If you haven't seen Mark Hartley's unbelievably cool documentary Not Quite Hollywood, shut your laptops or rip your Ethernet chord out of the wall and go rent it right this damn minute! It is a perfectly-crafted celebration of cult cinema from the land down under and if it doesn't get you excited to be a horrorphile, I have a number of rom-coms I could recommend to you. This film exemplifies exactly why I moved across the country to Austin: to be immersed in cult films. While the spirit of the film is one of shameless appreciation of trash genre films, it is incontrovertible that a number of the titles in the horror section of the documentary offer more than just a so-bad-it's-good quality. So I decided to write up today's triple play of Aussie horror in the hopes that if you haven't seen these films, you'll seek them out and give them a shot.
Creature features are a staple of our beloved genre. What particularly tickles me about international creature features is when the creature itself is born naturally of the ecosystem in which the film is set. Case in point, an Australian monster movie featuring a giant boar isn't just badass, but ecologically appropriate. I know it may be hard to swallow that a movie about a giant pig would possess any amount of quality, but believe me when I tell you that Razorback is something spectacular. The film centers on a man whose child is killed by a marauding razorback about the size of a Volvo. For the rest of the film, he is on a quest to hunt down and destroy this creature that no one else believes exists. That is, until a reporter goes missing in the outback and her American husband comes looking for answers. Suddenly the two men find themselves on the same vengeful hunt.
Yes, there are moments of a giant mechanical pig with enormous tusks tearing people to pieces. But the films also features extended sequences of stark, dream-like images that are really terrific. As part of the story, the American husband is injected with drugs by the requisite band of Aussie bullies who then leave him in the wilderness to experience what the natives call a "walkabout." He hallucinates severely and the film goes to some very strange places, but it creatively balances what could have been a terribly mundane monster movie. There is also a cool Jaws parallel where the old man is warning the villagers of the threat of the giant boar and no one believes him; like Capt. Brody and Hooper trying to convince the mayor to close the Amity beaches.
And don't get me wrong, the scenes wherein people are being devoured by the razorback are great and I love how fast this thing is. It not only eats people, but it has the added fright benefit of blazing across the desert and tearing houses in half. But the thing that really makes Razorback worth watching is the cinematography. The framing of shots, and the images captured are unparalleled by any creature feature I have ever seen. Very cool.
Vampire films, as much as I love them, are really a dime a dozen even when you take a wide-angle view of the history of horror. I subscribe to the idea that if you are going to make a vampire or werewolf film these days, you have to provide some kind of special conceit or hook to the script in order to avoid it seeming like white noise to audiences. It seems as though this thought process existed in Australia in the late 70's. Thirst is a very different kind of vampire film born out of a all-consuming pursuit of commercial success; something wholly impressive.
Thirst is about a blood cult that worships Elizabeth Bathory and kidnaps her last remaining descendant in order to brainwash her into becoming their leader. What is so amazing about this concept is that vampirism is demystified and becomes something more believable. Technically there is not one vampire, in the traditional sense, featured in this film. Though they do drink blood, they are not the resurrected dead that must avoid sunlight and crosses. But there is the more fascinating angle at play of the power of cult mentality and fervor. These people spend the whole film trying to drive this poor woman to the brink of insanity and then instill in her the belief that her only relief from the fear is to drink blood.
There is one particular sequence, which is never 100% explained, in which the madness is boiling over and she has to confront that choice to drink blood head-on. While this may not have been the intention of the writer, there is an implication of this scene that provides a possible tangible explanation as to why traditional vampires drink blood in the first place. I love the idea that part of the affliction of being a vampire is that you are subjected to violently insane hallucinations that are only curbed by the act of feeding on the living. Intentional or not, that's really interesting. Also, look out for the amazing helicopter death scene that had me applauding in my living room.
This one is by far my favorite of the bunch. Long Weekend is an excellent film that I absolutely love. Frankly I think this film is only considered exploitation in terms of its marketing strategy; made on the cheap in Australia with the sole intention of it making bank in the United States. There is nothing amateur or cheesy about Long Weekend. It's the story of a totally reprehensible couple who go camping deep in the woods, much to the dismay of the prissy, bitchy wife. The pair are already having marital problems when they arrive and they engage in a rash of meaningless destruction of nature that is absolutely deplorable. But when it seems that nature has turned the tables on them and every creature in the woods has their number, this holiday becomes a real nightmare.
Long Weekend has an incredible script. The film is paced in that slow, grinding descent into madness style that made The Shining so captivating. In fact, this film feels very much like The Shining set in the woods. It becomes clear that Mother Nature is pissed and aims to drive this couple out of their minds and because of that, we can never be certain that the things happening on screen are actually happening or if these people are really losing it. The moments when the ambiguity is kicked to the curb and reality rears its ugly head are at the crux of the horror here and it is supremely effective. The actors both deliver deeply honest performances and the scenery captured on film is breathtaking. Watching this made me long for its release on blu ray.
You have got to see this film. It's the kind of surprising little masterpiece that begs to find a wider audience. I can't say enough about Long Weekend but let me just add that the ending of the film is perfect. There is not a missed note in the entirety of the film but the finale is brutal and so sweet.