Meet the Feebles Inspires Happytime Murders Writer
Danny Mulheron, Meet the Feebles writer, and American scriptwriter Todd Berger – for the R-rated puppet comedy, The Happytime Murders – recount almost 30 years of bad taste for an article in The Hollywood Reporter.
When the first trailer landed in May for The Happytime Murders, STXfilms’ liquor, drugs, sex and violence-soaked puppet crime comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, one British newspaper declared it to be the “first-ever R-rated Muppets film”.
As was quickly pointed out by Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement, that title had already been claimed.
“Ahem … No, that would be Meet the Feebles, Peter Jackson, NZ, 1989,” he tweeted, referring to only the second feature by his Oscar-winning fellow New Zealander, made back when he was a 20-something filmmaker spending his weekends putting together comedy horror splatter movies on shoestring budgets and over a decade before The Lord of the Rings trilogy would turn him into a billion-dollar box-office behemoth and household name.
It was actually Meet the Feebles – which Jackson described as a “kind of Roger Rabbit meets Brazil” – that would ultimately spark the imagination of New Orleans-born college student Berger and, decades later, result in one of 2018’s most off-the-wall Hollywood releases.
As it happens, while The Happytime Murders may have taken over a decade and a half from conception to a release, the making of Meet the Feebles wasn’t an entirely smooth process either, the 15-week shoot in an old Wellington train shed now almost sitting as a dark mark in the folklores of New Zealand cinema.
It was actually Braindead that was supposed to be Jackson’s second feature, an obvious follow-up to Bad Taste, which had proved to be an unexpected hit among international distributors when it was taken to the Cannes Film Festival’s market in 1987. But funding fell through at the last minute, so they turned to a 20-minute puppet-based pilot Jackson had made for a late-night TV concept (a pilot that his mother had reportedly done the catering for).
“It was just a stupid little pilot,” says Mulheron, one of the key Meet the Feebles writers (he claims he brought the “scatological humour”) and – perhaps more notoriously – the man inside Heidi’s hippo bodysuit (“which was rancid and absolutely stank … after one day!”).
Meet the Feebles marked the first writing collaboration between Jackson and Fran Walsh, his future wife and writer on all his later films. It was also Jackson’s first to deploy the special effects expertise of Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, who helped create much of the splatter. The three would help set up VFX specialists Weta (Meet the Feebles is listed as its first production), which shot to fame thanks to its work on The Lord of the Rings and is now a world leader in its field.
And thanks to a VHS tape of the film found by Berger in an Austin video store in the late 1990s, it also helped lay the R-rated foundations for what could be 2018’s most unlikely release.
“Well, I’m really pleased it corrupted someone,” Mulheron says, laughing.
Adds The Happytime Murders writer Berger: “One day I’d love to talk to [Peter Jackson] to hear what he thought about the mess he created.”
Original article by Alex Ritman, The Hollywood Reporter, August 18, 2018.