In 1954, New Zealand was rocked by the slaying of Honorah Parker by her daughter Pauline and Pauline's friend Juliet Hulme. The two girls hit Honorah's head and were subsequently sent away for five years before disappearing into obscurity. But in 1994, Peter Jackson directed Heavenly Creatures, a surreal film about the lead-up to the offense starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. The film thrust the incident back into the spotlight, and with it, the two women at the center of the tragedy.
After the film's release, journalists tracked down the two women. Forty years later, they were both living incredibly different lives, and neither was pleased about their ugly past rearing its head. By the '90s, both women had changed their names and were on a new continent. Hulme turned her pain into art and became a writer, while Parker completely pulled away from the public eye. Even though Jackson took plenty of liberties with the story for Heavenly Creatures, the real events are still unnerving and heartbreaking.
Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker's friendship began when Hulme's family moved from England to Christchurch, New Zealand. Each girl had childhood illnesses, with Hulme also spending 14 months in a mental hospital. She claims that, during that time, Parker was the one person who kept in contact with her, writing her a letter at least once a day:
The letters were a lifeline, and I felt when she needed a lifeline I owed her. And you can get a very exaggerated sense of who you owe - whom you owe, should I say - when you're that age.
The girls romanticized the idea of being sick, and they became so close that their parents believed they were in an intimate relationship. Hulme (now known as Anne Perry) disputes this, stating that though the two girls were obsessed with one another, they were never involved romantically.
Heavenly Creatures makes a strong case for the two girls carrying on a relationship before killing Parker's mother, without actually stating they were together. The film walks a fine line and leaves it up to the viewer to decide, as director Peter Jackson indicated his belief that it's natural for girls of that age to "take baths and sleep together."
Hulme insists the two weren't involved, and they simply spent all of their time together. Author Joanne Drayton told Stuff that the idea of the girls' intimate relationship "was asserted in the trial and it was hinted at in other situations, but it wasn't proved."
In Heavenly Creatures, Juliet Hulme is pushed closer to the edge after catching her mother with a man who isn't her father. This framing suggests the disloyalty is the last thing Hulme needs to throw her support behind slaying her friend's mother.
The Guardian notes that Hulme did discover her mother was having an affair, but the details of the situation are unclear. Elsewhere, people have written that Hulme's parents were in the middle of a protracted divorce and that she was on the verge of being sent to South Africa.
Throughout the film, both Parker and Hulme become untethered from reality. They each sink deeper into a fantasy world of their creation known as the "Fourth World." In Heavenly Creatures, their fantasy world is depicted as a surreal claymation kingdom where the girls are doted on by their imaginary servants.
Hulme states that while she and Parker spent all their time together, they didn't create "elaborate games with clay figures." And while she admits she was taking medicine for her health that affected her judgment, she knew the difference between fantasy and reality.