To most, Peter Robert Jackson is the keeper of Middle-Earth, a man second only to J.R.R. Tolkien himself when it comes to realising THE greatest fantasy saga in history (sorry Ralph Bakshi), but to me he’ll always be the purveyor of a trilogy of gory, perverse and glorious DIY comedies that first announced the impish New Zelander as a talent to watch. Monty Python-esque alien invasion flick Bad Taste and stunning zombie gore-a-thon Braindead (a.k.a. Dead/Alive) are the two more well known of Jackson’s early output but to REALLY understand how deep underground this future leading light of cinema used to be you’ll need to unearth his tar-black puppet apocalypse that the world (barely) knows as Meet The Feebles.
Oh what’s that? Puppets? Yep, you did indeed read that correctly; because Jackson’s filthy, PC-free opus is entirely populated by the kind of sock-faced menagerie usually reserved for the madcap but wholesome world of Jim Henson’s Muppets but with added “bonuses” such as graphic sex, drug use, suicide, PTSD, STI’s and extraordinarily graphic murder. While undoubtedly being the ultimate poster child of being “not to everybody’s tastes”, this little-seen masterpiece of gore, poop and… uh, other bodily fluids steadily remains one of the most out-there cinematic experiences you could ever hope to wrap your rapidly dilating pupils around.
It’s twenty-four hours before curtain up on the first episode of the Fabulous Feebles Variety Hour and it’s fair to say things are going as smoothly behind the scenes as they could – fading star Heidi Hippo is struggling both with her declining self-image and her steadily rising weight and her relationship to husband Bletch the Walrus is on the rocks due to is ongoing affair with one of the show’s dancers (a homewrecking cat no less). Bletch, who is bankrolling the whole enterprise so he can get out of organised crime, has numerous headaches of his own that go beyond an emotionally unstable wife as the show is threatening to tear itself apart due to the numerous misfits and bottom feeders that have been hired for the production. Rabbit aex addict Harry, the host of the show and a bonafide fide household name, is trying to shake allegations of sex addiction, which is hard to deny when you’ve just been diagnosed with myxomatosis; frog knife thrower Wynyard is suffering from extreme PTSD from his time in Vietnam and aggressively uses vast amounts of drugs to control his flashbacks and elephant animal trainer Sid is in the middle of a messy paternity battle with one of the chorus who has somewhat of a cast iron case considering that the child in question is half chicken and half pachyderm. Into the middle of this chaos we find a dose of normality in Roger, a young dashing hedgehog who sparks up a delicate romance with the starry eyed poodle Lucille, but even this is in threat thanks to Bletch’s right-hand rat, Trevor, an unscrupulous shit-heel who films low-rent porn in the bowels of the theatre. While Bletch’s dodgy dealings are starting to catch the attention of crime overlord Mr Big, Heidi’s tenuous grasp of reality threatens to snap entirely which ultimately entails in a final act massacre that makes The Wild Bunch look like Sesame Street… Literally.
In another dimention, the plot you’ve just had the pleasure of reading could have been played straight, been directed by Martin Scorsese, utilized homosapiens in every role and would have been an uncompromising trawl through the underbelly of human corruption and a comment on moral dystopia that could may have even eclipsed the deeply upsetting wonders of Taxi Driver or Requem For A Dream. However, as it features a cast exclusively made up of felt-skinned animals we are gifted instead with one of the great, underrated, unseen black comedies ever made. Putting in a remarkable level of effort and detail into it’s core concept of what two thirteen year olds would come up with while debating what would happen if Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy actually, you know, did it, Jackson and his army of collaborators create a hefty ensemble cast of hapless degenerates who live in a suprisingly well thought out world (shades of Lord Of The Rings’ painstaking world building in action) who are more three dimention than most human casts. It also helps that the very, VERY funny script is stunningly politically incorrect which launches barbs and gasp inducing sights at every turn. Be it cow porn star Madame Bovine who swans around in leather bondage gear (“I think our audience is getting tired of big udders…” muses Bletch at one point) or the truly repulsive shit-eating fly reporter who truly gives a literal spin on the term muck raking journalist; the film continually and subtly shows off how legitimately witty it is while simultaneously going hell for leather for every low blow it can find. It impressively finds it in a jaw-dropping extended flashback sequence concerning Wynyard’s traumatic war experiences as a POW which goes as far to ingeniously riff on The Deer Hunter’s legendary Russian Roulette scene. You’d think such an audacious joke would cause the film to peak early but Jackson also manages to save a massive, hugely nihilistic set piece till last as Heidi, stalking backstage and armed with a machine gun that would give Rambo a hernia, takes her terrible vengence out on anyone dumb enough to be within 300 yards of her while the audience sits through a toe curling song and dance number entitled “Sodomy”. It’s a hell of a scene, hilarious and oddly moving in equal measure while also being staggering violent; as it turns out that when shot these fluffy things don’t so much bleed stuffing as spray their intestinal tracts and jetting blood literally everywhere.
Needless to say, those of an easily offended nature need not waste their time as virtually every taboo subject takes centre stage at some point (even the crucifixes in this world feature a little Jesus frog nailed to them) but those of you that can handle jokes more disturbing than the Google search history of an 18 year old incel will be treated to a filmmaker destined to change the world, stretching his wings by telling high quality gags about puppets fucking each other. A lot.
Considering Meet The Feebles took it’s bow way back in 1989, it’s never been readily available to the masses despite Jackson’s ascendancy to the A list, which is a titanic shame – although the kiwi filmmaker swears he will at some point get shiny new high definition versions out at some point (anytime you’re ready, Pete).
In fact, if you needed anymore proof that Meet The Feebles is defiantly one of a kind (even the songs are catchy), all you have to do is compare it to 2018’s The Happytime Murders, Brian Henson’s unfunny attempt to bottle the same, darkly funny lightning to see how true an original the film really is and after all, where else are you gonna see a cat give a blow job to a walrus?
If you can find it, you’re guaranteed a repulsive treat of sex, drugs, murder and plenty of big laughs wrapped in a suprisingly warm heart.
Not bad for an actual bunch of fucking muppets.