Knight-Ridder Newspapers
December 28, 1999

Blood & Gore Director Can't Score a PG-13
Stephen Whitty

"I think," Peter Jackson says calmly over the phone, "that I shot myself in
the foot."

Were this a typical Jackson movie, you could almost see the scene before you -- with a smoking gun, a gaping wound and a gallon of crimson blood.

This is the director, after all, who made "Dead Alive," which ends with the hero literally mowing down zombies. This is the auteur of "Meet the Feebles," a scatological puppet movie generally described as "the Muppets on acid."

But Jackson isn't talking about real self-mutilation. He's talking about his
new movie, "The Frighteners" -- and his own attempt to tone down the gore.

"We set out to make it as a PG-13 -- we shot the movie with every intention to do that," he says. "Because I was going for the PG-13, I deliberately steered clear of some things."

So Jackson restrained his usual blood-red appetites. And the movie still got an R.

Which is why now, calling from his San Francisco hotel room, he sounds a
little frustrated -- but resigned.

"At the end of the day," he admits, "the film is fundamentally about serial

It's also, despite its blood and violence, a Michael J. Fox comedy. And a real attempt by Jackson to crack the mainstream American market.

It wasn't a market he always seemed interested in. As a young director in New Zealand, Jackson once described Hollywood executives as "genuinely stupid." Dealing with them on a regular basis, he predicted, "would drive me crazy."

He didn't need to deal with them, either. Jackson was already the rudest,
rawest talent in a national film-making renaissance that included Lee Tamahori and Alison Maclean. He'd also made a name for himself as the man who got the New Zealand Film Commission to invest $3 million in a zombie comedy.

"I know, it's amazing," he says now. "That's something even I can't

"Dead Alive," however, turned out to be extremely profitable, for the
commission and the director. So Jackson -- who lists splatter-auteurs Sam Raimi and Stuart Gordon among his heroes -- turned to a new challenge. For his next project he made "Heavenly Creatures," a nearly bloodless, hallucinatory crime drama. It gained him a new reputation as a serious filmmaker.

"The Frighteners," a movie with American actors and money and a New Zealand location, offers another challenge. Can Jackson go mainstream without going Hollywood? Can he move on to bigger projects while staying home and staying himself?

The answer isn't clear, yet -- "The Frighteners" stumbles a lot, probably due to its pursuit of that PG-13 rating. But Jackson's American studio has already talked to him about doing a big "King Kong" remake. And Jackson remains optimistic -- about his American opportunities and his commitment to genre films.

"I have a love of a sort of fantastical cinema," he says. "I like movies
that give you experiences and take you places that you could never go in the real world. I love films that take you on a ride."