical release, this gore-fest raked in less than $80,000 dollars in the United States. The film has also been dissected time and again. The films Australian and UK release featured a full 104 minutes, completely uncut. In Germany, the film met the axe as 104 minutes dwindled to 94, and finally, the US veron saw a completely massacred 85 minute release. The film was later released in a US “uncut” veron with a 97 minute running time. While the truly uncut film is the one to seek out, any veron you can get your hands on is still worth a watch.
Two years later HEAVENLY CREATURES would follow. A film recognized as drama more often than horror. HEAVENLY CREATURES is dark, deeply dismal and grim enough to garner notice as a horror piece in its own right. Convincingly haunting performances from Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet (as leads Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme) only intenfy the macabre atmosphere of this chilling piece of work about two girls who form an abnormally strong friendship which eventually culminates in murder.
Released in roughly 60 theatres in the United States, the film grossed a meager $3 million dollars. HEAVENLY CREATURES did however pick up an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It should also be noted that this film inspired Miramax to gn Jackson to a first look deal. nce it’s theatrical release, the film has gone on to gain cult clasc status, and send Peter Jackson‘s stock right through the roof.
Michael J. Fox was cast as Frank Bannister in Jackson’s 1996 offering THE FRIGHTENERS. The film became an immediate fan favorite, as Jackson’s screenplay and direction were perfectly paralleled by an outstanding performance from Fox, and superb special effects provided by Charlie McClellan and crew. Bannister is a psychic conman who finds himself in a battle against supernatural forces that he cannot control. Even worse, he’s apparently being framed by a mysterious ghost/villain. Some imaginative twists and great dialog push this film closer to a territory rarely explored by film directors: perfection. Be sure to keep an eye out for an extremely entertaining performance from genre veteran Jeffrey Combs as well.
Initially released on July 19th, 1996 in 1,675 theatres, THE FRIGHTENERS earned $5.5 million dollars opening weekend. The film went on to gross $16.76 million dollars in the United States, and $12.6 million dollars internationally. The picture served as a fresh reminder that Jackson is an incredibly crafty director with a lot to offer the horror genre.
THE LOVELY BONES
2009’s, The Lovely Bones was met with lukewarm critical reception. The film was released to 2,638 theatres, and an unspectacular $17 million. Word of mouth took off, and the harrowing narrative relayed by Sue Salmon became a thing of office talk: the film eventually grossed nearly $45 million domestically, and garnered immediate cult following upon DVD release. The story, though extraordinarily melancholy is engrosng on so many levels. Jackson tackles the topic of child abusers/murderers with care and tact, and while I don’t dare get too into the story’s details, I’ll say that it’s inspired while heartbreaking, thrilling and creepy. Take note of the dated approach both Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci intentionally apply to their screen performances.
While we know Peter’s got his hands full with Hobbits right now, it seems inevitable that the man will eventually migrate back to the dark regions in which he built his following; when he does so, I’ll be here to talk about it.