100 Bloody Acres (2012) DVD Review

100ba1100 Bloody Acres (2012)

Director: Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

Stars: Anna McGahan, Oliver Ackland, Jamie Kristian, Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson, Chrissie Page, John Jarratt

Released on 13th July 2015 by The Works Film Group

The Morgan Brothers, mild-mannered Reg (Damon Herriman) and the older, aggressive Lindsay (Angus Sampson), use a secret ingredient in their Blood and Bone fertilizer — the bodies they find at the sites of car accidents on the dusty Outback highways. However, it’s been all too long since their last find and a serious backlog is affecting the family business. Slowly Reg realises that desperate measures are called for if the company is to survive.

Meanwhile, fun-loving Sophie (Anna McGahan), her boyfriend Jamie (Oliver Ackland) and irresponsible British backpacker Wes (Jamie Kristian) are heading to a music festival when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Their misery turns to joy when Reg drives by and offers to take them to their destination.

100ba2But does the sweet and simple Reg really plan to help them out or have the unwitting youngsters provided the solution to the Morgan Brothers’ problem?

With a quote on the DVD case calling this: ‘The best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead’, perhaps the best description of 100 Bloody Acres would be ‘Wolf Creek played for laughs’. The film even features a cameo from Wolf Creek’s murderous Mick Taylor, John Jarratt, as a no-nonsense local lawman that ends up embroiled in the Morgan Brothers’ sick scheme.

Of course, the film stands up in its own right, an assured and fun effort from first time directors (and co-writers) Cameron and Colin Cairnes. The film looks great, taking full advantage of the Australian locations, but it is this sense of fun that really hits home. The humour is often of a decidedly black nature, but from gross-out laughs to some particularly rib-tickling one-liners, the laughs are there, nestled in amongst some serious splatter moments that are sure to please the gorehounds out there.

100ba3Now, I may have made this film sound like it’s all jokes and fun, but there is plenty of proper horror here too, most of it as a direct result of Insidious’ Angus Sampson’s glowering performance as the dangerously deranged Linsday. He’s a big, intimidating man and with a mean stare and growl in his Antipodean drawl, he absolutely nails his role. So too does the inherently likeable Damon Herriman who gives his character some subtle nuance and actually makes him surprisingly sympathetic.

The trio of youngsters in the cast is also excellent, from the tough and spirited Anna McGahan to her hilarious male counterparts. The group is undoubtedly buoyed by having such a witty script with which to work, but, make no mistake, this is a sterling bunch of actors.

However, with its tight characterisation, realistic dialogue and unpredictable twists and turns, it was the script that impressed me most. The two Cairnses even manage to squeeze in a refreshing dissection of sex and gender equality, writing Sophie as by far the most liberated and adult character when it comes to intimacy, while Jamie’s bluster and confidence soon dissolves with a revelation of infidelity. What’s more the other male characters are also revealed to have their own hang-ups: Reg is repressed and terrified, Wes is a simple minded manchild and Lindsay… well, perhaps that’s better discovered for yourself. It’s nice to see genre films addressing sex in such a mature way.

100ba4Finally, like many other films coming our way as part of the new wave of Aussie horror such as the superb Wyrmwood, 100 Bloody Acres wears its ‘Australian-ness’ on its sleeve with unbridled joy. With a soundtrack full of great Australian folk music, dialogue rife with antipodean slang and the aforementioned Outback scenery, this is a film that revels in its origin and strikes all the truer for it. Think tie me kangaroo down… then hack it to pieces with a hatchet!

Is this the best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead? I don’t think so. But with some real wit, a topnotch cast and plenty of gore to keep the scares coming with the sniggers, it IS a damn fine film.

8/10

Gone (2006) DVD Review

goneGone – (UK/AUS 2006)

Dir. Ringan Ledwidge

Starring – Shaun Evans, Amelia Warner, Scott Mechlowicz

UK DVD Release – 8th June 2015 from Fabulous Films

Set against the searing skies of Australia’s brutally beautiful outback, Gone is the chilling story of a young couple on the trip of a lifetime with a friendly stranger.

When young Brit couple Sophie (Amelia Warner) and Alex (Shaun Evans) arrive in Australia and hook up with the enigmatic Taylor (Scott Mechlowicz),they decide to abandon the usual tourist trail of white sandy beaches and head off inland to the real outback. As the sun beats down and the roads turn from tarmac to red dirt, Alex begins to doubt whether travelling with Taylor was such a good idea.

There’s something about the Australian outback that has always provided fertile ground for film stylists, from narrative cinema’s earliest steps (Tait’s ‘Story Of The Kelly Gang’) to stark, genre visions (Kotcheff’s ‘Wake In Fright’ or Mclean’s ‘Wolf Creek’).

gonedvd1Nic Roeg used the outback’s blank canvas to create kaleidoscopic fever dream in ‘Walkabout’, while Russell Mulchay infused awe for it’s stunning vistas with mad-eyed kinetic fury, characteristic of his work of a reputed Pop video pioneer in Ozploitation standard ‘Razorback’.

Ringan Ledwidge’s vision of Australia in his début feature ‘Gone’ is pretty much what you’d expect from an award winning commercials director who has made a name producing sentimental, confectionery promos for the likes of John Lewis & Sainsbury’s. At times it does feel like you’re watching an ad for a STA Travel ‘gap year’ holiday but, like Scott Mechlowicz’s charming, dangerous sociopath, it’s all too perfect. And in this respect ‘Gone’ works it’s magic.

The screenplay by Australian theatre luminary Andrew Upton and British writer/director James Watkins apes the whole backpacker culture, whilst deriving a sense of dread from the unhealthy ménage á trois that develops between the young wide-eyed couple (Shaun Evans & Amelia Warner) and their mysterious, Ripley-lite American companion. Idyllic nights spent sleeping under the stars and trailer park hoe-downs are tinged with menace.

The performances are solid, with a believable chemistry between the three leads managing to save the film from a meandering middle act that threatened to derail it’s early promise. The story establishes quite early on that the companions’ motivations are probably sinister, it takes most of the film for the couple’s suspicions to bear fruit..lessening the impact a little when they do.

gonedvd2However, the claustrophobic final scenes are constructed masterfully by director Ledwidge, nullifying the vastness & freedom of the open country by setting the film’s key set piece in the antagonists cramped, clunking van. The pay off justified the scenic route…just. The open-air, unrelenting tension of Watkins’ next film ‘Eden Lake’, suggesting a lesson learned.

Overall, an effective psychological thriller with just enough in the tank to navigate the hostile terrain.

7/10

Extras – The Making of Gone, Deleted Scenes

Australian filmmakers launch Kickstarter campaign for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired feature “Starspawn”

starspawn1Australian filmmakers launch Kickstarter campaign for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired feature “Starspawn”

The makers of recent Australian horror feature Throwback have launched a Kickstarter campaign for their new feature Starspawn. The sci-fi/horror thriller from Queensland writer/producer/director Travis Bain is about a TV current affairs journalist who uncovers evidence of an imminent alien invasion whilst on assignment to interview some Outback survivalists. The 40-day “all or nothing” crowdfunding campaign is aimed at raising $30,000 to allow the filmmakers to commission alien puppets and costumes and shoot a proof-of-concept excerpt from the full feature in Northwestern Queensland. Vernon Wells from Mad Max 2, Commando and Bain’s previous feature Throwback has signed on to play a key role, and other name actors are said to be “circling” the project.

Filmmaker Travis Bain says he drew inspiration for Starspawn from the films of John Carpenter and the works of cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

starspawn2“I’ve been a huge Lovecraft fan since I was a teenager in the ’80s,” Bain says, “but I’ve always found it hard to find satisfying film versions adapted from—or inspired by—his mythos, so I decided to try to make one myself. Starspawn will be a film made by Lovecraft fans for Lovecraft fans, and we’re hoping to put some of his most iconic monsters on screen in a way they’ve never been seen before, using old-school practical effects.”

The Starspawn Kickstarter campaign will conclude on 19 July 2015. For more information, please visit:
www.kickstarter.com/projects/starspawn/starspawn-an-hp-lovecraft-inspired-sci-fi-horror-f

Bain’s previous feature Throwback screened at eleven international film festivals and was released by Monster Pictures on DVD in Australia, the UK, New Zealand and Turkey earlier this year. Throwback is due for DVD release in the US on July 21st. A third and final trailer for the film has been unveiled to support the US release:

Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla (2013) Review

cs_20141

csv1CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA

Dir: Stuart Simpson

Written: Addison Heath

Starring: Glenn Maynard, Kyrie Capri, Aston Elliot, Louise Bremner, Benjamin Grant Mitchell, Kristen Condon

Out now in UK on DVD & BluRay from Monster Pictures UK.

Saturday at Celluloid Screams got underway with this little oddity from Australia. After the Kiwi’s landed a solid hit the night before with the brilliant Housebound, it was time for their neighbours to have a go with this weird psycho-thriller. Following the life of down on his luck ice cream man Warren Thompson (Glenn Maynard) as he goes about his daily business and obsesses over a soap actress (Kyrie Capri) with whom he wishes to develop a relationship. As he works he witnesses the worst of society and he soon crosses into dark territory as his rage builds and his obsessions begin to take control of him.

A strange film, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla has noble intentions and an extremely strong performance from Glenn Maynard at its centre, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark and begins to feel long and repetitive as it draws towards its conclusion. There is nothing specifically wrong with the film, it is just that it treads ground that has already been trodden better elsewhere. Clearly influenced by the Scorsese/De Niro classics Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy it tries to get under its lead characters skin and understand his increasingly erratic and dangerous behaviour. Looking at themes of isolation, obsession, and the psychosis of a man on the very edge it wants to be a weighty film, and in all fairness for about half of its running time it succeeds. But as its main character begins to unravel so too does the film.

csv2Starting strongly with Warren’s daily routine, leading to him accidentally killing his own cat, these early scenes are incredibly affecting. It gives us subtle, but emotionally arresting insight into Warren’s life and mind set and sets the film up very well. Warren is a likeable but rather sad character that trudges through life unable to ever truly connect to the world around him, and whilst the film is dealing with this it holds its own and has the potential to be something special in its own right. Unfortunately as it moves into its second half and begins to focus on Warren’s obsession with soap actress Katey George (Capri) and his troubles with a family of thugs it, like its lead character, begins to lose its grip. Much of the psychology becomes predictable and the film lays many of its cards out on the table too early meaning that any intended surprises towards the end fall flat, robbing the film of a lot of its power.

That said the film does have plenty of merits. Glenn Maynard is fantastic as Warren, eliciting plenty of empathy for a character damaged by the world around him and unable to relate to reality. Even as the film loses much of its early promise Maynard manages to keep Warren interesting and unusual. The film expects a lot of him as an actor, and he delivers in absolute spades. The film also attempts to inject some genuine emotion and human empathy into its story, something that is often lacking in many horror/thrillers. Whilst it may not manage to hold its weight until the end, the film does at least try to give the audience something more than the standard horror fare or revenge thriller, and for that it should be applauded.

csv3Ultimately Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is an interesting film rather than a compelling one. A victim sometimes of its own influences, its overly predictable second half is a disappointment after the careful emotional beats of the first. But Glenn Maynard gives an excellent performance as Warren Thompson and saves the film from completely folding in on itself.

6/10

The Babadook (2014) Review

B1The Babadook (2014)

Dir: Jennifer Kent

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinny, Benjamin Winspear

Running Time – 92 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After losing her husband to an accident on her way to give birth to her son, Amelia (Davis), struggles to cope with her demanding and difficult child, Samuel (Wiseman). Upon discovering a disturbing children’s pop-up book called ‘Mister Babadook’, strange occurrences plague their home and Samuel becomes convinced that the Babadook monster is real.

It’s an all too familiar set-up, a weird child who claims to see monsters and the doubting adults who don’t believe them until it’s too late. So how does The Babadook distinguish itself from the multitude of similar horror films? Thanks to the stunningly assured debut directorial vision of Jennifer Kent, The Babadook doesn’t so much as distinguish itself, rather, it towers above all the competition of films of the same ilk.

With a beautifully dark yet stark colour palate of greys, dull blues and of course, blacks, The Babadook takes place in an austere and bleak Australian town. This excellent establishment of a morbid reality is key to heightening the haunting blurring and ambiguity that is to come later. This flawless art style is matched by the ominous and deceptively sweet-sounding chimes of the soundtrack that add an extra spine-tingling chill to the nightmare fairytale feel of the film.

B4It terms of scares, The Babadook is a proud disciple of the less is more discipline. There is a constant, genuinely terrifying sense of dread from start to finish. This atmosphere is the embodiment of the feeling of being all alone in a house and yet with the sense of being watched. With nearly all the horror contained within the house, aside from a shocking sequence set in a car, the brilliant containment of the action adds to a sense of claustrophobia and no escape.

The monster itself, is a marvellous creation and made all the better for almost always being completely obscured. What the audience does see is almost solely shapes in the shadows, wonderfully evocative of early German expressionism. Just what it is or how it got there remains superbly shrouded in mystery. It could easily just be seen as an average ghoul but there’s several other ways it could be interpreted, just one of them being if it’s actually real and not a manifestation in one of the character’s minds. Certainly what is undeniable is the terrifying onomatopoeic croak it makes.

By far the scariest part of the film is the pop up book. A gross, horrifying perversion of a childhood bedtime story that is seen to almost come to life and simply cannot be gotten rid of. Much like the entire film, it is so simple and yet immaculately presented and hits home in chill-factor with deadly precision.

Strong horror performances are so often ignored in the mainstream awards, making it a pre-determined criminal act that the powerhouse of a performance of Essie Davis as the mother, Amelia, could easily be passed over. Going through a severe emotional wringer, the audience sees Davis enduring a crippling depression that consumes her completely. Kent starkly captures her feeling of total isolation by having her been visibly alienated from both her sister and work colleagues.

B3The cold attitude she has to her son is equally fascinating and particularly dark, certain to lose any sense of sympathy from some watchers. It can only be described as a stunning masterstroke to see her gradual character development as she goes from being a repressed waif like figure to an unhinged and forceful brute. The film wisely leaves the question of possession or madness up in the air as the real focus is on a guilt-ridden mother learning to finally come to love her son. Hauntingly moving in the best possible way.

Young newcomer, Noah Wiseman also delivers a fantastic performance that encapsulates an incredibly believable depiction of a so called ‘problem child’. What frustrates so much about most children in horror is that they’re either disgustingly adorable or just plain creepy. Wiseman is able to balance both displays of obnoxious, selfish and over-protective behaviour that are tempered by some startlingly tender moments. Fundamentally, he is a sweet boy, both smothered and shunned by his mother and who has no friends and therefore it would take a harsh soul not to feel an incredible amount of sympathy towards him. His temper tantrums and shrieking cries of “Don’t Let Him In!” are fantastically piercing and full of raw acting emotion well beyond his years. The completely authentic reactions and dynamic he has with Davis are both integral not only to the development and believability of the characters but also to making the scares and dramatic moments hit with a terribly awesome impact.

With an unexpected but refreshing ending, aside from the fantastic acting turns, the real strength of The Babadook lies in its engaging layers of substantial subtext. Packing the thrills and chills of The Others but with the heavy raw emotion of We Need To Talk About Kevin. The film is a challenging exploration of the social standard that all parents must love their children. Such a focus is certain to spark debate amongst audiences and even, it has to be said, enjoyment of the film could hinge entirely on whether or not the two main characters can be seen to be sympathetic.

B5A genuinely chilling thrill-fest that perfectly taps into the childhood fear of a monster in the closet. With stellar performances from the mother and son leads, this is so much more than your average bogeyman horror. Packed full of intriguing subtext and many covering your face with your hands moments, The Babadook serves as a reminder as to everything a horror film should be.

Rating: 10/10

Wolf Creek 2 (2013) Review

wolfcreek2Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

106 mins

Director: Greg McLean

Starring: John Jarratt, Ryan Corr

I always knew I was going to have mixed feelings about Wolf Creek 2. The original, I’ve seen countless times. It’s dark, brooding, thoroughly disturbing and leaves you with a chill to the blood and a desire to NEVER go to Australia. The nastiness of the villain, Mick Taylor, coupled with the realness of the victims gave it that extra kick that makes a slasher movie transcend and become something slightly deeper than your usual ‘stalk n slash’ flick. So for a sequel to be made… How was that going to work? Knowing Greg McLean was directing gave me hope.

And that hope wasn’t immediately dashed. Then it was dashed. Then it returned. Then… I was perplexed.

Setting the scene you’ve got the usual sequel pre-amble. Set the scene with grisly kills, quippy killer one-liners, and BAM, titles. Nothing new there. Then comes the ‘wild back-packers live it up one last time!’ montage with shots knocked back, pools dived into, beaches slept on, complete with ‘Born to Be Wild’ playing over it. OK. Cliche is allowed from time to time, it makes us comfortable, sets us up, we know where we are, we think we know where this is going. But from there on in, for the next 25 minutes, I’ll admit… I was a bit bored.

wolfcreek2-2We’re introduced to our red-herring protagonists, a loved-up German couple backpacking their way to… you guessed it. Wolf Creek. Obviously they’re not going to last the whole film – it’s 106 minutes long and they’re on a sped-up treadmill that takes us through the paces of a whole slasher movie in 20 minutes. Skinny-dipping? Check. Brush with death? Check. Plans for the future? Check. Then in comes Mick. They’re sliced, diced, beheaded, oh and there’s bit of attempted rape thrown in for good measure – it so often is these days. All the while cackling and quipping…

Yes. Mick Taylor has been given the Freddy Krueger makeover. Make no mistake he is vile to the bone, a nasty piece of work. A spluttering, spitting racist who is raping and murdering his way across the outback. But he’s got a wink to the camera (not literally, surprisingly) that makes you almost laugh along with him. Then in comes our hero, Paul. Much like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, where in part 2 Freddy moved on to a boy rather than the usual screaming chick, Mick has his sights set on Paul. Unlike Nightmare 2 there are no jockstraps, leather bars or attempts to ‘get inside my body’. Well, not until the last 10 minutes but that’s another story.

For me this is where it became a bit more interesting. It’s always funny to see the scream queen heroine be exchanged for a guy in a horror movie. It’s not very often it actually happens. Then when it does happen it’s not very often it works. Seeing a guy screaming for help, crying and bleeding and limping his way through the undergrowth doesn’t sit well with horror fans. We want to see tits, blond hair, a babe in peril – because she usually turns it around and we punch the air and cheer because we knew she’d come good in the end. Our double standard means when it’s a boy it’s generally derided or turned into homoerotic kitsch value – see Jeepers Creepers 2…

wolfcreek2-1Here… it does kinda work. Paul’s gutsy, vulnerable, likeable… but it’s not so much about him. It’s about the fact that when it becomes his film,we’re treated to a slew of pretty damn good set-pieces kick in. Greg McLean breaks out the big guns. Car chases, explosions, juggernauts plummeting over cliffs, even Mick Taylor on horseback, with a whip, Indiana Jones meets Krug from Last House on the Left! Not to mention a darkly comic kangaroo massacre set to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ that has to be seen to be believed. References to films like The Hitcher – an unfortunate German backpacker called Rutger, afore-mentioned juggernaut – and comedy music choices – Patsy Cline ‘I Fall to Pieces’ during a dismemberment – keep this film’s tongue firmly in its cheek.

But then the film reverts to, you guessed it, torture porn. We’ve been on the edge of our seats, white-knuckled throughout the last 40 minutes and then we get the endurance test… in more ways than one. Whilst tied to a chair Paul comes face to face with a meat slicer and blood is spilled, fingers are lost, and in a very badly (or very well depending on your sense of humour) timed moment of black comedy, a Rolf Harris singalong actually ensues. Personally this had me howling with laughter, and that’s what saved the movie for me. Whilst a lot of it is unoriginal, the black humour comes along and helps you through it, hoping that the ending, the pay off, will be worth it.

Without spoiling it – there’s nothing to spoil. You’ve seen the end of the first one? Well… same here. After a breathless chase, booby-traps, the threat of castration and the offer of a dress to wear whilst Mick ‘takes what he’s owed’… we’re presented with the kind of ending that just screams ‘They ran out of ideas.’ And for the record, Greg McLean needs to do his research better on just what happens at Ashworth Hospital… When you watch it you’ll know what I mean.

wolfcreek2-3Wolf Creek 2 is a mixed bag. It does everything a sequel is supposed to do. It cranks everything up a notch. But in doing so it loses some of the sheer gut-churning horror of the first. John Jarratt is brilliant as Mick Taylor and I’m sure he will be when he is inevitably called upon to do it again in Wolf Creek 3. But the law of diminishing returns will have its way. It already has. This is funny, dark, grotesque and in parts extremely exciting. But whilst the original left us chilled to the bone, this one just leaves us.

Verdict 7/10

Murderdrome (2013) DVD Review

 

MURDER 001MURDERDROME (2013) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Kat Anderson, Rachael Blackwood, Jake Brown, Anthony Cincotta

Written by: Daniel Armstrong, Louise Monnington, Trent Schwarz

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 72 minutes

Directed by: Daniel Armstrong

UK Release Date: 12th May 2014

Distributor: Monster Pictures

As I live in a cave and rarely venture out into daylight, with my only link to the outside world being my video store which I travel to via an underground tunnel – the concept of what a Roller Derby was had managed to pass me by. For those who don’t know, (which was myself five minutes before typing this) it’s a contact sport played by five members roller skating in the same direction around a track. Gameplay consists of a series of short matchups (jams), in which both teams designate a scoring player (jammer) who scores point by lapping members of the opposing team.

Okay? Cool – so let’s take that and add gore, violence and damnation at the Gates of Hell. We then have MurderDrome.

MURDER 002This low budget Aussie piece of insanity opens straight up on the Roller Derby track before switching to the neon-tinged nightlife that seems to carry a heavy influence from the 1950s despite its contemporary setting. We meet Cherry Skye (Amber Sajben), a devotee of this skate based phenomenon who carries an innocent charm that you immediately fall for. Speaking of falling for – Skye seems to be becoming somewhat smitten with Brad (Jake Brown), which on the face of it is sweet and lovely but we soon discover that Brad’s ex happens to be Skye’s Roller Derby nemesis, Hell Grazer (Rachael Blackwood).

All of the above narrative seems more in context with a piece of coming of age fluff, but here is where MurderDrome plays its trump card as intense love rivalry manages to summon a malevolent demon-spirit no less! Faced with saving her soul, not to mention those of her friends as well, Skye has a nightmare-like battle on her hands and thrown in to the mix is Hell Grazer who is determined to get in the way of the burgeoning romance between the two love birds.

According to IMDb, MurderDrome was made for the ridiculously low sum of $6,000 AUD – that’s just over 3,000 of our English pounds, and it puts films with ten times that budget to shame with the quality of what’s on the screen. The story itself is ridiculous to the point of jaw dropping insanity – but we NEED films like this. Too frequently recently the whole horror genre seems fixated on ‘based on a true story’ or ‘inspired by real events’. Sometimes cinema just has to be a form of escapism where you can switch on a movie and be transported to a world of the fantastic which showcases the imagination and the ingenuity of filmmakers.

MURDER 003Despite the relative inexperience of the cast and crew I felt the look of the movie was just fine, the standouts being undoubtedly the fantastic costumes and also a dazzling (if at times incomprehensible) script that manages to leave you with a slew of quotable lines – I WANT a Frisb-Hat. Overall, if you’re a true genre fan I think you’ll embrace MurderDrome as something fresh and original. With a running time of under 70 minutes (minus credits) it never outstays its welcome, and with cool and funky extras like a picture-in-picture commentary it’s a release that comes recommended.

6.5 out of 10

 

Wake In Fright (1971) DVD Review

wif1Wake In Fright (1971)


Dir: Ted Kotcheff

Starring: Gary Bond, Donald Pleasance, Chips Rafferty

114 mins.

UK release: Master of Cinema – Dual Format March 31st 2014

A straitlaced schoolteacher finds himself stuck in an Outback town, populated by overtly friendly weirdoes, miles from civilisation, where he spends his Christmas holidays plunging headfirst into his own destruction, culminating in the worst hangover ever.

Wake1This classic, and totally barmy, Ozploitation thriller is most famous (or perhaps infamous) for its lengthy kangaroo killing spree, which serves as a sort-of climax following the descent into madness of its main character, a norm stranded amongst crazy hicks. It also boasts the great Donald Pleasance in his most important role, aside from that of the great Dr. Loomis, as another practitioner one would hope not to have to visit even under the direst circumstances.

Although it was lost for many years, presumed destroyed, Wake In Fright enjoyed a re-release of sorts into UK and Irish cinemas in early 2014, following a special screening at the previous year’s Frightfest. Although most normal folk wouldn’t even have noticed its presence on the timetable, those who did give it a shot found a hidden gem struggling to make itself known amongst the sun-soaked, bizarre, outlandish events contained within.

Wake2Dishy Gary Bond is schoolteacher John Grant who, en route to Sydney to spend the Christmas vacation with his lady, finds himself trapped in “The Yabba”, an Outback town populated by aggressively friendly weirdoes (one of whom is Chips Rafferty, in one of his final roles) who encourage him to drink and gamble and party to his heart’s content until he winds up skint, stranded and alone (“We’re so isolated, there’s nowhere to go” a copper tells him, hinting at events to come).

It’s an unusual, intriguingly simple setup that allows the madness to flow freely, each scene building on the bizarre, otherworldly atmosphere of that which came before. There’s never any real sense that Bond is in danger, or even that he’s necessarily trapped.

Wake3But, at the same time he cannot leave (even when he, quite literally, runs away) and this idea in itself is what drives most of the narrative tension. Pleasance is the backbone of the flick, clearly enjoying himself in his role as the looniest of the loons, a man who rinses himself off in the front yard and then goes about his business as normal.

At one point, he acknowledges that the Yabba could be worse…if the beer ran out, which speaks volumes for the kind of town it is. John Scott’s score tiptoes nicely between happy-go-lucky and bouncy to creaky and weird, depending on what kind of situation the protagonist is in at the time. It gets especially screechy during the kangaroo cull, and when Bond is betting all of his money.

The cinematography is gorgeous, with every inch of the screen completely sun-soaked, to the point that one can almost feel the heat coming off the screen, especially with everyone sweating and the constant buzzing of flies. The film feels claustrophobic and suffocating, even though the Outback stretches far and wide in all directions.

Wake4The infamous kangaroo cull, which is the main talking point of the flick, is just as disturbing nowadays as it must have been forty years ago. Presented in stark, harshly lit, guerrilla style, with the poor animals spot-lit in their final moments, the murders are pointedly low on gore but no less horrid – a throat slitting, in particular, is quite sickening.

It’s worth noting that the footage is taken from a real hunting spree, and its inclusion in the film encouraged the Australian government to change its laws on the needless killing of kangaroos. Indeed, the shots of bloody, dismembered animals lying around motionless as the group of hunters drunkenly celebrate will haunt even the most seasoned viewer, but they are the most startling of the film, and it’s difficult to imagine it being quite so intense without them.

Wake In Fright is an odd, disconcerting exercise in slow build tension, and a great argument for substance over gore, or over-the-top, in-your-face scares. Nothing is ever really said or done that could be construed as threatening, but the real fear is built in this absence.

Wake posterAnd yet the protagonist’s fear is incredibly palpable throughout, and it’s easy to understand why, as he is surrounded ever more by maniacally grinning strangers, constantly asking him if he’s knew in town. A sort of tongue-in-cheek ending, which hints back to an off the cuff remark made earlier in the proceedings, suggests that perhaps all is not what it seems.

Regardless of how shocking or disturbing it was considered to be back in the day, Wake In Fright is a genre classic that is well worth tracking down and spending some time with, regardless of one’s affinity for kangaroos. Even though it may not be entirely clear what any of it means afterwards, that’s all part of the fun.

 

Rating: 9/10

 

Savages Crossing (2011) DVD Review

SAVAGES 001SAVAGES CROSSING (2011) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: John Jarratt, Craig McLachlan, Chris Haywood, Sacha Horler

Written by: John Jarratt, Cody Jarrett

UK Certification: 18

UK RRP: £9.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 82 minutes

Directed by: Kevin James Dobson

UK Release Date: 24th February 2014

I’ve always had a soft spot for Aussie genre movies – or Ozploitation as they may be referred as. Next of Kin (1982) is often regarded as one of the best, certainly Tarantino backs that assertion in the superb documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008), and here we have the star of that movie and general Aussie cult film icon – John Jarratt, who both writes (with wife Cody) and stars in this picture alongside Craig McLachlan (Neighbours). Remember Craig McLachlan? Remember his music career? I actually bought his hit 7” single ‘Hey Mona’ because I was 12 and knew no better. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever confessed to that… catharsis.

SAVAGES 002Anyway, on with the film and the setting is the Wonga Road Warehouse which is about to become a meeting place for a collection of characters. We have Damien (Charlie Jarratt) and Sue (Angela Punch McGregor), a mother and son who are currently fleeing from Phil (John Jarratt) their father and husband respectively who has a dangerous reputation. Also present are friends Shae (Sacha Horler) and Mickey (Rebecca Smart), bar owners Mory (McLachlan) and Kate (Jessica Napier), and a cop (Chris Haywood).

The reason they’re holed up in this outback hostelry is due to the extreme weather conditions going on outside. It’s the storm of the century, with flash flooding rampant, roads impassable and a general air of danger. All that they can do is assemble in the pub and wait it out until conditions get a little safer outside. Soon enough the patrons are dubiously welcome the arrival of Phil, although we’re left in the dark as to a) where he’s been, and b) why his wife and son are so eager to get away from him. All we know is that they seem terrified of him, whilst Phil comes across as a bullish, arrogant man with a propensity for violence. It’s not long before the rest of the people holed up here get the gist that something is wrong between the family. However, with the severity of the storm meaning no-one in, no-one out, it is about to become a long tense night where everything is not always as straight forward as it seems.

Released no doubt to coincide with Jarratt reprising his role in the second Wolf Creek film, this small time Aussie feature filmed back in 2009 is actually a tense little horror-thriller. Undoubtedly shot on a small budget, and with Jarratt taking the role of writer, producer and star, it was presumably a labour of love. Thankfully with it being almost a one location picture, it takes heed from that often ignored piece of advice of ‘keep it simple’, while having the pleasure of seeing Jarratt work his magic as a loose cannon for 80 minutes was satisfying indeed.

SAVAGES 003Some of the supporting cast for me were a little one dimensional, but irrespective of that they all gave solid performances in particular McLachlan as the ballsy landlord. One of the most impressive aspects of the film was the recreation of the storm which was done brilliantly and manages to authentically convey the ferocity of it onscreen. Despite not having mass appeal, Savages Crossing does come recommended. If you have the patience for a slow moving potboiler of a thriller, it’s definitely worth more than a brass razoo.

6 out of 10

The Jungle (2013) DVD Review

JUNGLE 001THE JUNGLE (2013) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Igusti Budianthika, Rupert Reid, Michelle Santos, Agoes Widjaya Soedjarwo

Written by: Andrew Traucki

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 81 minutes

Directed by: Andrew Traucki

UK Release Date: 17th February 2014

Andrew Traucki, the Australian born director made quite an impact with his first two feature films. In 2007 he debuted with the tense Black Water which was a terrifying tale of survival in the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia. In 2010 he followed it up with The Reef about great white sharks terrorizing the crew of a capsized boat along the Great Barrier Reef. His latest survivalist adventure is The Jungle and swaps his native Australia for a dense forest environment in Indonesia, and is shot from a found footage perspective. Did I just lose half my readership with those three last words!? Don’t fret horror people, it’s better than you think.

JUNGLE 002The Jungle tells the story of an Australian leopard conservationist, Larry Black (Rupert Reid) who ventures into the remote Indonesian jungle with his documentary filmmaker brother Ben to investigate the reported sightings of a remote species of leopard. Prior to going in we see them detailing the equipment that they’re taking in as well as getting Larry used to speaking to camera. Meanwhile we see his wife Susan on camera saying how much she worries about him, albeit aware of the importance of the work that her husband does.

When they finally arrive in Indonesia they meet up with Budi (Agoes Widjaya Soedjarwo) and the tracker Adi (Igusti Budianthika) who will assist their venture into the Indonesian jungle. As they’re about to enter, Adi confides to them that he’s a particularly superstitious person – as a lot of the locals are, and believe that a ‘forest demon’ inhabits the jungle which he thinks will add great danger to their trek. Obviously the two Australians treat this confession with a level of disbelief, but as they progress deeper and deeper into the thick undergrowth the warning signs become apparent that something sinister lurks within.

Your enjoyment of The Jungle is likely to be dependent on your patience level instead of your tolerance of found footage, as the film really does take its time to tell the narrative. Personally, I found this to benefit the picture as you get to know the brothers quite well and also gain a good understanding of how the locals respect their environment. I would certainly classify this jungle adventure as more Cannibal Holocaust than Anaconda, as along the way we’re teased at the nature of what is out there with bloodied animal remains, big paw prints, claw marks and severed body parts. It’s a clever ploy as this dangling carrot keeps you glued to the screen hoping for further clues to the nature of the beast.

JUNGLE 003Considering the pedigree of Andrew Traucki it’s really a no-brainer to put your faith in his ability to deliver something tense and frightening. The two Australian leads give great authentic performances while the addition of the two Indonesian guides offer the film some authenticity. Yes – this IS found footage, and yes – if you’re bored of it then you’re likely to rebuff it regardless of what I say, but this IS found footage done well. The location is claustrophobic and scary, while the sighting of some glistening eyes on a night vision camera paired with a subtle but deep growl makes for simple but terrifyingly effective horror.

7 out of 10