Hello again and welcome back to Terror Tapes; your one-stop-shop for horror films that languish away in forgotten formats. As a stalwart proponent of the wonder that is VHS, I must admit that sometimes the films I see on those glorious tapes have at some point made the jump to DVD. Scandal! The idea behind this column was to tap the wealth of VHS titles offered by Austin's behemoth local videostores. But I understand the necessity for standards and can see the legitimacy behind someone crying foul. However this particular film had an American DVD release that has long since been out of print. So, barring paying upwards of $75 to a private seller online, I believe this VHS still very much qualifies. This is a stroke of luck as I am incredibly excited about today's entry: Fair Game.
I can't really say enough about the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood; chronicling the history of exploitation cinema in Australia from the 1960's-1980's. I wrote up a capsule review for a trio of films featured in this empowering retrospective. It's the kind of documentary that perfectly echoes the raw, uninhibited spirit epitomized by its subject matter. As a confederation of horrorphiles, we should celebrate it if for no other reason than it provides great cannon for our must-see lists. I have made it my mission to seek out as many of these films as possible and today we have a truly rare find.
Fair Game is the story of a woman who operates a wildlife refuge deep in the Outback. She becomes aware that someone is poaching kangaroos on her land; something to which she don't take too kindly. In the midst of trying to discover the identity of these poachers, she is nearly killed on the roadway by a pair of nasty vehicles occupied by a trio of even nastier men. She determines they are the same rabble who have been trespassing on her land and informs them, none too politely, that she will not have it. This demonstration of feisty resolve turns out to be a major misstep. The rest of the movie is basically an experiment in intimidation and fear. Will our heroine be able to outrun the hunters? Have the hunters chosen the wrong prey? When did Australian women evolve beyond the necessity for undergarments?
I enjoyed Fair Game quite a bit; it's a solid film. It calls upon a number of Ozploitation standards to tell a simple story, but also employs a few new tricks. Of course we have the Outback as both the setting and a centralized representation of isolation and helplessness. We have a brave, but still very vulnerable, woman in a very hostile, wild environment. We have the wide angle shots to add a sense of scope to the isolation and we have the requisite Aussie bullies reeking needless havoc on anyone they encounter and destroying whatever wildlife they can find. And of course, no Ozploitation film would be complete without a generous smattering of nudity and violence; Fair Game delivering both.
But the diversions from type come in the form of the protagonist and the leader of the bullies. In an Ozploitation film you can generally expect roving gangs of baddies to pop up and make life a living hell for any poor sap that crosses their path. As vicious and frightening as these bullies are, they tend to be rather moronic in their malice. In Fair Game, the leader of this group of evil poachers is sophisticated and even pulls off charming when he first meets the girl. It was a refreshing change and gave the villain a lot more depth. Also, the heroine living in that savage landscape and having to take a stand against marauding outlaws is not often seen in this genre. I think Quentin Tarantino referred to this as the female Straw Dogs. I don't know that I would go quite that far, but she is quite calculating and unleashes a good deal of brutally herself. Not that I am saying Ozploitation depicts women as typically weak, but this level of ferocity in a woman fighting back is very rare for the genre.
The film builds excellent tension as the sinister hunters play mind games with the woman; emphasizing again the predator/prey relationship. The fact that she is completely cut off from civilization, once they disable her car, adds a great deal of suspense. It seems scarier that these guys were just making themselves at home on her land, making no secret of their intent to harass her, rather than just sneaking around in the bushes. Fair Game also goes to great lengths to make a fourth predatory character out of the truck in which the poachers tool around the wilderness. The way it was shot, the growling sound of the engine, and its habit of appearing as if from nowhere to stalk this poor woman all suggesting the vehicle is just as alive and just as evil as the hunters. Also, the scene that amounts to the final straw for her is so unbelievable that it demands repeat viewing. They literally strap her to the hood of that beastly truck, strip her, and drive around the Outback with her serving as masthead for this diabolical craft.
The final act is excellent. Our heroine lays traps tantamount to Kevin McCallister, but much meaner. When the unsuspecting dolts who had been terrorizing and brutalizing her roll into her compound for a final showdown, it's like fifteen minutes of pure revenge candy. The amount of torture she had endured at the hands of these guys over the course of the film nicely flavors their demises with delicious satisfaction. She is poised and cool, dodging their attempts to squash her with their monster mobile without losing her composure. The last hurrah seems as though it is going to be terribly mundane, but then turns around on itself and provides an effective surprise.
Track down Fair Game if you are able, you will not be disappointed.