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Stories & Ideas

Thu 27 Oct 2016

Five unmissable Ozploitation horror films

Australia Film Pop culture
Matt Millikan
Matt Millikan

Senior Writer & Editor

Lurking beneath the Australian New Wave was a bloodthirsty swarm of genre films that represent a unique approach to filmmaking.

In 1979, Gillian Armstrong took the world by storm with My Brilliant Career, the Palm d’Or and Academy Award-nominated story of a woman resisting patriarchal 19th-century Australia. That same year, George Miller’s Mad Max tore through cinemas around the world and helped thrust Australian stories into the limelight. While My Brilliant Career represented a respectable focus on period dramas, Mad Max took a decidedly different path, yet both exemplified the Australian New Wave cinema movement that lasted from the early 1970s until the late-1980s.

But back in the early 70s, another development was afoot. In 1971, the R rating was introduced in Australia, which along with the increased local output, resulted in a flood of B-grade films bursting with lurid spectacle and bad VFX that were similar to those being churned out in America.

From ocker comedies (The Adventures of Bary McKenzie, 1972) and crude sexcapades (Alvin Purple, 1973) to low budget shlockers (The Cars That Ate Paris, 1974), a new national cinema washed up in the Australian New Wave like a bad latex corpse. While prestige Australian films premiered on film festival red carpets, another bloody swath of movies hit the screens of exploitation cinema houses overseas. This is where Quentin Tarantino first encountered ‘Aussieploitation’, a term Mark Hartley refined further in his documentary on the movement, Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!

Particularly important to the Ozploitation category are genre films, horror especially. In our collection, we have a bunch of these films that deserve to be dragged back into the light.

Next of Kin (1982)

"Fans of gothic horror will not be disappointed."

When Linda (Jacki Kerin) inherits her mother’s retirement home, Montclare, she doesn’t just assume guardianship of its harmless residents. Something sinister stalks the labyrinthine halls of the estate; whether it’s supernatural or human is a constant question throughout. After residents start dying, Linda looks for clues in her deceased mother’s diary, finding details from the past that are strangely similar to the current situation. 

While this may seem like your average horror film, and it definitely has the trappings, what sets Next of Kin apart is the surreal camera work, atmospheric score by Klaus Schulze (of Tangerine Dream), and menacing tone that builds until climax.

Who cares if TV Guide only gave it one star, Quentin Tarantino recently lavished it with praise

“It literally is a horror film quite unlike any other… It has a very, very unique tone and the closest equivalent to this tone is The Shining… they share no other similarities, but there is this mesmerising tone of dread that’s in the film that I think is truly unique to it and it’s very, very evocative.”

Razorback (1984)

"It’s only got two states of being... dangerous or dead!"

Pitched as ‘Jaws on trotters’, this creature feature rises above its B-grade premise of a killer pig thanks to American ex-pat screenwriter Everett De Roche’s script, and Russel Mulcahy’s distinct, music video style.

When a movie opens with world-weary grandfather Jake (Bill Kerr) putting his grandson to bed only to have the pig burst into the house and drag the child off into the night, you know you’re in for a trip. With shades of the Lindy Chamberlain case, Jake goes to trial but is acquitted for the child’s death. In the community's eyes, he remains suspicious. While he searches for the boar that gorged his grandson, American traveller Carl (Gregory Harrison) searches for his missing girlfriend, a wildlife reporter who’s met a grisly fate at both the hands of a man and tusks of the eponymous pig.  

While the storyline may not be the most sophisticated, the film is lauded for its visual flare and uncanny environment. As The New York Times notes, “the landscapes… have a wonderfully bizarre, almost Dali-esque character. This is a place where the full moon never wanes…”

Likewise, the limitations imposed by the quality of the animatronic boar also inform the optic amazement. Though it cost $250,000 to make, Razorback doesn’t look that great, so Mulcahy treats the creature much like Spielberg does his great white – it’s rarely seen.

The Guardian’s Luke Buckmaster considers the limitation a boon. “The director took on the challenge with gusto, creating a berserk aesthetic infused with POV shots, busy backgrounds, images graded with extreme colour and shadows and mega close-ups of the creature’s tusks and mouth. Razorback is a work of gut-busting visual bravado.”

Not bad praise for the man who directed Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart.  

Rusell Mulcahy also holds the honour of being the director of the first video clip to ever appear on MTV.

Road Games (1981)

"No, it's Q-U-I-D. 'D' as in death to young girls, you cretin!"

No horror movie from the mid-70s to the 80s would be complete without the original Scream Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis. After surviving a knife-wielding maniac in suburban America in John Carpenter’s Halloween, Curtis finds herself outrunning and outwitting an Australian serial killer in Richard Franklin’s Road Games.

Like Razorback, Road Games was written by Everett De Roche (who also penned Patrick), and the script likewise has been lauded by no-less-than Quentin Tarantino, who believes De Roach is Australia’s greatest screenwriter (despite being American-born).

“He wrote some brilliantly terrific scripts and I actually think Road Games is hands down his best script. I think you could remake it tomorrow, that script is so good, so don’t change the script...Put Russel Crowe in the Quid role.”

The Quid role is that of truck driver with a chequered past, Pat Quid (Stacy Keach), who picks up Curtis’ Hitch and undertakes the cat-and-mouse hunt for the killer in a green van leaving womens' bodies on the bitumen. As the plots twists through the outback, Quid becomes the number one suspect when the killer tries to incriminate him.

Routinely celebrated as Duel meets Rear Window with Tarantino-esque dialogue thrown in, Road Games is a psychological thriller in full throttle the whole way through. As Tarantino himself told Screen Australia, “I’m a huge fan of Richard Franklin and I think that’s him at his Hitchcockian best. It’s a truly magnificent film.”

Long Weekend (1978)

“Every living creature, every blade of grass… will turn against you.”

Ever casually kicked an ant mound or flicked a cigarette into dry grass? This 1978 horror film might make you reconsider. We all know the landscape often features as a character in Australian cinema, but what about when it’s the antagonist? That’s the premise of Colin Eggleston’s Long Weekend, another film written by Everett De Roche (which is completely coincidental when putting together this list).

Peter (John Hargreaves) and his wife Marcia (Briony Behets) escape the city for a beach camping trip in hopes of repairing their failing relationship. Enveloped in the bush, their own resentments and a shroud of paranoia, the couple quickly unravel.

While you could take Long Weekend at face value, lumping it in a category also containing Hitchcock’s The Birds, a Gaian revenge flick, there’s a more personal and universal story beneath the scrape of razorblade grass. Peter and Marcia’s story has its genesis in suburban ennui, martial dissatisfaction, selfishness and bitterness brought to the fore by unfair compromise and antagonisms much easier to relate to than menacing wombats. Indeed, in their battle with nature, the couple are taken to the brink of their own humanity.

Turkey Shoot (1981)

"Step out of line and they take you to the funny farm - you can die laughing."

Okay, so this isn’t particularly a horror film, but Ozploitation filmmakers didn't dismiss dystopian stories and 1995 never looked so grim. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive-In), Turkey Shoot established the now common totalitarian troupe of the rich killing the poor for entertainment ala Hunger Games.

With a premise not only reminiscent of Battle Royale and Van Dam classic Hard Target, “social deviants” (played by Paul Anders, Olivia Hussey and Lynda Stoner), are sent to Camp 47 for reconditioning under the iron rule of Thatcher (Michael Craig). Only catch is, they’re not really there for rehabilitation – they’re the turkeys in the hunt. If they can survive the night, they’ll earn their freedom.

Chased through the bush by the bored and heavily armed upper class, the heroic trio manage to turn the game on its head and B-grade carnage ensues, throwing everything in from machine gunnings, exploding arrows, mutant werewolves and napalm.  

Happy hunting.

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