A Retrospective look at Peter Jackson: The Days of Horror

A Retrospective look at Peter Jackson: The Days of Horror

When someone mentions the name ‘Peter Jackson’ the first thought that usually comes to one’s mind is “The Lord of The Rings” and “The Hobbit”or “that really really long King Kongremake”, but many people actually forget where Jackson started off. 

Peter Jackson’s first feature length film was a New Zealand based Comedy Horror/Sci-Fi called ‘Bad Taste’ in 1987.  The film revolved around the disappearance of the population of a small town, which is replaced by aliens who chase human flesh for their intergalactic fast-food chain.  Compared to the genre and tone of ‘The Lord of The Rings’, it is fair to say similarities between the two are pretty slim, but we must remember that Sam Raimi started off by giving us the wonderful gift of ‘The Evil Dead’ before going on to direct the ‘Spider-Man’ franchise and Disney’s ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’; this radical change in genre isn’t uncommon.  ‘Bad Taste’ is obviously a lower budget flick with some outstandingly poor acting involved, but that just adds to the humour.  Add to this some priceless tongue-in-cheek imaginative special effects and you are left with a classic.

After Jackson’s comically surreal and offensive Muppet-mockery follow up to ‘Bad Taste’, ‘Meet The Feebles’ (1989), he returned to comedy-horror with ‘Braindead’ in 1992.  ‘Braindead’ felt a lot like New Zealand’s answer to ‘Evil Dead 2’ in which a young man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey which was stolen from Skull Island (already starting to see some connections to his future work are we?).  Due to the bite, the mother gets sick and dies only to come back to life, and so the body count begins.  Again with some below average acting, the charm of ‘Braindead’ lies within the humour and special effects.  With a final act so hilariously brutal and bloody, you can’t help but laugh and just imagine the amount of fun they had making it, hopefully as much as the viewers have watching it. 

Jackson took another break from horror to direct ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (1994) only to return in 1996 with his supernatural comedy-horror ‘The Frighteners’ starring Michael J. Fox.  Steering away from the old gore-fest concepts, Jackson decided to take a different route, yet still keeping the imaginative storytelling in check.  After a tragic car accident that kills his wife, a man realises he can communicate with the dead to con people, however, when a spirit starts killing the living, he realises he’s the only one who can stop it; we’re still not getting any closer to ‘The Lord of The Rings’-style territory.  However, ‘The Frighteners’ was a humorous and thrilling supernatural comedy, and another great addition to Jackson’s filmography.

Eventually, five years after his last comedy-horror, there was the surprising choice of having Peter Jackson direct ‘The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring’ (2001), followed by its two sequels.  Despite the radical change in genre, Jackson’s traits still shone through the cracks of this fantasy-adventure.  Jackson also returned to his homeland, New Zealand, to film the trilogy.  One aspect of filmmaking Jackson succeeds in is balancing humour and horror or humour and action; this is seen in ‘The Lord of The Rings’ with comic-relief characters such as Gimli or Merry and Pippin.  Another thing he is great at is his choice of old-school special effects, as seen in his previous horrors; so it was no surprise that he could create such terrifying Orcs without the use of CGI and using only make-up. 

After his venture into Middle-Earth, Jackson decided to take us to Skull-Island, not really as much of a surprise compared to ‘The Lord of The Rings’, seeing as he had actually taken us there thirteen years earlier with ‘Braindead’.  Due to the location, Jackson’s eye for big creepy crawlies/monsters and the odd touch of humour every now and then, we were reminded that this is in fact a Peter Jackson movie.   
Before returning back to Middle-Earth with ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ in 2012, Jackson adapted ‘The Lovely Bones’ (2009), a dramatic and visual feast that tore critics right down the middle.  Possibly the only Peter Jackson film to not feel like a Peter Jackson film, however, and apart from some miscasting it was a nice attempt overall. 

People no longer know Jackson for being the director of Horror-comedies, but instead the director of Fantasy-Adventure, which is why there was so much excitement for his return for the ‘Lord of The Rings’ prequel.  Jackson decided to make more use of his CGI in ‘An Unexpected Journey’, unfortunately moving away from make-up for Orcs and Goblins, which was sad to see as we know what he is capable of with his old-school special effects.  However, we still had the nice balance of humour, the odd director cameo which he is known so well for and just the imagination we’d expect from Peter Jackson, despite being more family-friendly. 

Unfortunately, we can’t shake the feeling that Peter Jackson is going to go too far in to the family-friendly zone, with the last two ‘Hobbit’ sequels in the near future, plus a ‘Tin Tin’ sequel, but that doesn’t distract him from good quality film making and he is still an extremely talented director.  Sam Raimi managed to return to horror with ‘Drag Me To Hell’ back in 2009, so could Peter Jackson possibly make the same move?  He may be known mostly for ‘The Lord of The Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ now, but there is no denying that he mastered the Horror-Comedy genre, ‘Braindead’ being one of my favourites, and let’s just hope that one day he will return to it, preferably sometime in the near future.

-Bill Gordon

Follow Bill on Twitter: @2FlashGordon7

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