As an Australian I vacillate between feeling terribly embarrassed by the quality of entertainment we produce and being terribly sad that more people don't see the wonderful things we sometimes do produce. Our film and television industries have been responsible for some great productions but I have to admit that where I feel we best excel is horror. With that in mind, I sat down to create my own definitive top ten list of Aussie horrors. Please seek out any you haven't seen, they are well worth taking a chance on…
10. Triangle, 2009
Melissa George of Alias fame stars in this psychological horror that has some serious issues with staying linear. It’s the story of a group of friends aboard a yacht that runs into trouble, but abandoning it for a strangely uninhabited cruise liner causes the intrepid bunch to run into even worse trouble than before. If the ship is truly deserted then who is hunting them down one-by-one and why does George’s character feel she’s been there before? Notably directed by Christopher Smith (who made the amazingly good Severence) and a puzzle until the end, this film suffers from a low budget but the ideas and plotline are unique and intriguing with the horror still mostly effective despite the financial constraints. More Twilight Zone than Friday the Thirteenth.
9. Wake in Fright, 1971
This is somewhat of a cult classic here in Australia; a film I had heard about for many years that occasionally showed up for a limited run at a boutique cinema, but I always seemed to miss it. When I finally got a chance to see it I was not disappointed. Featuring horror royalty in Donald Pleasance, this is a cautionary tale set in a deeply outback mining town of one man authoring his own downfall and degeneration as one bad decision begets another until he is reduced to his baser self. Alarmingly real and squalid, this is what alcohol, no rules, violence and ignorance combined looks like – and its horrifying.
8. Daybreakers, 2009
Directed by the brilliant The Spierig Brothers (Predestination), we are thrust into a future where vampires have all but replaced humans. With a dwindling blood supply, the vamps in charge must turn to alternate ways to keep the public happily satiated, meanwhile a researcher and his vampire friends work to find a way to survive without imbibing human blood at all. This stars Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Defoe so nothing wrong with those acting credentials. The effects are good and effective and the storyline is different than we have come to expect from ‘vampire movies’; the obvious correlation with the meat industry and factory farming was especially timely and important. Fun, pacey and visceral – I had fun with this one!
7. Saw, 2004
Is this an Australian horror? According to Google it is indeed, and so here it is in my list. To be honest, when I first watched this I almost turned it off a few times during its duration. Let's face it, some of the acting is so wooden it's like watching a kid's play, the blood was unconvincing to me and I thought I knew where it was going with the storyline. The ideas behind this, the big screen debut of Leigh Whannell and James Wan (who both went on to enjoy Hollywood careers) are solid ones – don’t appreciate life? Killer Jigsaw insists you learn to. What you see on screen is not overly frightening – this is more ‘body horror’ than anything, but it does a good job of building tension and Jigsaw is quite a wonderful creation, at least visually if nothing else; what it does have is a killer ending. Yep, I am a sucker for a good ending and will forgive almost anything throughout the movie if you give me that. Saw is arguably the best known film on this list and I’d wager to say it's because of that ‘wow didn’t see that coming’ finale – what a treat!
6. The Babadook, 2014
A single mother, a troubled child and a creepy book found on the doorstep that seems to invite ‘the boogeyman’ himself into their lives. Sounds simple and in other hands it could have been, and possibly would have still been effective, but would not be the nerve-jangling, teeth-on-edge experience this film, as written and directed by Jennifer Kent, turned out to be. This touches on the often frightening trauma of being a child, beholden to decisions that are made for you, trying to make your way through the harshness of other children and the schoolyard battleground. It centers around a woman not easy to watch, she fumbles socially, doesn’t always say the right things to her vulnerable son, seems exhausted by life. And the Babadook himself? Pretty much the embodiment of who you always pictured in your closet – hulking, menacing, dark. Having read several articles about this film, I am aware that the ending is open to interpretation, but however you wish to perceive it, it is effective, just not very pleasant.
5. The Boys, 1998
This one will divide people. There is very little actual violence on screen. There are very few horror elements at all; but in a way, I think it may just be the scariest film on the list. This is the story of recently released prisoner Brett Sprague (David Wenham – one of our finest actors) on the day he returns to his volatile working class family and life. The film follows him and his equally coiled-aggression brothers for the next 24 hours. This film is based on a play that was based on one of Australia’s worst crimes – the Anita Cobby murder. It feels like you are watching a nest of vipers, egging each other on in that small-town, boredom leads to violence leads to cruelty way. You can clearly see the how the progression from knockabout troublemakers to violent criminals could have occurred and the environment that contributed to that. The ending is bleak and stomach churning, you know what is next. A film that should be seen, but I’m not so sure I could ever watch it again.
4. The Loved Ones, 2009
From the darkest film to the most outrageous! This is Pretty in Pink if Molly Ringwald had been a psychopath. When Lola asks her crush, Brent, to be her date to the prom he had no idea the world of hurt his refusal would lead to. Kidnapped, tortured, danced with (?), and all by a teenage girl in pink taffeta and glitter eyeshadow. This is revenge of the nerds taken to a whole new level and I loved the gaudy nastiness of it. Totally bonkers but still with enough of a hard edge to make it deliciously gory, great go-for-it OTT performances and a fabulous soundtrack to boot. See it!
3. Black Water, 2007
The premise based on the real life horrors that befell three poor unfortunate souls in the Northern Territory a few years back, this people-in-a-tree-croc-below is a short sharp little movie that will have you on the edge of your seat. Expertly written, tense, real and likable victims and a very patient hungry crocodile all mix together nicely to make this a hugely entertaining and jumpy film experience. A lot of bigger budget ‘when animals fight back’ movies could learn a lot from this exercise in restraint that plays to its strengths and draws you in before going for that nice big bite.
2. Lake Mungo, 2008
My number one creepiest found footage horror is here my number two best Aussie horror, and it almost made the top spot on this list as well. Atmospheric and insidiously unnerving this tale of a family's grief after the accidental death of their daughter is truly unique, features one of the scariest scenes this reviewer has ever seen on film and effortlessly switches between a study in mourning and abject horror. Just when you think you have it all worked out come the end credits. An underrated and little seen horror gem that I'm proud to say was made in my country.
1. Wolf Creek, 2005
If you haven't seen it (which, as a presumed horror fan, is crazy!) then you've most certainly heard of it. Very loosely based on both real life crimes 'The Falconio murder' and 'The Backpacker Murders,' with scenes of violence that are lifted directly from the criminal reports, this is the story of three young people traveling the outback of Australia only to encounter a psychopathic killer in the laconic malevolent guise of Mick (John Jarrett). Jarrett takes all those 'good Aussie bloke' behaviors and turns them on their head so that every grin feels heavy with malice, every jibe carries an undercurrent of nastiness that can turn on you whenever he's had enough playing. A lot of criticism came, at the time, from people saying it was too nasty but that's what I applaud about it. He's a rapist/torturer/murderer, it shouldn't feel good to watch him, the nastiness is why it works, they never try to get you onside or have him mug for crowd pleasing; he's a bad man and the writer/director (Greg Mclean) makes no qualms about it. This is a simple story, the first 45 minutes building the tension to almost breaking point as you get to know and like the young characters, before anything bad starts. And when it starts, it's heart-stoppingly raw and terrifying. A solid, hard-as-nails, scary movie.
So, what did you think of my list? Do you agree or do you think there might be a great Aussie horror missing from the list? Let me know in the comments below!