RAZORBACK (1984) Peter Brennan’s novel, Razorback, is a straight up, bite-and-shred, animal-on-the-rampage page-turner, complete with big action set pieces and an enormous, not-exactly-natural wild boar that you wouldn’t regularly see roaming the outback. But as adapted by screenwriter, Everett De Roche, and debut director, Russell Mulcahy – famous for his high style music videos for 1980s titans, Duran Duran, among others – this story became something much more strange than just a monster movie. “I’d been overseas, to Paris, Amsterdam and wherever, and all these places had affected me,” Russell Mulcahy told FilmInk. “Now I was here doing this film set in the outback of Australia and it’s very much Deliverance meets Jaws meets Wake In Fright, and I felt like I was a stranger in a strange land. Everything looked odd to me even though it was normal. Everything looked a little surreal to me: landscapes, characters, the whole lot.” With its slick, bordering-on-sci-fi imagery, the film was a standout for its time, though its big, hulking boar remains as infamous for its fakeness as “Bruce The Shark” in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. And as with the hokey monster in that masterpiece, the shoddy special effects in Razorback hardly hinder its entertainment value. Exciting and imaginative, Razorback was a solid success in Australia, but failed to crack the American market, despite the presence of its then-hot imported star, Gregory Harrison. Seemingly like all works of originality, the film became a cult success in France, and subsequently pushed Mulcahy onto a successful international directing career. It still stands as the Aussie monster movie by which all others are measured.
DARK AGE (1987) Director Arch Nicholson, who was taken by motor neurone disease far too soon, is an unsung hero of Australian genre fare, having headed up the second unit on Razorback and called the shots on Buddies, Fortress, and Dark Age, an odd riff on the Jaws archetype. When a monster croc starts gnawing on the locals, John Jarratt’s wildlife officer finds himself under pressure to put a stop to things, lest the beast’s predations frighten away the tourists. In a departure from the usual narrative, his goal is to relocate the reptile, with the help of local Aborigines played by Burnham Burnham and David Gulpilil, for whom the crocodile has spiritual significance. The real villains of the piece are the thuggish hunters who want the animal dead. Although hindered by pacing issues, Dark Age is still a delight, and comes packed with bloody deaths, Ocker stereotypes, poor special effects, one gratuitous sex scene, and appearances by Aussie notables, Max Phipps, Ray Meagher (Alf from Home & Away!), and Ron Blanchard. Perhaps in the harsh light of reality, it’s a poor film, but in the surreal hinterlands of Ozploitation, it’s a towering achievement. It’s also gained fame as a fave of Quentin Tarantino, who even hosted a screening in Australia in 2009. “Quentin has the only print in existence,” John Jarratt told Blumhouse. “He presented it in Sydney when he was here for Inglourious Basterds. It was the first time I’d seen it with an audience, and the first time I’d seen it in about 23 years. It’s still a shit film.” Steady on, John!
HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS (1987) You could be forgiven for thinking that Howling III: The Marsupials is the work of some deranged lunatic. Wrong! A wildly unconventional and highly unrestrained director, French-born Phillippe Mora is also a man of refined taste away from the cinema. He has an interest in art, comes from a cultured family, and founded the seminal Australian magazine, Cinema Papers. “He’s part of the Mora art family, and he grew up surrounded by famous artists,” Mark Hartley – the director of the Ozploitation doco, Not Quite Hollywood – told FilmInk of the dichotomous nature of Phillippe Mora. “He went to London and made incredible documentaries like Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? and Swastika. He had art exhibits in London, he was a cartoonist for Oz Magazine, and then he turns out stuff like Howling III and Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills! He’s really not what you’d expect, judging from his films.” Mora’s place in the Ozploitation field was assured when he brought Dennis Hopper out to Australia to star in the bushranger mini-epic Mad Dog Morgan. The film is a near masterpiece-of-madness, and Mora actually managed to top it with the extraordinary Howling III: The Marsupials (he’d also directed the second film in the series), a gross-out Antipodean addition to the famous American werewolf franchise. In a true Aussie twist, however, the monsters are now kinda sorta marsupials, and the film – a tongue in cheek miasma replete with off-the-wall meta touches, including Frank Thring playing a horror movie director – is not even connected to the previous films in the series. Made on the cheap, Mora’s werewolf beasties are shoddy but inventively gross, and this always confounding director certainly makes the most of them in what remains an utterly bizarre entry into the small canon of Aussie monster movies.
ROGUE (2007) After changing the face of Aussie horror with Wolf Creek in 2005, writer/director, Greg McLean, kept the scares coming with Rogue, though his villain this time had a whole different set of motives to Wolf Creek’s psycho, Mick Taylor. The not-even-remotely-evil rogue crocodile of the title just wants to protect its territory and get enough food to survive…but through human eyes, it’s a monster indeed, and it’s just unfortunate that a group of river boat tourists – led by guide Radha Mitchell, and including Michael Vartan’s tourism writer and a host of others – have strayed from their course and into its hallowed turf. Getting away from the sadistic flourishes that many detractors claimed marred his debut, McLean delivers a cleaner, more straightforward brand of monster horror with Rogue. Though the characterisations are reasonably textured, this is a film about rollercoaster-type thrills, and it truly delivers. As the characters are placed in greater danger – and the stunningly rendered monster crocodile becomes more and more fierce – the cinematic thumbscrews tighten with deft precision. Though not as epochal as Wolf Creek, Rogue is a highly accomplished and absolutely riveting local monster movie. And like King Kong, there is a little sympathy to be had for the beast in Rogue. “That crocodile was so hard done by,” Michael Vartan told FilmInk. “It was just minding its business for seventy-five years, and then these fucking tourists arrive on the scene and their fucking boat breaks down. That poor, poor thing ended up with a spear in its head. It just wasn’t fucking right. I shed a tear…”
CHARLIE’S FARM (2014) “I want to make a character along the lines of the American greats,” Charlie’s Farm writer/director, Chris Sun, told FilmInk. “I’m talking about Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Leatherface…and I think that Charlie just may be that character. People might be shocked when they see Charlie and how awesome he is. No one ever remembers the victims; it’s always about the killer, and it’s the same formula with Charlie’s Farm. Charlie is the one that people will talk about for a very long time.” Okay, sure, the killer in Charlie’s Farm is technically human, but he’s certainly more monster than man. Played by local actor, Nathan Jones – a one-time imposing figure in the World Musclepower Championships, who has brought his tough guy chops to films like Troy, The Condemned, and Fearless – Charlie’s Farm’s titular bogeyman is 7ft and 170kgs of pure Aussie killing machine. Looking like a Neanderthal holdover from your worst nightmares, Charlie is a truly monstrous creation. A hulking brute killer, he makes life hell for four hapless backpackers (one of whom is played by Sharknado star, Tara Reid) who make the big, fat, bloody mistake of wandering onto his farm to investigate a cruel outback myth. “The challenge with Charlie’s Farm was that I didn’t want to rely on ‘night time scares,’” Sun tells FilmInk. “I wanted Charlie to look just as scary in the daytime, and still scare the audience with his killings. I still pushed it though, and people might call Charlie’s Farm ‘torture porn.’ That’s cool though…I love that name,” Sun laughs.
THE BABADOOK (2014) Richly evocative and haunting, The Babadook focuses on Amelia (Essie Davis), whose relationship with her troubled six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) has never warmed since her husband was killed in a car accident while racing her to the hospital to give birth. Into this already fraught emotional landscape comes the dark-hued children’s storybook, Mr. Babadook, the horrors of which soon become more and more tangible, as a strange new threat – which is taking hideous physical form, and becoming increasingly dangerous, and increasingly monstrous – is unleashed. But despite the monster in the midst, it’s in the character of Amelia that The Babadook makes it boldest moves. Broken by the grief of her lost husband, and twisted by the role that the unborn Samuel played in his father’s death, Amelia occasionally recoils from her son’s touch, and often looks at him with feelings much more complicated than love in her eyes. In contemporary society, the subject of a mother who doesn’t love her child is close to being a back-in-the-closet taboo, and it’s a dark twist of irony that finds such a powerful theme driving a horror film. But that’s the brilliance of The Babadook: it’s much, much more than just an ingenious fright-fest. The Babadook marked the striking feature debut of writer/director, Jennifer Kent, who ingeniously expanded upon her acclaimed 2005 short, Monster. “It’s very important to face things in life, even difficult things,” the director told FilmInk. “My fascination with The Babadook started with imagining a character who didn’t – or couldn’t – face the difficult things in her life, and who lived a life of suppression. I was intrigued by how the unravelling of that suppression would play out. That’s how the energy of The Babadook came into being.”
Red Billabong is currently screening in Queensland, Victoria, and NSW. For all venue details, head to the official Red Billabong website.