Words by Jonathan Winter
Halloween is upon us and it is time for Aussie movie buffs to reflect on the storied history of locally produced horror movies. Yes, Aussie fright-flicks have been in fine form in recent years with the Wolf Creek series and this year’s indie darling, The Babadook, leading the way. But Australian filmmakers have been churning out creepy pictures for decades! Consider the two films discussed herein and consider them for your viewing pleasure on October 31st. Each could not be more different from the other, but together they illustrate the breadth of quality and content that has transpired on movie screens down-under over the years.
The Forgotten Masterpiece
Wake in Fright (1971)
“Have a beer, mate”. Who would have guessed this phrase could inspire equal parts revulsion and despair. But in Wake in Fright it is the rallying cry for an Outback fraternity that has devolved to bitter, heat-induced madness. After gambling away his money at a local pub, an English schoolteacher (Gary Bond) finds himself trapped in Bundanyabba, a blisteringly hot, rural mining town in the middle of nowhere. He is left with little recourse but to accept the ‘oppressive hospitality’ of a group of rather unhinged locals who coerce him into partaking of their particular brand of boorish, hard-drinking behaviour.
Wake in Fright is a different sort of horror flick since it plays it ‘close to home’. It may be over 40 years old, but it still manages to unsettle Aussies with a rather damning portrayal of familiar patriarchal institutions such as gambling, mateship, ANZAC jingoism and alcohol. It may have been reviled by audiences back when it was first released but it is now considered essential viewing by local and foreign cinephiles alike. In fact it has developed a towering reputation with luminaries such as Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese contributing to the chorus of praise that has been heaped upon it since its 2009 restoration.
Check this one out if you have even a passing interest in the history of Australian film. But be warned, it features an unflattering take on Larrikinism and also sports a deeply unsettling sequence that includes real footage of a brutal Kangaroo hunt. Animal lovers might want to look away. Nevertheless Wake in Fright remains a spectacular slow-burn thriller that instils a sense of dread that culminates in a vortex of inebriation and mania. An Aussie horror classic!
The Outrageous Creature-Feature
Forget crocs! Forget sharks! When it comes to Aussie critters, it’s the piggies you gotta watch out for! At least that’s what the filmmakers behind Razorback figured back in the eighties. Neatly entrenched in the oeuvre of Jaws, this gem represents Australian filmmaking at its silliest (and most fun). How can you not snicker at the notion of a murderous porker tearing up the Outback!
Razorback stars the obligatory imported yank (Greg Harrison), the svelte Aussie damsel (Arkie Whitely), and, of course, the titular boar (being pushed around by disgruntled film-crew no doubt) that occasionally shows up to devour a character or taunt the old geezer (Bill Kerr) who has sworn to hunt him down. There is even screen time for a couple of human villains (John Mellion and Jack Thompson) who may just be Australia’s answer to Beavis and Butthead! The film is mildly aware of its own absurdity, but thankfully not enough to avoid the elusive ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category.
In spite of its spirited awfulness, Razorback does boast some eye-catching cinematography. As is the case with plenty of post-Mad Max films, it is the Outback that steals the show (watch out for a creepy desert dream sequence). Bill Kerr is also memorable as the Captain Ahab figure—much scenery is chewed to be sure! If you’re looking for an old-school Australian horror flick then look no further than Razorback. A viewing is best served at a Halloween party with a sense of humour (and plenty of liquor).