Some guilty pleasures sound better on paper, but the New Zealand horror-comedy “Fresh Meat” delivers on its outrageous premise. The movie, which had its world premiere at the Hawaii International Film Festival before making its way to the Tribeca Film Festival’s midnight section this week, revolves around a ridiculous scenario that keeps broadening its crazy ingredients as it moves along: A group of convicts on the lam break into a suburban household and take the family hostage, only to learn that the demented man of the house (Temuera Morrison) has turned his whole family into cannibals. In between spurts of gunplay and violent physical comedy, bodies are mutilated and devoured in equal measures, while the only apparently sane member of the household, college gal (Hannah Tevita) falls for badass criminal Gigi (Kate Elliott). That the burgeoning lesbian romance takes place against the backdrop of a crazy rituals and ample gore should give you an idea of the twisted comedy that “Fresh Meat” delivers.
The movie’s director, Danny Mulheron, has a vulgar wit that matches his filmmaking. A staple of the New Zealand film industry, Mulheron spent a large part of his career working on television projects, but his resume also includes a role in Peter Jackson’s cult feature “Meet the Feebles.” At an Apple store event in Soho yesterday co-hosted by Indiewire, Mulheron and “Fresh Meat” star Kate Elliot engaged in hilarious banter as the filmmaker revealed his deeper intentions behind the film as well as his disdain for the New Zealand film industry. “Fresh Meat” is currently available on VOD platforms throughout the Tribeca Film Festival, which concludes Sunday.
Mulheron on why he decided to make a dark comedy…
All horror movies are comedies, really. Maybe not the torture porn ones like “Saw,” but even zombie movies have an element of comedy, and that way you can go beyond boundaries you thought you might not be able to do in a different genre. With horror-comedy, you can go all these directions that we did: blood being splattered, lesbianism, guns, girls, whatever — it’s fun. I don’t see what’s not comic about it. This is a comic version of what people think New Zealand might be like.
He also explained why the film gets away with making jokes about tribal traditions…
Mauri and many South Pacific nations indulged in cannibalism well into the 19th century as a ceremonial thing and sometimes as revenge. It had a kind of edge for the New Zealand audiences. Compared to a lot of places in the world, New Zealand has pretty good race relations. There are problems like everywhere, but Maorian and Pākehān, which is the name for European New Zealanders, get on well. There are economic disadvantages, but we have a pretty mature attitude to race relations, so we get away with things you couldn’t do in America, where a lot of [race problems] are recent history. You can’t make jokes about race here.
The film is essentially a suburban satire…
I’m still trying to work out what the heart of this film is. I wanted to make it a satire, but not a cruel one. It’s a pure piece of entertainment. I like that sort of thing. But I did want to make it a satire of middle class aspiration. That’s why we set the story in a bland, McMansion kind of house. You must have vast acres of them in the United States — huge feng shui nightmares that just go on and on, suburban cemeteries. There’s no one playing on the streets. Cannibalism, to me, is about consumption. We cannibalize ourselves in order get to what we want. All these characters want something beyond what they have.
This is not your typical cannibal movie…
I didn’t want to make a splatter movie in the same way people might expect. I wanted the cannibalism to be beautiful. I know that sounds odd, but I thought it could be done like a Nigella Lawson cooking program.
Mulheron prefers the attention in the film world to his TV experience…
The difference with TV is that — well, who knows the director of “Breaking Bad”? You don’t know who they are. It doesn’t mean they aren’t terrific directors. The thing I’ve noticed is that suddenly the director is right in the spotlight on a film. You have to take full responsibility for it. The fights become harder. Television is quite producer-led. The film I want to make are director-led. We had clashes about budget, time, all that stuff, because in the end, I’m going to be taking the kicks or the praise.
Mulheron on the laundry list of graphic images in the film…
I would’ve gone further. I don’t seen any reason not to in a low budget exploitation flick like this. I’m sure there will people who love this genre who wanted me to go further. But for some people it goes too far. You can never please anyone, but hopefully I’ll please no one one day.
The director recalled how “Meet the Feebles” pushed against the country’s censorship…
We wrote a script for the New Zealand Film Commission that was completely different from the one we shot. We were mad in those days. We shot it in secret and tried to make it as obscene as we possibly could. And it is. It’s “The Muppets” with blood and gore. I played a pimp hippopotamus with a machine gun. One of my deeper roles. I thought a lot about that.
Mulheron wanted to make a really crazy TV show about animal cops…
I went and worked in Hollywood for a few years. Waste of time, really, but I hung around with a lot of horror writers. We worked on “Nightmare on Elm Street” and a thing called “Only Puppets Bleed” that never got made. I wanted to do a realistic program with frogs and ducks and shit. You’d have an opening scene of a shootout, documentary-style, and this cop would be a dog and his partner would a duck that’s been shot. I thought, “Let’s play it serious! No laugh track. We can talk about all sorts of issues, like crack addiction, abortion, race relations, all sorts of stuff, but because they’re frogs, chickens, whatever, we could do it. But they wanted “The Flintstones” type jokes that drew attention to their puppet-ness, like at the time there was an ABC show called “Dinosaurs.” It was a stinker. Life in the fucking show biz. So I’ve done a lot of comedy that has trod the line a lot.
Mulheron and Elliot had less than flattering words for the New Zealand film industry…
Elliot: It’s impossible. As an actor, I’m really luck to have done a lot of work, but we don’t get a lot of money. It’s not unionized.
Mulheron: I haven’t seen “The Hobbit” yet. I haven’t got my free ticket yet. We gave them $60 million and rewrote our labor laws so we can’t unionize or have collective agreements in our film industry so Warner Bros. can fucking rape us up the ass. And we thank them for it. That’s New Zealand. [The country’s government granted the film a reported $60 – $75 million subsidy.]
Elliot: You have to go overseas. You can’t make a living there.
Mulheron: Well, you can.
Elliot: You have to have a normal job.
Mulheron: Well, what do you do here? You flip pizzas.
Elliot: I flipped pizzas in Hollywood for like three months.
Mulheron: They were good fucking pizzas.
Elliot: I flip an amazing pizza.
Mulheron: But she flips bad guys better than pizzas.
[Elliot gives him the middle finger.]