It’s funny how few of the average theater-goers for Peter Jackson epics, whether it’s The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit or the upcoming Mortal Engines, realize just how debauched the director’s early career was. Before being handed the reins on LOTR and becoming a household name in the process, the New Zealand director had made only one film that received much critical attention, the 1994 drama Heavenly Creatures. Before that? He was one of cinema’s leading purveyors of over-the-top gore and ultraviolence.
Yes, we’re still talking about the same Peter Jackson here. If you’ve ever seen Bad Taste or especially Braindead (which is called Dead Alive in the U.S.) then you know what we’re talking about. In his early days, Jackson delighted in some of the most over-the-top, insanely bloody horror comedies ever made. And now, decades later, he’s turning his eye back toward what he refers to as his “naughty years.”
Making use of the same technology he just used to digitally restore century old footage of World War I for the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, Jackson is planning on returning to his first four films to bring their visuals and sound into the modern era for high-profile re-releases. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the director said the following:
“I’ve decided to go back and do this to my old films — the first four I made, which I own but never rereleased. I’ve done some tests on Braindead, where we took the 16mm negative and put it through our World War I restoration pipeline — and shit, it looks fantastic!”
Is there a more Peter Jackson-esque quote than “shit, it looks fantastic”? Regardless, this is huge news for fans of classic splatter films like Braindead, which we included prominently in our list of the 50 best zombie movies of all time. Other films being restored would include Jackson’s debut Bad Taste, his crazed puppet movie Meet the Feebles, and Heavenly Creatures. The director went on to say that he had been waiting for both an opening in his schedule and the refinement of this restoration technology beore going back to re-assess his early works.
“I’m pretty keen to actually just get them back out there again,” he said to THR. “That’s sort of my plan for now: to do a nice little box set — the early years! The naughty years! The mixes on those films were pretty much all stereo in those days, so we’re going to get the old soundtracks out and do a 5.1 mix.”
In particular, Bad Taste is in need of the most restoration. Jackson’s ludicrous sci-fi debut about aliens invading New Zealand was made for only $25,000, and the original film stock has since been damaged by—get this—being stored under Jackson’s bed back in the 1990s.
“I knew it was a precious thing, but I didn’t have anywhere to put it, so I shoved it under my bed,” he said to THR. “Then when I finally got the funding to do the finished Bad Taste film, there was damp mold and mildew all through the bloody neg, and you can sort of see it in some shots. So I’m looking forward to tidying that up! Even if it’s just removing the mold from Bad Taste, that will be a very good thing to do.”
If you ask us, a little mold almost seems appropriate, given the content of Bad Taste and Jackson’s other films from the same period. Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how the likes of Braindead and Meet the Feebles look once restored.