The Dreadful Ten: Camilla’s Top Ten Forgotten Australian HorrorsFearful Features,Movies/TV,News Camilla Jackson
Ozploitation has garnered some much deserved attention in recent years, partly due to genre film enthusiasts such as Quentin Tarantino singing its praises, as well as Mark Hartley’s audacious genre buffet NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008) shining a light on classics such as LONG WEEKEND (1978) and PATRICK (1978). And while Hartley’s documentary certainly reignited interest in some overlooked fare; however, its selection omitted a few forgotten gems.
Although the films that have recently been enjoying a minor resurgence are without a doubt superb, it is remarkable that certain titles from the Ozploitation era have gone relatively missing. While some of the films in this list are more or less unobtainable, other titles that are gaining somewhat of a DVD/Blu-ray resurrection have barely made the ripples they deserve. The vast wonderland of Down-Under has spawned some of the strangest and wild horror we have seen, and this line-up is by no means an exception. This list (in no particular order) hopes to capture some sadly forgotten or under-appreciated features from Australia’s horror-boom period of the seventies and eighties.
- ALISONS’ BIRTHDAY (1981)
Acclaimed television director Ian Coughlan helms this demonic jewel that follows Alison, played by Joanne Samuel (MAD MAX) who is warned on her seventeenth birthday via a spirit during a séance that she must not attend her nineteenth birthday party. Fast forward two years and Alison’s sinister Aunt and Uncle are planning her party that, unbeknownst to Alison, is to culminate in the ritualistic offering of Alison’s 19-year-old body to a 103-year-old wizened crone. Although Coughlan’s television pedigree is evident in the films execution, this by no means translates to a pedestrian affair. Concluding with a fantastic third act that is oddly reminiscent of SPINAL TAP’s Stonehenge debacle, this film is a curious and sometimes humorous take on body possession.
- KADAICHA (a/k/a STONES OF DEATH) (1988)
James Bogle’s directorial debut is somewhat of a teen horror flick that follows a group of youths awakening from the same disturbing nightmare to find a ‘Kadaicha’ stone lying on their pillow. One by one, the unfortunate possessors of the Kadaicha meet untimely deaths in a string of inventive ways. In a POLTERGEIST reminiscent back-story, the doomed teens discover that their housing estate has been built over a sacred aboriginal burial ground. The film hints at the white man’s lack of sensitivity to native Australian sacred sites, a particularly sensitive subject in its release year of 1988, which was Australia’s bicentenary. Some nice Mother Nature slayings, most notably by a homicidal spider, and a strong performance by final girl Zoe Carides (DEATH IN BRUNSWICK) make for an enjoyable viewing experience.
- NIGHTMARES (a/k/a STAGE FRIGHT) (1980)
John D. Lamond’s NIGHTMARES is filled with dark and ironic humor as it follows the cast of a play who are performing a “comedy about death.” Jenny Neuman (HELL NIGHT) is lead actress Helen, a complex and psychotic thespian with a traumatic past who decides to slice and dice her fellow cast mates and production crew into oblivion. Brusque cuts and borderline psychedelic montages create this campy stagebound slasher. Mixed with heavy doses of nudity and killings, Lamond pays heavy homage to Hitchcock with a few unmistakable telltale-stabbing shots. With a screenplay penned by late Australian horror stalwart, Colin Eggleston (LONG WEEKEND) NIGHTMARES is occasionally a camp and sleazy romp with its fair share of slash and brutality… what more could one ask for?!
- NEXT OF KIN (1982)
The unlikely setting of a retirement home provides a wonderful and original landscape for Tony William’s slow-burning horror. After inheriting her mother’s retirement facility, Linda, played with superb restraint by Jacki Kerin, starts to notice some disturbing occurrences in her inherited home and business. As the creepy incidents escalate, Linda is put through a wringer of epic proportions. Stunning cinematography that captures a visually appealing location and solid performances including a young John Jarratt (WOLF CREEK) are what contribute to making this Aussie offering a winner. A slow and moody beginning that reaches its crescendo in a thrill packed ending that includes an impressive and fun SFX-loaded final scene are what make this film a knock-out!
- THE PLUMBER
The rightfully lauded Peter Weir (PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK) helms this made-for-television movie that follows an out of control plumber who terrorises a couple by making unwanted adjustments to their bathroom, subsequently shaking and rattling more than just their pipes! With a premise like this, it leaves one thinking this may be a comedy, and whilst there are moments of black humor played exceedingly straight, an out of control plumber should not be taken lightly as Weir proves in this dark and twisted look at his embellished apparent recount of a true story. Like Weir’s other work, this is an engaging and well-made story capturing some very real performances in a somewhat unreal circumstance culminating in an interesting final shot. Most of us are familiar with Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS, but this little gem most certainly deserves a look!
- SYMPHONY OF EVIL (a/k/a CODA) (1987)
A strong female cast and a stellar classical music soundtrack give rise to Craig Lahiff’s stalker/slasher flick.Also known as DEADLY POSSESSION, Lahiff’s film is set at a classical music conservatory that is home to a knife-wielding maniac on a killing spree. Penny Cook, SYMPHONY OF EVIL’s protagonist, was an Australian scream queen for an unfortunately short period in Australia, and gives a great performance, which begs one to ponder why she did not extend her horror career beyond this and THE DREAMING (1988). With an obvious admiration of John Carpenter, Lahiffs CODA is a slasher of depth and class that also carries an undertone of De Palmas DRESSED TO KILL (1980).
- THE DREAMING (1988)
Writer/director Mario Andreacchio gives us a look at a team of archaeologists who discover some ancient artefacts and unwittingly resurface a deadly curse. Penny Cook plays an upper middle class doctor who starts experiencing vivid and lucid dreams after treating an indigenous Australian woman who was embroiled in an attempted swipe of said artifacts. Whilst not providing lashings of gore, it is genuinely creepy and a multi-layered horror of highbrow appeal. It may not appease those with an appetite for a more straightforward genre film narrative, but it is an excellently executed film that’s lack of presence in Australian film culture musings has surely got to be some kind of mistake.
- THIRST (1979)
A fresh take on the Vampire genre, Rod Hardy’s feature debut combines some interesting performances as well as beautiful cinematography and score provided by the likes of Ozploitation champions Vincent Morton and Brian May. Kidnapped by a member of a cult, Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) discovers that she descends from Vampire ancestry when she is abducted by a brotherhood of Vampires who are drawn to her blood-sucking lineage. Held captive in the Brotherhoods’ compound where human “cows” blood is the cuisine de rigeur, Kate must come to terms with her past and deal with some deadly hunger pangs.
- NIGHT OF FEAR (1972)
Originally intended as a pilot for Australian TV, the late Terry Bourke’s film became the first Australian horror to receive a theatrical release. Without an abundance of dialogue, a crazed hillbilly with a penchant for rats terrorizes a stranded young woman through the bush. An interesting narrative and beautiful cinematography accompany this unnerving vintage classic that bears more than a few similarities to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. This wonder is not as forgotten as some of the other titles in this list, but still deserves some fresh accolades.
- WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)
Although Ted Kotcheff’s (FIRST BLOOD) masterpiece is not technically forgotten, having enjoyed a revival in 2009 when it was re-released by Drafthouse Films following a 2009 screening at Cannes (one of only 2 films to have screened twice at the festival), WAKE IN FRIGHT was once deemed Australia’s great-lost film. Starring Gary Bond and Donald Pleasance, this masterstroke follows a bonded teacher on an intended one-night sojourn to a rugged outback town that leads him into a disturbingly debaucherous extended stay. With sweeping cinematography, solid direction and an outstanding cast, the film is both unsettling and terrifying, exhibiting a brutal and savage side to Australia that the young country will never reveal in it’s tourism commercials.
And now, a honorable mention that almost made this week’s Dreadful Ten:
OUTBACK VAMPIRES (a/k/a THE WICKED) (1987)
Colin Eggleston’s (LONG WEEKEND) venture into vampire fare has a distinctly lighter atmosphere than his previous horror outings. When a hitchhiker and two friends car breaks down in a small town, they are promptly invited to dinner at the home of Sir Alfred (John Doyle) where it becomes increasingly apparent that the unsuspecting young adults are likely to end up as the main course. Sir Alfred is out of his mind, and so is the rest of his family, which is expected considering their eccentric milieu. An oddball horror/comedy that vaguely tips its hat to campy outing THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, makes for a film that is decidedly different from its contemporaries from that period and geographical location.