Bad Taste : Special Edition Review

Mark Davis has reviewed the Region 1 release of Bad Taste : Special Edition. To coincide with LotR, Peter Jackson’s debut gets the special edition treatment from Anchor Bay. It’s just a shame that there couldn’t be more extras.

The Film

The bastards have landed. Before Peter Jackson directed a certain Middle Earth trilogy he made a couple of films, which I’m pretty sure didn’t land him the LOTR job. This isn’t to say they are bad films, far from it. It’s just that they are not the sort of films that make you want to trust $180 million and a classic franchise to a quirky New Zealander. Bad Taste is one of these films. Shot over a four-year period for a measly $150,000 this ambitious film was shot on a windup 16mm camera, which had a maximum shooting time of 30 seconds. The film crew were also the actors and Jackson himself took two roles in the film. Despite this the film has homemade model shots, explosions, machine guns, aliens, crane shots and steadicam shots. The end result is that oft abused phrase “a cult classic”.

The film is a mish mash of genres and it never seems to know which one it belongs to (which is a good thing). It’s a sci-fi, a horror, a comedy and an action film all in one. The film originally started out as a short and was gradually expanded, which is self evident from the plot. Aliens have landed on earth in a remote town in New Zealand and are upto no good. So the government send in “The Boys” to assess and neutralise the situation. When we join the motley crew we discover Derek (Jackson) and Barry (O’Herne) are in town and are already fending off the blue-shirted aliens. Ozzy and Frank are enroute in their classy top of the line Ford Capri. The town is deserted apart from the aforementioned blue shirted aliens.

Derek and Barry have several gore splattered encounters with the aliens before Derek has a rather unfortunate clifftop battle with the invading foe. Once Ozzy and Frank arrive we discover where the residents have gone and why the Aliens are holed up in a nearby mansion. The “Boys” launch a covert operation against the Aliens in the mansion and as a result they make some remarkable discoveries. The rest of the film is a series of astonishing and gory set pieces, which in some cases have to be seen to be believed.

To be honest what we have here is a real rough and ready film that somehow, despite its drawbacks, is a real triumph. The plot is fairly shaky as a premise and it almost collapses under it’s own weight in the last third of the film. Once we enter the mansion and the firefight with the aliens begins, the film loses its way slightly and only the finale saves the film from a muddled third act. Despite all of this the film is classic B-movie stuff with plenty of gore and there are many classic one-liners that will stick with you for years.

The acting throughout is fairly awful, mainly because none of the people in the film are actually actors. The best actor of the lot by far is Peter Jackson and it’s his maniacal Derek that keeps the whole film together in places. The rest of the cast do their best and the whole thing has a real amateurish charm to it.

The best thing about the film from top to bottom is Peter Jackson. Check out his list in the credits; Director, Producer, co-writer, Cinematographer, co-editor, make-up and Special effects. His direction is pretty solid throughout and this is easily one of the best debut films I’ve seen. His visual style is imaginative and well thought out. He never lets the limitations affect what he wants to do. If he wants to do a steadicam shot through a bumpy forest trail he gets together a homemade steadicam. He uses the limitations to his advantage e.g. no one shot can last more than 30 seconds so the film has some fast and furious intercutting which helps keep the audience interested.

Finally the special effects deserve a mention as they are fantastic considering the budget. The guns and gunfire are reasonably convincing and the alien transformations are very good indeed. The model shots and explosives work are also a great achievement.

It is difficult to explain to someone why they should watch this film. The script is nothing special and the acting is pretty poor. However it has a real enthusiasm about it that is infectious and it is obvious that all the people making it are having tremendous fun. The enthusiasm and sheer fun of the whole thing rubs off on the viewer and you just can’t help but enjoy it. I have watched it far too many times and I’m still not bored by it. The script is humorous in the extreme and I’d watch it all again just to see the comedy sheep/rocket launcher moment. Now go back read that last sentence again, if that single idea interests you then you’ll love the film.

The Disc

Anchor Bay are now well known for their kind treatment of cult films and it is no surprise that they snapped up this one. I am reviewing the special limited edition of this disc but you could plump for the cheaper bare bones disc. The only difference between the two is that the limited edition comes with a second disc with the 25-minute documentary on it. Oh and the packaging is a slightly more interesting plastic lenticular design. The menus on the disc are well presented and static. The film itself has 25 chapter stops, which is adequate given the 91-minute running time.

The film is presented as an anamorphic 1.66:1 picture, which is the original aspect ratio. The film was shot on 16mm on a cheap camera and blown up to 35mm and it really shows. The film is grainy throughout although print damage is minimal. We can’t expect much better from this film though as it was shot on a tiny budget and I’m fairly certain there wouldn’t be a better source available. The transfer itself is very well done and no further damage is done in the way of artefacting. This certainly seems to be the best transfer of this film by far and given it’s origins I’m going to rate it fairly highly despite its inherent faults.

Anchor Bay have pulled out all the stops with the soundtrack with a Dolby Surround 2.0 mix, a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix, and a DTS-ES 6.1 mix. It has to be said that the full multi-channel surround is a bit gimmicky on this film with gunfire coming from all directions. The most important thing is that the soundtrack has been cleaned up considerably and sounds crisp and clear throughout. The added advantages of the 5.1 track are interesting but I have to say I prefer the 2.0 mix as it seems in keeping with the low budget nature of the film. Please note I don’t have a DTS-ES 6.1 setup to test that track, if someone on the review team does and wants to add his/her thoughts then I’m sure they will do so at some point.

The extras are where this package arguably falls down. The only extras on the first disc are a couple of trailers and some biographies of Jackson, nothing I haven’t read before and they certainly aren’t extensive notes. The second disc contains a 25-minute documentary as explained above. Therefore anyone buying the bare bones disc will miss out on the best extra.

The 25-minute documentary, Good Taste Made Bad Taste, was shot during the making of the film and is full of stories, anecdotes and technical information. It covers everything from making the guns through the model work and explosions through to excerpts from Jackson’s early shorts and interviews with all the guys. It really is an excellent piece and sits nicely alongside the film.

Here is where Anchor Bay have really shot themselves in the foot. There is absolutely no reason why the 25-minute documentary couldn’t have been fitted on the first disc as the film is a short one. I can understand why the extras are thin on the ground (Jackson is rather busy) but is there any need to overcharge the diehard fans? Indeed the fans have been complaining that Anchor Bay are milking them for extra cash and some might say they have a point. Personally I don’t begrudge paying the £20 I paid for the special edition as I think it’s worth it.

Well the film is a great low budget cult classic and fully deserves to be watched by as many non-believers as possible. The disc from Anchor Bay is a minor disappointment. The picture and sound are as good as they could be but the extras are sparse and they want you to fork out more cash just to see the best one. If the film sounds at all interesting then go and buy this disc as it’s a good one. Whether you want to pay £6 or so to see the 25-minute documentary is entirely upto you, the true fans won’t let a few pounds stop them but others may well want to plump for the standard edition.

Mark Davis

Updated: Dec 21, 2001

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