Today’s selection is from now legendary director, Peter Jackson. You may remember Peter Jackson from the impressive Lord of the Rings movies and the less impressive Hobbit movies. For the record, I don’t fully blame Jackson for the Hobbit movies being less satisfying. Splitting into three movies was a good idea when you had Del Toro on board to direct the first part. Anyway, enough about another project that horror master Del Toro got pulled off of. This movie was made fourteen years before the Fellowship of the Rings. The movie that convinced me to watch Peter Jackson’s first full-length film is actually The Frighteners. I think I’ve talked briefly about the film but it is a mix of comedy, horror and fantasy that is definitely worth checking out. Michael J Fox is great at being terrorized and put upon in equal measures. That made me decide to see what Peter Jackson could do on a shoestring budget with his friends out in nowhere New Zealand.
Today I was looking at an article that says that we are unlikely to encounter sentient extraterrestrial life. The reason is because any beings that are smart enough to develop interstellar travel will most likely kill itself first much like we’re doing. Is there a word for experiencing both sadness and relief? When I was a preteen, I was terrified of aliens. It had little to do with any movie I saw but more with a movie called Fire in the Sky which I still have not seen. Every time I saw the poster, I would be paralyzed with fear. Every time I went camping with my friends, every shooting star was a reason for a silent panic attack. I was terrified of being abducted and then who knows what would happen? Worse, nobody would ever know what happened to me because aliens were so elusive and there were so many conspiracies. I feared the unknown from beyond long before I developed my mental muscles for critical thinking. Still, I hold those fearful memories forever.
This is probably the cheapest film that I will review this year as it was largely filmed by Jackson and his friends over the series of several weekends. We start this movie in the thick of things, a full-scale alien invasion. Of course, that is not much of a spoiler since that’s what the IMDB description says. We are not sure what the exact threat it is but we know it’s aliens. We are in New Zealand and they take advantage of the beautiful seaside mountains for this fictional town. The sound and picture quality are about what you would expect from a bunch of weekend warriors in the eighties. Like Horror Express, most of the dialogue is dubbed in later and a lot of it does in cartoon voiceover style. The actors were all unknowns to me but they did a good job with the two different tones this movie bounces back and forth between. Although, Peter Jackson himself plays two of the biggest roles and he is great at both a hero and a villain.
The whole movie is very cartoony but it is also very creepy too. Aliens that look like humans is a horror/science fiction device that has been used well many times over to great effect. It is an obvious thing to use if you are working with a limited budget. In this, we have aliens who seem to have turned humans into their slaves. One of the creepiest parts to me was how casual the gore is. One minute a body might be fine but the next half of a person’s head might be gone. That kind of thing freaked me out since it felt like there was not a lot of buildup to it. Also, the gore effects are some of the best I have seen in any horror movie. The special effects are practical and that makes sense as this film is listed as the first film Weta Workshop ever worked on. In a lot of ways, this movie reminds me of the making of Evil Dead and El Mariachi which were obviously cheap but still look great. Also, like the Evil Dead franchise, there is a lot to be creeped out by and a lot to laugh at too. In fact, its comedy makes the horror parts even scarier.
Overall, I think this is actually a must-see movie for any horror enthusiast. Sure it’s cheap and goofy but it’s also still really scary once you get into it. There is kind of a classic rock and roll feel to the movie mixed with the weirdness that permeated the Seventies and Eighties. The aliens look silly but by the time they appear, I was conditioned by the back and forth tone and the excellent synth score to be afraid of them anyway. There is also a whole extended action movie sequence but they do a good job of keeping the tension throughout. This movie was really enjoyable and it clearly shows how Jackson would become so widely regarded in film. I definitely recommend it to anybody out there and you can probably find it for free on Youtube like I did.