Morning Call (Allentown, PA) Saturday, February 18, 1995

Real-Life Horror Spooks Stars of Heavenly Creatures
by Amy Longsdorf

The Morning Call (Allentown) (Allentown, PA) Saturday, February 18, 1995

(New York) The gross-out gore of Interview With The Vampire and the sophisticated splatter of In the Mouth of Madness is kids' stuff compared to the real-life horror of Heavenly Creatures, a flick from New Zealand that dares to go where few films have gone before: into the psyche of two teen-age girls.

"Making the movie was so frightening that we didn't have much control over who we were," says one of its stars, Kate Winslet, 19, during a question-and-answer session in Manhattan. "Sometimes, we had to talk each other out of the states we'd gotten ourselves into."

Is it any wonder? Heavenly Creatures, which opened yesterday at the County Theatre in Doylestown and comes to the 19th Street Theatre in Allentown on May 14, is based on the true-life tale of two imaginative teens whose friendship culminates in murder.

Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Winslet) met in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1952. Almost immediately, they became inseparable chums. Two years into their obsessive friendship, their parents tried to split them apart. In response, Pauline, 16, and Juliet, 14, plotted the murder of Pauline's mother.

More than 40 times the girls struck Mrs. Parker on the skull with a brick. "They thought they could hit her once and she'd just die," notes Lynskey, 17. "But after they hit her once and she was still alive, they panicked."

In 1959, after serving concurrent five-year sentences in separate prisons, the girls were released on the condition that they never see each other again. "The case was sensationalized in New Zealand," notes Lynskey. "People tend to see it as some nasty little lesbian sex murder case. And everyone has this preconceived idea about the girls."

The film, which is sympathetic to the teens without condoning their murder, was pieced together from court transcripts and Pauline's diary entries. Peter Jackson, best known for the horror flicks "Dead Alive," "Bad Taste" and "Meet the Feebles," co-wrote and directed.

Before its release last year, "Heavenly Creatures" was acclaimed on the film festival circuit, winning top prizes at bashes in Venice and Toronto. And earlier this week, the movie earned Jackson (and co-screenwriter Fran Walsh) an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

While the movie has only earned $ 2 million in the United States, it's proved to be a box-office sensation down under. The publicity surrounding the movie inspired a tabloid reporter to track down the grown-up Hulme. He discovered she had changed her name to Anne Perry and had become a popular mystery writer.

Since being released from prison, Perry, whose books sell more than two million copies a year in the United States alone, has lived quietly in the Scottish Highlands. Parker, whose new identity has been kept a secret by the filmmakers, is rumored to work in a bookstore in Auckland, New Zealand.

Even though she portrayed Juliet in the movie, Winslet professes no desire to meet Perry nor read her crime novels. "If I did meet her, it would just be to say hello. Making the movie, we knew everything about Juliet and Pauline. We knew the things they did; what they wore; the color of their wallpaper. I feel a bit guilty now, as if I know too much about her."

Does Winslet believe the girls were lesbians?

"No, I don't," she says. "All Pauline wanted was to become part of Juliet's world. And Juliet let her in because she'd been insecure from an early age. She'd never been loved and then Pauline came along and this chemistry, this electricity, began between them. They shared absolutely everything. It got to the point where they believed they were the most important people in the world. They believed they were geniuses."

While Winslet has a background in acting in her native Britain, Lynskey had never performed before, not even in a school play. On a lark she auditioned for Fran Walsh, who entrusted the high-schooler with a copy of the script.

"After I read it," says Lynskey, a New Zealand native, "I just wanted to do it. It had such beautiful writing. I was willing to do whatever I had to get the role."

While making the movie, Lynskey became entranced by Pauline Parker. "I grew very attached to her. We had her diaries, or at least as many pages as we could get. And that was good. There was two-year's worth of information about her. She was easy to relate to, up until the point of the murder. Then it became very hard for me to play her. She became a bit muddy for me then."

Shooting the movie on location in New Zealand enhanced Lynskey and Winslet's understanding of their characters. "We were filming in the real tea room where they sat right before the murder," notes Winslet. "We walked down the same path they walked down. We actually stood on the same spot in Victoria Park where they murdered Pauline's mother. It makes you want to cry all over again. It was quite overwhelming."

The tea room sequence, which involves Pauline urging her mother to indulge in a final pastry, is particularly creepy. "My father can't watch that scene," notes Lynskey with a laugh.

Not everyone in Christchurch was so cooperative with the filming. The folks at Christchurch High, the school where Pauline and Juliet met, refused to allow Jackson to shoot the movie on their grounds. "When the producers asked if they could borrow some items from the school, the (administration) said, 'Why don't you make a film about two people we can be proud of?' " relates Lynskey. "The day after the murder, the students were told that a certain matter was not to be discussed. Even now, they still ban girls from holding hands or linking arms. It's stupid."

Though Winslet conducted more than a month's worth of research into the events surrounding the murder, she still hasn't been able to figure out what made Pauline and Juliet tick. "Pauline planned the murder even before she told Juliet about it," reasons Winslet. "When she told Juliet, it became another game. That was when the cookie crumbled. And everything went horribly wrong."