Posts Tagged ‘Australia

13
Oct
14

Thirst (1979)

How familiar are you with your ancestry? In this day and age, it isn’t as important as it may have been historically, right? That is unless you are Kate Davis, the female lead in Day 12’s selection of 31 Days of Horror, Thirst! Turns out her lineage is very important, indeed; maybe not to her, but definitely to a group of elite aristocrats who need her DNA to bolster their power over society! 
Mrs. Barker tries (for like five seconds) to convince Kate to come to the dark side.

Mrs. Barker tries (for like five seconds) to convince Kate to come to the dark side.

To you and me, it would seem Miss Davis (Chantal Contouri) is just like any other ordinary person, although she is perhaps a little more well-off than most. She works hard, and has earned the extended vacation she’s about to take. Unfortunately her boyfriend Derek is unable to go with her, but she’s an independent woman of today and will enjoy her vacation nonetheless. But of course, she never makes it to her destination; on her way out the door she is kidnapped and taken to a remote complex in the Australian countryside where horrible things happen…

After coming to, Kate is informed that she is related to the one and only Elizabeth Báthory (The Countess’s second appearance this October). Her bloodline affords her a cushy spot atop “The Brotherhood,” an elite and secret society of aristocratic bloodsuckers. If only she could let go of her pesky morals, she could join forces with other aristocratic, bloodthirsty families to create a powerhouse that the anemic proletariat could never overcome.
They're even getting Kate's cat into the mix.

They’re even getting Kate’s cat into the mix.

Unfortunately for The Brotherhood, Kate is a headstrong and independent woman, and converting her will not be an easy task. The higher-ups of the group are fighting about the best way to help her in changing her mind. Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron) favors an extremely aggressive approach, using hallucinatory drugs to achieve her goals. Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings) believes this tactic will be not only very expensive, but may also drive Kate crazy. Both of them try talking sense into Kate, showing her around the “farm” and introducing her to the “blood-cows” (human livestock) that are privileged enough to donate their life force to vampiric royalty. Is Kate strong enough to resist the her inherited Thirst?

Ah, milking the blood-cows. What a privilege!

Ah, milking the blood-cows. What a privilege!

I’ve seen Thirst three times now, and every time I’ve been impressed with it. It is a serious vampire movie that seriously critiques modern society, but I never felt like it was selling ideology. While films like Society and They Live tackle similar territory, they have a hell of a lot more laughs than Thirst does. Usually I’d say that’s a hefty nail in a film’s coffin, but director Rod Hardy really makes it work here. Perhaps part of the reason why it works so well is instead of a usual black and white, poor vs. rich situation, the main conflict is actually between rich folks themselves. This isn’t just a film about rich people literally sucking the life out of the lower classes, it’s also about indoctrinating other rich folks deemed worth to come to their side. That’s what makes this movie a little more interesting to me: it’s not really saying much to show that the aristocracy makes its living (and derives its pleasure) from the lower classes; it’s been that way for centuries. But exploring the infighting between the rich themselves, at least in terms of how the lower classes are treated, is less-covered and more interesting territory.

Bloody chicken!

Bloody chicken!

So, yes, Thirst has a lot to say, and I think it says it well. It also looks great; the special effects (well, okay, the blood) is super-duper, and for the most part not too in-your-face (though perhaps the shower scene is a little bit much… it also explains why I let the water run for a second before hopping in!). There are some genuinely frightening scenes as the good doctors push their psychological agenda on Kate. Watching her constantly tortured expression while also wondering what the hell is going on is a pretty good fright-cocktail, and Contouri does an excellent job of earning my empathy. I do think, though, Shirley Cameron’s Mrs. Barker outshines her with one of the most gleefully evil portrayals I’ve ever seen; a real rich bitch I took an immense pleasure in hating!

Yes, you should see Thirst. If you have any real interest in a different sort of vampire tale, this is your guy. It’s not subtle, but why the hell would you look for a subtle vampire flick?
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14
Aug
14

Patrick (1978)

I once had a quest to watch all the Australian horror I could get my hands on. Then I saw a Mark Savage movie and decided perhaps I didn’t have to be so completist about everything. This is going to sound strange coming from me, but sometimes it is in fact good to have standards. At any rate, this quest first introduced me to Patrick, and it blew me away the first time I saw it. Now, I don’t want to spoil things for you, but the second time it wasn’t as awesome as I’d remembered it, but it still stands up as a pretty decent horror flick. Anyway, they’re always better with Aussie accents.

Brain-dead Patrick. Or is he?

Brain-dead Patrick. Or is he?

Patrick is one of those guys who kills his mom and her lover and never quite recovers from it. The boy’s been in a coma ever since the “accident” happened. The doctor and nurses at the hospital where he resides believe him to be brain dead, and some of them even debate on whether or not it’s a good thing to keep him alive. That all changes when Kathy, a young woman recently separated from her husband, gets a job there. Though the battle-axe head nurse Matron Cassidy begrudgingly offers her the position, she makes no secret of her distaste for the newly ‘liberated’ woman’s situation. Kathy takes what she can get though, in the name of independence.

Clearly Cassidy has it out for her, because she assigns Kathy to room 15, a room she won’t even consider going into herself. This, of course, turns out to be Patrick’s room. Most of the nurses are used to Patrick’s room by now, what with the weird, seemingly random spitting episodes and his empty stare. They have no trouble going about their business while watching him, changing his bed, administering medications, etc. But Kathy is a little different; in fact, she thinks Patrick’s brain is still very much alive.

Kathy doesn't know what she's in for.

Kathy doesn’t know what she’s in for.

First, it’s just a feeling Kathy has. Patrick seems to be listening. Then, suddenly, her typewriter starts sending her messages that claim to be from Patrick himself. Soon, she asks Patrick to communicate with her; a spit twice if yes, once if no kinda deal. When Patrick follows her directions, Kathy has a hell of a time getting any of the staff to listen to her concerns. It doesn’t help that her personal life is in such disarray; the neurologist she’s dating can be kind of a dick, and her husband keeps turning up in her apartment! But things are weirder than that; it almost seems as though Patrick is jealous of the men in her life as strange things start happening to them. Can Kathy prove Patrick is using telekinetic powers to control his environment, or will everyone think she’s just a tramp and a quack?

A surprisingly good little flick, which might be the reason why it stood out in my head as really good the first time I saw it. I wouldn’t say it’s really good, but

Nurse nasty nun.

Nurse nasty nun.

it is better than average, and definitely worth a watch. What it is really good at is creating a legitimately creepy atmosphere with plenty of what-the-fuck moments, which is always a nice thing to have in a horror movie. Patrick’s stare is definitely the stuff of nightmares, and the filmmakers do a great job of maintaining the atmosphere throughout the whole film. A fast-paced gore-fest this is not; it shouldn’t surprise you to hear it’s more of the psychological thriller than a straight-up horror flick. The plot reminded me a bit of Romero’s Monkey Shines, which wasn’t made until a decade after Patrick. It definitely does different things, and scares in different ways, but there is an undeniable similarity there.

The drag is, I’ve only ever seen the film with the original score. It looks like there’s an Italian version out there with Goblin doing the soundtrack, and I can only imagine that makes the movie 10 times better, especially considering there are moments where the original score isn’t so great. So, if possible, get your hands on that version, and let me know how it is!

01
Sep
13

Ned Kelly (1970)

Ned Kelly lurks

Ned Kelly lurks

I suppose it goes without saying that movies about national heroes who were, in all likelihood, not the awesomest people in the world, are probably not going to be very good. Take the case of bushranger Ned Kelly, for instance. Born to an Irish father transported to Australia for stealing two pigs, Ned Kelly continued to pay for his father’s venial sins, as did so many other children of transported convicts in the early days of Australia: the law enforcement and rich English settlers of Australia exercised extreme prejudice against the children of transported criminals, so folks like Ned Kelly didn’t have much of a chance at succeeding in life, even if he did opt for the straight-and-narrow.

There are, of course, many versions of the story, and the 1970 film Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger is just another drop in the bucket. Here, Kelly is portrayed as a kind soul who is imprisoned for theft in

The Kelly home

The Kelly home

what seems to be an extreme sentence: the law enforcement have a point to prove, and an example to make. Ned and his family are the prime target, and no matter what they do, the cops never cease harassing them. Ned has no choice but to take to the bush and live life constantly on watch, running from the police and stealing for a living. The story, of course, doesn’t have a happy ending – Ned Kelly is eventually found, tried and hanged.

Whether or not Ned Kelly should be lauded as a folk hero or condemned as a criminal is irrelevant to the fact that this film just isn’t very good. It sure as hell couldn’t convince me that Ned Kelly was a good guy. Heck, it couldn’t even really tell a cohesive story. Instead, it relied on the soundtrack – songs written by Shel Silverstein and sung by Waylon Jennings – to tell the audience the background, the sentiment of Australia, and the outcome

When Ned Kelly looks in the mirror, what does he see? Mick Jagger's beard.

When Ned Kelly looks in the mirror, what does he see? Mick Jagger’s beard.

of the story, because it was incapable of evoking any emotion whatsoever out of the audience on its own.

This was just a hard movie to watch. And, not unlike the 2003 film of the same name starring Heath Ledger, it’s just too one-sided to really be any good. It tries, at times, to do some interesting things, but it’s all done very poorly. What would be interesting to see is a film about Ned Kelly that actually delves deeper into the ramifications of transportation than the archetypal law bad, bushranger good dichotomy we see here. Oh wait, I saw that movie, it was Nick Cave’s The Proposition! Sure, it’s not exactly about Ned Kelly, but it’s close enough, and it’s much better than this.

27
Jul
13

Where the Green Ants Dream (1984)

Protesting.

Protesting.

In Where the Green Ants Dream, Werner Herzog takes on the plight of the Australian aborigines. I can think of no recipe more sure to yield sorrow and misanthropy. And, just as I expected, Herzog delivers a filled-to-the-brim bedpan of injustice.

The story is simple: a mining company is looking for the next big commodity. The on-site geologist, Lance Hackett, is expected to take care of a lot of tasks that aren’t really in his job description, most notably dealing with the human element of the project. Aside from the batty old woman who camps out by his trailer waiting for her lost dog to come home, Hackett must deal with a group of indigenous people protesting the exploration of their land. They believe this greenantstechparticular parcel of land is where the green ants dream, and if we disturb their sleep it will mean the end of mankind as we know it.

Hackett seems exasperated at first, but he begins to study more about Aboriginal culture, and actually tries talking with some of the protesters about their beliefs. Hackett’s attitude turns around, though not wholly; after all, his livelihood is dependent upon the company’s success finding whatever it is their looking for on this land. Eventually, the Aborigines take their case to court. A court, of course, of white men who answer to The Crown. While the whole court knows the right thing

In court. No one understands his language, because he is the last of his tribe.

In court. No one understands his language, because he is the last of his tribe.

to do is to stop the company from exploring on Aboriginal land, the law disagrees, and so the Aborigines lose the case.

There are, of course, subtleties involved that make this story a lot more compelling than any synopsis can. There are plenty of classically-Herzog philosophical monologues that inevitably get you thinking about the nature of colonialism, the “ownership” of land, and the seemingly futile struggle indigenous peoples the world over are left to fight. It will make you both sad and angry, but it is definitely a film people should see. It’s easy to forget that the modern world is still relatively new, and the repercussions of our way of life are unknown.

22
Apr
13

Flirting (1991)

Danny's characteristic smirk.

Danny’s characteristic smirk.

Flirting has been quietly waiting in my Netflix queue for years. Usually, it loses out to a horrible horror film with a terrible name, but I finally decided, after the last few duds, to put this one up to the top. I should have done it years ago!

Set in an Australian boarding school in 1965, Flirting centers around Danny, a stuttering smart-ass obsessed with Camus, and his budding relationship with Thandiwe, the daughter of a

Thandiwe looking for her date.

Thandiwe looking for her date.

Ugandan intellectual (whose classmates, I should mention, include a young Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman). Both Danny and Thandiwe know what it means to be outcasts.

Their schools are separated by a lake, across which Danny longingly looks imagining the possibilities the other school offers: girls. The two meet at a debate about man’s greatest

Nicole is *not* impressed...

Nicole is *not* impressed…

achievements, which Thandiwe scandalizes by reading off risque rock’n’roll lyrics. The affair blossoms and grows amidst rigid boarding school rules and racism.

The word charming has never been more apt. This is one of the cutest, sweetest movies I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the best way possible. What could be more fantastic than watching two “intellectual misfits” (thanks for the label, Q) fall in love? It helps, of course, that it’s Australian (something about those Aussie boarding-school movies really gets me). It was very easy indeed to give this one the five-star treatment.

 

 

22
Jan
13

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Miranda is a swan. I get it.

Miranda is a swan. I get it.

Before I write about Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock I have to confess something: I fell prey to its mythology as so many other people apparently have and believed it was based on a true story. This simply is not so, though it seems Joan Lindsay, the author of the novel on which this film is based, kept the story’s origins as ambiguous as possible, and Weir seems all too happy to perpetuate the mystery.

Of course, this approach makes sense: the film tells the story of an unsolved mystery, so why shouldn’t the film also be shrouded in mystery? Set in 1900 at Appleyard College, a finishing school for girls in Victoria, Australia, Picnic at Hanging Rock focuses on twenty-or-so young women dressed in white frills, stockings and lace. The stern Mrs. Appleyard has graciously offered the girls a special Valentine’s Day gift: a chance to picnic at Hanging Rock, a local rock formation down the road. She warns the girls to be wary of the poisonous wildlife, and not to explore the rock too much, and informs them they’ll be back for a “light supper” at eight.

What a lovely place for a picnic! Ants on your tea cake!

What a lovely place for a picnic! Ants on your tea cake!

Returning to the college on time would have been easy, except for everyone’s watches stopping at dead noon while at Hanging Rock. Miss McCraw, the mathematics teacher, assumes it must be something magnetic causing the watches to stop. Four girls ask their teacher for permission to explore the rock on their own, and when granted Miranda (a “Botticelli Angel”), Irma, Marion and, hesitatingly for all involved, Edith, skip off together for an adventure.

The girls are not the only people to be found at the rock; there are two adults and two young men, unrelated to the school, who are also there. The two men, one a rough-and-tumble Aussie named Albert and the other, Michael, a prim and proper boy, witness the girls crossing a stream. Michael is rather taken with Miranda’s beauty, and is prompted to follow them, but quickly loses them after they cross the stream.

The girls climbing the rock.

The girls climbing the rock.

At a certain point in the afternoon, the entire group is overtaken with sleep – all those at the base of the rock, except, apparently, Miss McCraw. The girls on the rock also end up napping, but soon Miranda, Irma and Marion wake up and drift off deep into one of the rock’s many recesses, despite Edith’s grating pleas to stay put. This prompts Edith to run down the rock, screaming: and on the way, she bumps into a skirt-less Miss McCraw. Edith of course wakes up everyone at the base of the rock, and all are hysterical about the fact that the three girls and Miss McCraw are missing without a trace.

I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that three of the four

Uh-oh, the stockings are coming off...

Uh-oh, the stockings are coming off…

remain missing forever; this film is not about answers. What is this film about, then? Well, I think it is about the young girls and their budding sexuality in the Victorian age in the context of a strange, untamed land. In the first few scenes of the movie we see shots of girls lacing up each-others corsets and reading innocent Valentine’s Day cards to one another. Once the girls get onto the brutish rock they’re compelled to remove <gasp!> their stockings. The girl that is found is “perfectly intact” (meaning of course that she has not been raped by an Aborigine or some other unspeakable horror) but her corset is mysteriously missing. Miss McCraw is seen running

That looks like a fun place to be.

That looks like a fun place to be.

up the rock in her undies. Is the rock some sort of liberation from the confines of Victorian society? Are these women casting off Victorian ideals and embracing the wild nature of their new home? Or is it darker than that? Is it a cautionary tale that the civilized world does not belong in the harsh landscape of the outback? Is the stark contrast between the girls and the landscape supposed to evoke the inherent strangeness of the British living in Australia, a land so alien to their home?

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie, but at times I was bothered by some of the heavy symbolism, the flute-heavy soundtrack and the constant references to Miranda’s angelic nature. Still, this movie’s kind of awesome, even if it’s a bit dated, and it should probably be on your must-see list.

20
Dec
12

Celia (1988)

CeliaPosterIf it’s true that all the best movies involve Commies and outcasts (and certainly it is), Celia’s got a lot going for it. It has been on our watch-list for about six months, but it wasn’t until I found out it was Australian horror that it became must-see. The words “Australian” and “horror” go together extremely well, but turns out movie isn’t really a horror movie – though horrible things do indeed happen.

This movie is set in 1957 Australia, amidst both the red and rabbit scares. The story centers around Celia Carmichael, a young girl whose best friend is her Marxist grandmother, whom Celia finds dead in her bed in the very first scene of the movie. Not the ideal way to start off a young girl’s summer holiday; all Celia wil have to entertain herself is a daily trip to the pet store to gawk at the pet rabbits, and a fairy tale book about the Hobyahs, evil monsters who creep into town at night and prey on innocent citizens. Her overactive imagination gets a break when she meets her new neighbors the Tanners.

One of Celia's most prized possessions: grandma's mask.

One of Celia’s most prized possessions: grandma’s mask.

Celia becomes fast friends with the family of five that moves in next door, and they quickly become her allies in her strange, ongoing war with her supremely bratty cousin Stephanie and some other kids from town. Unfortunately for Celia, though, it soon comes to light that her neighbors are <gasp> Communists. Horrified and disgusted, Celia’s father not only tries to bribe her away from the Tanners with a bunny rabbit, he tells his cop brother (Stephanie’s father) about Mr. Tanner’s party affiliation, and soon after Mr. Tanner finds himself jobless.

This puts quite a lot of pressure on Celia’s already strained relationship with her father. She doesn’t seem to trust or respect him, and continues to run with the Tanner children. It’s clear now the other group of children are chastising the Tanners for being Communists, and Celia for associating with them, though the young kids really have no idea what any of it means.

Bunny, Mask, things are okay... right?

Bunny, Mask, things are okay… right?

All the while, the Australian government has decided to take action in regards to the rabbit problem, and demands all pet rabbits are relinquished to the government. Celia holds on to her pet rabbit as long as she can, but not long after the Tanners are forced out of town, her Uncle John comes to claim her pet rabbit, attempting to placate her anticipated rage with a new puppy. The puppy doesn’t cut it, and Celia’s absolutely beside herself.

Celia is a very intelligent, tenacious and open-minded young girl, brought up in a very closed-minded social setting. For much of this movie I was impressed with her character, and also with Rebecca Smart’s portrayal of her. I must say, the turn of events at the end

She don't mess around.

She don’t mess around.

definitely threw me for a loop, and though I watched it probably a week or so ago, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. This is a pretty classic coming-of-age tale, as the poster touts it is “a tale of innocence corrupted.” Indeed, the movie starts out with Celia finding her grandmother’s corpse, and it’s a spiral into adulthood from there.

Honestly, I am surprised I hadn’t heard of this movie sooner, the subject-matter itself is interesting, and on top of it it’s Australian! I’m not sure how it escaped my radar, but I definitely recommend this.




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Old Wave