A stridently independent filmmaker, in 1983 Frank Shields was out to compete with the bigger cinema releases of the day, when he shot his first dramatic feature film on the smell of an oily rag (he had previously shot the 1974 documentary The Breaker about Breaker Morant, using similarly guerilla filmmaking methods). Ultimately, he managed to do some pretty decent box office with this indie thriller.
The film opens with the teenage Christine Lewis (Kerry Mack) working with a group of carnys at a small NSW South Coast showground. There, she meets Walter Maresch (Ralph Schicha), a Teutonic pretty boy who looks (and acts) like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s younger, less-body sculpted brother. Walter is obsessively fixated on Christine and professes his undying love for her at every opportunity, only to then declare his intent to marry after a few brief dates.
Unsettled by his general whiff of desperation, Christine rebuffs Walter’s proposal. Incapable of exuding any charm whatsoever, Walter threatens to shoot himself if she doesn’t agree to his offer (she doesn’t), so he attempts to make good on his suicide threat, unable to bear the pain of being spurned. Later, Christine sits in a hospital waiting room racked with guilt.
She relents to the pressures of the hospital priest who believes it a mere formality to give ‘a dying man’ his last wish, thus Christine agrees to ‘marry’ the near-death Walter. As fate would have it, Walter inconveniently survives his suicide attempt.
Christine chooses to stay married to him and soon becomes pregnant. Walter becomes even more controlling and unhinged once their young daughter is born and after several mysterious visits by an odd looking stranger with envelopes of cash and plane tickets, Walter relocates Christine and their young daughter to Germany. Once there, it becomes apparent that Walter is a member of a neo-Nazi group, though he seems too unhinged even for them.
Soon Walter forces Christine to participate in bank robberies, like a bizarro Patty Hearst and the surreal nightmare continues, to unspool into even stranger situations from there.
Hostage (aka Savage Attraction in the US) navigates similar territory that later thrillers Sleeping with the Enemy, Not Without My Daughter and Dead Calm would delve deeply into: a young, naïve woman meets an unassuming guy and makes the mistake of trusting him, only to discover that he’s catastrophically toxic, violent and controlling.
Based on Christine Maresch’s biographical account of her own nightmarish marriage, it’s filtered through the prism of Frank Shields’ marketing eye for ‘what the audience wants’ resulting in the addition of the requisite staples of the ‘80s low budget film: ‘splosions, a sprinkling of gore, some fist fights and car hijinks and sex scenes with exploitative nudity. All this nestles uncomfortably up against themes of toxic masculinity and one man’s quest for control over a woman’s body.
Kerry Mack’s uncanny resemblance to actor Michelle Williams imbues Christine with a strange sense of melancholy though her co-star Ralph Schicha doesn’t fare as well, and his thick accent and wobbly command of English dilutes his performance considerably.
Still, the film LOOKS terrific [re-released after a 4k restoration]; Vincent Monton’s handsome lensing holds up and gives the film much needed scope and authenticity.
Hostage impresses more with its weirdly unpredictable story than the performances; even so, the crazy-ass plot that lurches from one insanely compelling development to another is reason enough to revisit this slice of ‘80s Oz cinema.