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There are movie scenes that gross me out, but rarely does a scene come along that actually makes me begin to physically gag. There are two such scenes to be found in the annals of my movie-watching history, scenes that made me come very close to having to pause the film and pay a visit to my toilet. Both of these scenes come from films made by the legendary, Oscar-winning New Zealand superstar director, Peter Jackson.
He hasn’t just made my favorite fantasy film trilogy of all time (The Lord of the Rings), as well as my second favorite fantasy film trilogy of all time (The Hobbit). He hasn't just made my personal favorite film remake (King Kong) as well as my favorite mockumentary (the seldom seen, yet utterly brilliant Forgotten Silver). He's not just the man who made the most brutally violent puppet movie ever made (Meet the Feebles) either — he's also created not one, but two moments in his early films that come very, very close to making me spiral off to bathroom where I would then witness whatever I've previously eaten in reverse.
This is quite rare, and Jackson has done it twice.
The first instance is in a film we’ve already covered here in WTF Moments — it is within his splattery masterwork, Dead Alive. It's the custard eating scene, and it literally makes me gag every time I watch the movie. There's a lot of disgusting things going on in the film, but only the custard/ear moment that gives me the gags. So it goes.
I didn’t think that any scene would really top that one in terms of my own personal, visceral disgust... until I eventually watched Jackson's very first film, Bad Taste (1987). It's definitely a 'first' film, made on the super-cheap, but the seeds of the filmmaker that Jackson would become are definitely present. Also present? A scene that depicts a group of aliens (acting as humans) reveling in the consumption of vomit.
For my money, it is probably the most disgusting thing ever put on film. It’s been many years since I first watched the movie, and I'll never forget my own gagging during this scene in the middle of my first view. It took me even farther than the custard scene did. I'm not being hyperbolic — actual gagging took place, and my own vomit came very close to joining in on the festivities. I thought that this was just a one-off, first view moment, but no. I’ve revisited the movie many times, and the feeling (and gagging) is always the same. I just rewatched the scene, by itself, to prepare for this article — and it was the same situation, same danger, same gagging.
Why is this the case? There are 'grosser' moments in other movies that barely register, and some that weren’t mean to be gross at all but disgust me all the same. Here, within a movie that I think is fantastic, is a group of characters drinking, slurping, and generally having a helluva time with vomit, in the proportions and sad glee of a Roman orgy. I know what's coming at this point, but still, all these years later, I had to take a moment of self-care and make sure that I myself wasn't going to join the aliens in their bizarre fetishistic festival of upchuck.
This was likely Jackson's intention — it's likely the intention of every filmmaker who makes something so obviously intended to be gross — but the power of this moment, in Jackson's very first film, cannot be denied.
Seriously now, WTF?
Maybe some context might help? The film involves four friends investigating the disappearance of everyone in a town called Kaihoro. They discover the truth somewhat quickly — aliens disguised as humans are turning the town's residents into raw material for fast food. They capture Robert (one of the aliens), but he escapes.
One of the gang (Frank, played by Mike Minett) infiltrates a meeting of the aliens later on, and poses as one of them. He watches Robert (the alien from earlier) vomit into a bowl. The aliens pass this bowl of neon-green puke around and go to town on it, indulging in all of the little bits. Frank, to keep up the disguise, eventually has to partake.
All the while, the leader of the aliens (Lord Crumb, played by Doug Wren and voiced by Peter Vere-Jones) goes on and on about the vomit, how lucky some of them are to get chunky bits, etc. It's a monologue about the joys of vomit consistency, and when done in the voice of Vere-Jones (who would become a Jackson staple, doing many voices in Meet the Feebes and doing Mirkwood spider voices much later on in The Hobbit), the whole affair becomes much worse.
Frank having to join in is what really puts it over the top, really. It's one thing for a bunch of aliens in disguise to dine on vomit — having one of your human heroes get slurpin' so he can maintain his disguise is something else entirely. That’s one way to add some stakes!
We try not to vomit because Frank is also trying not to vomit, into... a bowl full of vomit. If it's hard for me to watch, it is certainly worse for Frank. Going beyond the movie itself and just imagining the filming of the scene is disgusting too, because just imagining the consumption of whatever this thick, disgusting prop food was is gross enough. The actors are all committed, so whatever it was, they were devoted enough to just choke the stuff down.
This movie also contains a moment where Jackson himself (as Derek), has to push his own brain back into his head after a near-fatal fall. That happens in the movie (and so very much more), but it’s the sequence of vomit-dining that sticks out the most.
This movie is definitely worth watching if you're already a Jackson fan, but it's one of the only movies that I'd also add, "...if you really have the stomach for it" to the recommendation.
WTF is that about? WTF is this moment, and WTF is wrong with me that I'm gagging right now just thinking about it? WTF, and furthermore, HTF did the man who directed this scene also direct Gandalf and Pippin's talk about death during the Siege of Gondor? That shouldn’t be possible! I ask again, WTF?
This entire film is disgusting, but it is a must-watch all the same. Be brave, and face the WTF on display. Be a Derek — Dereks don't run.