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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Horror in the Land Down Under: Part Two

If you're wondering where part one of this piece can be found, allow me to direct your attention to the compulsively readable Musings Across a Continuum, where the ever-sharp Ms. Harker has made it her momentous 100th post. I'm flattered to have been asked to continue what she began, and also humbled.

Why humbled, you ask? For the simple reason that working on this post has made me aware that I'm not nearly as familiar with Australian horror as I'd like to be. My purpose here is to write about my experience with horror cinema from the land down under--and it's clear that the output from that country/continent is not nearly as recognized in the States as it should be.

As Ms. Harker herself points out, Australia has had a burgeoning horror film industry for decades now, and yet it has not penetrated the U.S. market nearly as much--not even remotely as much--as that of other countries. The United Kingdom, France, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, India, New Zealand... I'd estimate that they have all had their respective horror output better recognized here than Australia. They have the same language as us (more or less), so what's the issue here?

The Australian horror films I've encountered in my filmic travels are somewhat few, but they have all managed to make an impact on me.

Ms. Harker makes much of Dead Calm, and with good reason. This was probably my first experience with Australian horror. And in this case, it was because this particular film was fortunate enough to have stumbled into an American distribution deal courtesy of Warner Bros. This one got a nice wide release here in the States, as well as a back cover ad in Starlog magazine, which in those days was quite the big deal.

I caught it when it first came out (20 years ago, good Lord...) A tense little thriller in the grand Hitchcock fashion, it was also my first encounter with Nicole Kidman--back when she still had her original face, and before she had been anyone near Tom Cruise, either. For that matter, I believe it was also my introduction to Sam Neill and Billy Zane, two actors who would make major mainstream American waves some years later with Jurassic Park and Titanic, respectively.

Not that I even knew at the time that Dead Calm was an Australian film--I just knew it was a good movie. A great one, at that. Unfortunately, my next encounter with Australian horror would not be as positive.

Can someone please explain to me how the Howling franchise drifted to Australian shores? For whatever reason, the third installment of this series was an Australian production, and even took place there. You might remember it--the one where the werewolves are some kind of weird marsupial hybrids? Yeah, that one. I came across it while perusing the horror rack at the old mom-and-pop video store in Bensonhurst, and figured I'd give it a try. Big mistake.

For such a classic horror flick, The Howling sure had some crappy sequels, and this one had to have been the worst (which is saying a lot). No offense to the Australians, but I'm thinking the reason this property came their way is that no one in Hollywood wanted to go anywhere near it.

In more recent years, it seems like Australia has made a tiny bit of headway in getting its horror to America, but definitely not enough for my liking. Nevertheless, despite other nations hogging all the international horror glory, a few interesting movies have made their way across the Pacific.

One of the most recent of these is, of course, Rogue. Australia's Emu Creek Pictures hooked up with American outfits Village Roadshow and Dimension to produce what is better known as "that giant crocodile flick". Unfortunately, this got only a very limited theatrical release here, but thankfully became a bit of a cult hit on DVD. I'll watch anything with giant critters in it, and this was no exception.

At the time, it was one of many non-American productions that was catching my attention. The past few years have really seen me lean more toward the horror being put out by countries other than my native one. And so, I expected to see Australia as one of the big players on this field, along with Spain, France, Japan and Korea.

The other flick that got me thinking this was Wolf Creek, another Emu Creek production that I was fortunate to catch just a couple of weeks ago at the recommendation of a very dear friend. This is one of those movies where you sit back and think, "how the hell did I miss this?" A highly worthy entry in the "psycho stranger preys on lost teenagers" subgenre, I can honestly say that Wolf Creek is the finest Australian horror film I've ever seen.

That said, you'll forgive me if I end things on a negative note by talking about a film which was surprisingly absent from Ms. Harker's rundown. It's also one of the biggest horror movie disappointments for me in recent years.

The movie I'm talking about is Undead, written and directed by Michael & Peter Spierig, who have only just now returned to the scene with the upcoming flick Daybreakers. I first heard about this one through the grapevine some five years ago, and was intensely looking forward to it, being the unabashed zombie lover that I am.

This was back in the heyday of the zombie movie explosion. Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Land of the Dead. In particular, it might have been Shaun that ruined this flick for me. Because when I heard "zombie comedy", having just come off Shaun of the Dead, the bar had obviously been raised. And sadly, Undead fell way short.

The horror wasn't scary, the humor wasn't funny, and the whole affair felt like it should've been airing on the Sci-Fi Channel. In short, it certainly did nothing to advance the cause of the Australian horror film in America, I can tell you that. Although it did have zombie fish--got to give credit where it's due...

But the disappointment of Undead is neither here nor there. Good or bad, it got people talking, it created a buzz, which each of the recent Australian exports has managed to do. This is a good sign, I suppose, but there's a long way to go. I lament the fact that there are so many films mentioned by Ms. Harker that I haven't gotten to yet. I'm sure in today's internet age I don't have much of an excuse, but the fact remains that more needs to be done to popularize these films here in the U.S.

American distributors, take note! If you're looking for a new market to exploit thoroughly, look no further than Down Under.


Unknown said...

Check out Black Water. It kind of got shadowed because it came out around the same time as Rogue, but it's a vastly superior film. I might go on a limb and call it the most intense croc-centric film I've ever seen.

B-Sol said...

Hmm, thanks. Will do!

Peter said...

Oh, and I'd also really recommend you check out Storm Warning, which is a ton of gory fun. One of the best 'city folk in the wrong countryside' to come out in recent years.

BJ Colangelo said...

See I read this and I wanted to leave a highly intellectual comment, but all I can think of is "Ms. Harker, why are you such a fox?"

Ms Harker said...

You say the nicest things Ms BJ-C!

B-Sol said...

How about we admit that you're BOTH foxes, and call it a day?

Johnny said...

Rogue and Wolf Creek are awesome but ya, Undead was pretty lame. It did have a cool poster though...

B-Sol said...

Such a disappointment!

hanum said...

a little bit scary movie ;)

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