Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson: At the Edge of Madness

The 4th feature directed by most famous Kiwi director was shown on Belgian TV screen. I hope some of you were lucky and watched it! Based on the true story of a friendship that went terribly wrong, Heavenly Creatures will freak you out!


The notorious 1954 Parker-Hulme case

Peter Jackson’s wife, Fran Walsh, was fascinated by the Parker-Hulme case and convinced his partner to make a movie out of it. The scandal hit the headlines in New Zealand in the 50s : two teenage girls faced charge in killing one of their mothers. The obsessive friendship between Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme drove them to murder.

Don’t you hate me right now? I just spoiled you the end of the movie. But it doesn’t really matter. Everybody’s knows! That’s why, Jackson and Walsh decided to focus first, on the friendship of the girls. Their excellent suspense-filled screenplay would be nominated at the Academy Award.

A French movie was made about the same subject in 1971, Don’t Deliver Us From Devil by Joël Séria, but Peter Jackson’s is now the reference on the subject.

It’s maybe because Heavenly Creatures demanded a huge preparation work? A very interesting article written by filmmaker Costa Botes explained how Walsh and Peter investigated like real detectives, in order to “get to know the girls” the most they could. They interviewed close relatives, went to the scene of the crime, search for historical documentation … More information here: http://www.nzedge.com/peter-jackson/ You’ll find out that Peter Jackson had already an obsession for details!

Intense psychological drama

Did you know that Heavenly Creatures was the movie that revealed Kate Winslet? Her acting debut was a breakthrough. She appears here as incredibly fresh and insolent. The other girl, New-Zealand born actress Melanie Lynksey, was casted because she looked like the real Pauline Parker. hum.. I’m not sure, that’s a good thing. You can judge by yourself! : http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/mrs-parker/4110266

Anyway, both mastered in their roles. You empathize for both of them and during the whole movie, you’ll try to understand why two intelligent girls went crazy. Actually, were they mad? It seemed that the reason why they committed such a crime, was because they isolated themselves from the world. Together, they would escape from any authority control and they’d recreate their own world “The Fourth World”, in which they’d finally lose themselves.

Parker wrote a very precise diary, at that time. The voice-over of the film is directly extracted from the daily thoughts and observations of the girl. It sounds more real than real. This combined with Peter Jackson quirky filmmaking, it generates a sense of unease and embarrassment that doesn’t let you safe. I personally didn’t feel very good at the end of it, handling with mixed feelings of fear, repulsion and fascination.

Hollywood VS Wellywood

The dream of both girls throughout the movie is to fly to Hollywood and sell the multiple screenplays they wrote together. They’ll never get there. Peter Jackson neither. After the release of Heavenly Creatures, the Kiwi director is courted by the American cinema industry. But he’s the first Kiwi director to resist. Weta Workshop was built in Wellington to support the special effects of the thriller, especially Juliet and Pauline’s imageries.

The American company Miramax – which has strangely enough a very similar name – distributed the film across the world, and brought it to the Venice Film Festival where it received the Silver Lion. From that time on, Peter Jackson wouldn’t be labelled as an “horror filmmaker” anymore but as an acclaimed director.

He then cooperated with American director Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and make The Frighteners. But he would continue to use his own facilities. That’s why, he said to Onfilm Magazine, “It’s a little bit of Hollywood coming to NZ; it’s not me going to Hollywood – that’s something I’ve always resisted.” (from The Selling of NZ Movies written by Lindsay Shelton).

Wellywood was born 🙂

Interesting anecdote to conclude this article: After 5 years of prison, both girls were released and were given new identities. They never saw each other again. Pauline became a riding instructor, while Juliet Hulme is even known as Anne Perry and she’s a prolific author in England! You can have a look at her website here: http://www.anneperry.co.uk/

 Sally Welly

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