September 10, 2007

How Horrific!

The horror genre and Australian film have a beginning not too dissimilar to America, but unlike that country which embrased the genre and developed it into a money-making machine, the genre never really took ahold in Australia. In the beginning it was b-grade horror films that played at drive-ins and that revelled in absurdist violent and horror. In the early 1980s Movies like Richard Franklin's Roadgames (with Jamie Lee Curtis) and Patrick, Brian Trenchard-Smith's Turkey Shoot and The Man from Hong Kong and Arch Nicholson's Fortress were at the top of the genre. Films like Roadgames, Russell Mulcahy's Razorback and equally "grindhouse" titles such as Mad Max even regularly found themselves with statues and nominations from awards groups such as the Australian Film Institute.


The genre seemed to disappear as many of the directors responsible for the "ozploitation" movement (as it was known) followed that well-trodden trail to Hollywood when the drive in's started to evaporate and the Australian film industry tried to become more prestigious and serious. George Miller went overseas and made films like Lorenzo's Oil and the Hollywood-ised Beyond Thunderdome, Mulcahy made films such as the Highlander series and Ricochets while Richard Franklin made the apparently decent Psycho II.


In 2000 a movie called Cut (featuring, bizarrely, Molly Ringwald and Kylie Minogue as the "first victim") was made as a way of re-establishing Australia's genre roots - if there's one problem with the Aussie film industry (there are many) that I can't understand, it's our reluctance to embrace genre films - alas, the film was a load of crap basically (even if looking back on it, it's ridiculously silly fun) and it didn't exactly set the box office on fire.

The same fate befell 2003's Lost Things by Martin Murphy. Getting much more press and attention, the $80,000 zombie flick Undead did moderately well. It's creators, The Spierig Brothers, won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Melbourne Internation Film Festival (MIFF) for "For daring to be everything that Australian films are not supposed to be: part of a popular, disreputable genre. We commend it as an entertainment that is also political, while showing the pleasures of hands-on filmmaking." See what I mean? But these last few years have seen a resurgance in the output of the horror genre, as well as it's marketability.


Greg McLean's Wolf Creek in 2005 is the one that kicked it off, although Australians had been prominant in previous years in the horror genre overseas. Aussie Jamie Blanks, who had only made the short horror title Silent Number in 1993, was in the helm of Hollywood slasher flicks Urban Legend (good) and Valentine (very bad), while James Wan and Leigh Whannell were behind the incredibly successful Saw franchise. Wan directed and Whannell wrote and starred in the original and easily the best before being dumped/stepping down). Wan and Whannell have since gone on to direct the Magic-inspired (I can only assume as much) Dead Silence and Death Sentence.

But back to McLean and Wolf Creek. The film was marketed as being "based on a true story" (aren't they all?), but was actually only inspired by the real life cases of Ivan Milat and Bradley John Murdoch, two serial killers who roamed the Aussie outback. Murdoch convicted in 2005 of the disappearance of British traveller Peter Falconio and the attempted kidnapping and torture of Falconio's girlfriend Joanna Lees, while Milat is serving time for the known murder of seven backpackers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek proved to be a watershed moment if you will. For a R18+ rated (Australia's harshest rating, equivelent to America's NC17) horror film whose biggest star was John Jarratt it's box office was phenomenal, and it went on to become the highest grossing Aussie film of 2005, even making it's debut at the number one position at the box office. It proved to be a minor hit in the UK and the US (where it's release was incredibly destroyed by a Christmas Day release). It even managed seven AFI nominations including a Best Director nod for McLean.

Wolf Creek again

Jamie Blanks has returned to Australia to make Storm Warning, which is apparently going to be another gorefest (it has been rated MA15+, but, if the trailer is any indication, it actually has a storyline to go with the violence) and Greg McLean's second feature outing Rogue is set for release in November (which I will discuss in the AFI guide soon). That's just the tip of the iceburg however as the IF In Production website demonstrates.

Amongst the upcoming titles are Black Water (image, right), described as "a terrifying tale of survival in the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia", although the poster makes me think it's a direct-to-dvd Rogue. There's The Hunt which sort of sounds like a twist on Battle Royale - "5 killers, 5 victims, 1 aim... to survive." The Forest sounds promising, described as "the terrifying tale of nine Australians who are abducted while holidaying in the picturesque Flinders Ranges". The horror comedy Zombies in Combies (love that title) seems to have taken a page from the Shaun of the Dead "rom-zom-com" book with it's storyline "a backpacking American is looking forward to meeting up with the girl of his dreams before an outbreak of zombiism thwarts his rural rendezvous." Nice.


Lastly, perhaps the biggest light on the horizon (after Rogue) in terms of both commercial (here and internationally) and quality success is the upcoming film Daybreakers. It's written and directed by the Spierig Brothers and alongside it's cast of Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe it features Australians Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan and Vince Colosimo (who you can see in the below picture). It has a budget of $21mil and is an Australian/US co-production like other recent big films Happy Feet and Moulin Rouge!


Alas, with buzz and success comes the allure of Hollywood, which just recreates the whole cycle over again. Here's hoping people like Greg McLean, the Spierig brothers and Jamie Blanks choose to hang around these shores for a few more years to come.

(this entry was inspired by yesterdays viewing of Rogue, which, as I said, I will be discussing later)


Simon A said...

I really hope Rogue is a success and that Daybreakers improves on Undead (which was unpolished but at least it was fun)... because Australia needs more horror, really. Perhaps to ease the industry into it we could do maybe a horror movie about Aussie battlers, or heroin addicts.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Hey, a movie about heroin addicts who are vampires sounds better than the movies this country normally produces - movies about heroin addicts who aren't vampires!

Wait. Can I copyright that idea. That's amazing. AND people could read all this subtext into it so that it appears inteligent, when really it's just a vampire bloodbath where the villains happen to be heroin addicts. That way everyone would be happy!

RC said...

any movie with W. Dafoe in it has potential to be scary...he can totally be creepy if need be.