In New Zealand, where the film industry had long been marginal, Peter Jackson first came on the scene in 1987 with his twisted science fiction gore film Bad Taste, which he also acted in, photographed, and edited. Next were the puppet horror film Meet the Feebles (1989) and the darkly humorous splatter film Dead Alive (a k a Braindead, 1992), all of which were commercial successes. But these offbeat films were just the curtain raiser for Heavenly Creatures (1994), a recounting of one of New Zealand’s most famous murder cases, in which two teenage girls form an unnaturally close attachment and are forcibly separated by their parents; furious at the intrusion into their lives, they go on a murderous rampage. The film offered an important early role to Kate Winslet as Juliet Hulme, one of the two girls, and garnered Jackson worldwide attention.
Quickly moving to Hollywood, Jackson directed the low-key ghost story The Frighteners (1996), with Michael J. Fox, before returning to his native land and launching into the films that would put both him and New Zealand cinema firmly in the public eye—the spectacular three-part Lord of the Rings series (2001-03) and the digital remake of King Kong (2005), a period piece based on the original thriller of 1933. These epic, splashy films were an enormous success throughout the world, and Jackson jumped from relative obscurity to the short list of directors who can green-light almost any project.
Jane Campion is another talented New Zealand cineaste, whose early subjects included the semi-autobiographical Sweetie (1989), which documents a dysfunctional family in full flower, and An Angel at My Table (1990), a biography of the noted New Zealand writer Janet Frame. The Piano (1993), with Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel, was an international success, and allowed Campion the freedom to create her controversial version of Henry James’s novel Portrait of a Lady (1996), criticized for its use of deliberate anachronisms as a framing device for the film’s central narrative. Holy Smoke (1999) is a feminist take on the mechanisms of relationships between men and women, while In the Cut (2003) is a sexually charged suspense film.