When asked to name films starring foul-mouthed, crude puppets many people will only think of the excellent Team America: World Police. However, 15 years before, a then little-known Peter Jackson unleashed his second feature film after Bad Taste; a pastiche of The Muppets, featuring Jim Henson-esque puppets running a small variety show, hoping to make it big on TV. The familiar set-up is really where the comparisons end, as the original tagline for this film suggests; “From the makers of Bad Taste comes a film with no taste at all!”. Behind the scenes of the show a wide range of characters display every vice and taboo one could imagine putting on film; adultery, alcoholism, drug abuse, S&M dungeons, rape, vietnam flashbacks, murder, STDs, and a number of things that would be difficult to put into words, often involving a particularly hideous journalistic fly whose scatological dining habits proved to be a tipping point for at least one person I watched this film with.
The general plot of the film is the run-up to an important show that will decide the fate of the theatre and the Feebles themselves, but much of the film is taken up by the sub-plots surrounding many of the disgraceful characters. Despite most of these plots being disgusting and/or shocking, the way the different plot lines tie into each other is extremely well done so that it doesn’t feel episodic, and the film is consistently very funny provided you have a seriously warped sense of humor. It can’t be said that the characters are well-rounded as all but a small handful are two-dimensionally abhorrent but the spectrum of offensiveness covered in these 90 minutes is quite marvelous and that is definitely the point of this film. It is a sign of relatively sound mental health to come away from this film feeling in some vague, unplaceable way violated, but if anyone is genuinely offended by any aspects I feel they might have missed the point by a mile. In a technical sense, I expected ropey puppets and crude animation but the puppets do have a high quality, Jim Henson-like authenticity and the performances are very good so the marmite quality to this film is drawn purely from the disturbing oddness and midnight-black humor rather than it being so-bad-it’s-good.
Barely available on DVD in the UK (a poorly-made release from 2003 is selling for £20+ on Amazon) I tracked down an old VHS copy to see this like many others will no doubt be forced to do, but it has been suggested by Peter Jackson himself that once he’s done with a small Hobbit project he’s currently working on he’d like to go back and restore his first films and re-release them with the type of comprehensive packages he is famous for. I would jump at the chance to own this and see more about it’s production, to see how the hell they managed it for NZ$750,000 (about $600,000), though it ought to come with a warning on the box to prevent any stray, unassuming Lord of the Rings fans from ending up being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress. That said, for any retro-Jackson fan it stands alongside Bad Taste (which I intend to revisit for a review in the very near future) as a brilliant example of the man’s roots in brutal dark humor; a trait that still remains in many of his films, even if for brief glimpses. Until such a re-release I don’t imagine I’ll find myself wanting to be subjected to the horrors of Meet the Feebles again in it’s current VHS form, but that is not a criticism as it sets out to amuse & shock, and there’s no doubt that it does both extremely well, perhaps occasionally TOO well in the latter.