The latest Australian psychological thriller, Sweet River has been released on streaming platform Netflix and like most recent flicks from Down Under it comes with some heavy-laden drama that grinds you down to a gritty conclusion.
The setting for this tale of grief, loss and the search for truth is definitely its selling point, cast in Northern New South Wales between Byron Bay and Tweed Heads where the land is rich in sugar cane fields. The cinematography by Tim Tregoning is stunning and elevates the landscape beyond the screen that is simply captivating and bolden’s Director Justin McMillan’s vision to the fore. Especially the use of red light cast across the river banks that highlight the need to see and not awaken anything submerged in the shadowy depths.
Here the saccharine land has been slowly rotting away with the local community who harbour a secret. This makes our protagonist Hanna’s (Lisa Kay – Indian Summers) quest all the more troubling, as every move she makes to determine what happened to her son is quashed.
Leading the supporting cast is a stoic performance from an almost unrecognisable Martin Sacks (Wentworth, Blue Heelers) as John, who balances a fine line between help and hindrance to Hanna’s pursuit. And Genevieve Lemon as an equally tortured soul.
There are many elements that are at play here that warrant a far superior film than is ultimately delivered. The mystery and intrigue that surrounds the stunning scenery serves a great juxtaposition with a harrowing journey for the audience to travel down, but this also serves as its downfall, as often we are reduced to the murky depths of an at times stagnant quagmire of a narrative.
The problem is that the standards have been set high in recent years in Australia, with Hounds of Love, Rabbit, and Killing Ground that we’ve come to expect a more hardened journey that stimulates whilst also being smart and intriguing. Even though it’s a different medium Vicki Madden’s The Kettering Incident and The Gloaming have also set the precedence in this field, which admittedly she has more time to untangle the mystery in her tv show screenplays. As such, Sweet River leaves the audience wading through thick undergrowth which can be difficult viewing. Despite the struggle, there are moments where the story flows and the scenery swallows you into its serenity.
As we encroach the end of another decade I felt that it was best to review the best Australian horror films from the past ten years. Australia continues to make a significant impact on the genre with its unique antipodean perspective on the world and the darker side of humanity, which I’m hoping the following list lays testament to.
The Loved Ones (2010)
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Byrne may have only directed two feature films thus far including The Devil’s Candy which is equally brilliant and keeps this resident surgeon awaiting what he will serve up next. For the list though, I have chosen his debut feature, purely for the way it perfectly encapsulates the insane drive of love, revenge, and proms. The cast (Robin McLeavy and Xavier Samuel in particular) are amazing and deliver on point performances that rip the heart of romance apart.
The Tunnel (2011)
Directed by: Carlo Ledesma
Notable for its distribution method, through BitTorrent’s free internet downloading platform which provided the film to a much wider audience. The Tunnel is a compelling found footage film that is clearly produced by a highly-skilled and knowledgeable team who manage to wrangle out every ounce of tension and animosity through this low-budget feature that follows a camera crew investigating the disappearance of homeless people in the hidden tunnels beneath Sydney.
The Babadook (2013)
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Despite dividing the horror-loving audience, this film took out our own poll for Best Horror film 2013 and for good reason as it tackles a sometimes taboo subject in society: depression, grief, and children with learning difficulties. The beautiful blend of stop-animation and stark reality ignites the emotions on screen and ably played by Essie Davies and Noah Wiseman.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)
Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner
Take two brothers invested in a balls-to-the wall, action-packed zombie flick with pure bloody Aussie adrenaline pumping through its veins and you get this awesome fun ride in Wyrmwood. Such was its success on home soil and overseas that it’s little wonder that there has been talks of a sequel and/or tv series. If it does pick up, I’m sure it will be a glorious bloodbath of euphoria.
Some may argue that this is more of a crime thriller, but the sheer terror that Ashleigh Cummings portrays as kidnapped victim Vicki, who is tormented by a disturbing Stephen Curry as John White. His wife and lover (Emma Booth) hangs in the balance of right and wrong, as she longs to please her husband, but struggles to adhere to his desires. The trio of performers are equally astounding, propelling the drama forward to a climactic conclusion that is both deeply satisfying and harrowing.
Damien Power’s direction shines the dark light on outback Australia that is gut-wrenchingly painful to endure. As we witness the destruction of the family unit at the hands of two deranged individuals in German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane) the audience is left pondering what is left to fight for when faced with a battle for survival.
The Marshes (2017)
Directed by: Roger Scott
In another tale of survival, The Marshes casts three biologists in the remote marshlands of Australia in what can be described as an environmental horror. Roger Scott tackles a topical subject and projects it into an untapped landscape that deserves to be displayed in celluloid form. It’s a powerful way to promote the true horrors of the world through the eyes of fantastical horror blended with folklore and mythology, and I can only hope that this film gets a decent release on demand and in front of a wider audience to spread this message further.
The strength of Australian storytelling is clearly evident in this post-apocalyptic tale that began as a short film in Tropfest before being crafted into a feature length story. Its genius casting in Martin Freeman as the lead helps elevate the film for a wider audience, and is further enriched by the Australian landscape, a beautiful performance from Simone Landers, and a refreshing take on a tired genre that pulls at the heartstrings.
I’m a sucker for psychological horror and this narrative delightfully casts you down the rabbit hole as Maude (Adelaide Clemens) goes in search of her missing sister using that quirky psychic connection that often occurs in twins. This slow burn may not suit everyone’s tastes but I enjoyed the journey all the same, and believe Shanahan has a gift in accessing the recesses of a disconcerted mind.
What can be described as an Australian love song to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, Armstrong taps into a wild, strange, and deranged underworld. The off-beat, quirky humour is a perfect vessel to showcase Australia’s knack for macabre and fantastical stories and propels the audience through a delightful visual feast.
The deadliest game pitting women in a barren world to outwit, outlast each other using brutal methods throughout their ordeal. D’Aquino is not shy in delivering a bloody battle royale to cast his perception of the devastation that women are subjected to using the male gaze that society had come accustomed to. It’s a savage portrayal with plenty of punch to keep viewers squirming at the edge of their seat.
Rounding out our bloody dozen is this delightful tale of down and out loser, musician Dave who learns that he must grow up fast when he attends his nephews school excursion to a farm during a zombie outbreak. Forsythe handles kids, animals, and zombies with enough care and dedication that proves his a natural in his game which belies his sophomore attempt in the director’s chair. Filled with pain and laughter this is a cracker of a movie that is amplified by Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as kick-ass teacher, Miss Caroline.
Another directorial debut from Australia plays a part of our 31 days of horror.
This time, the guy behind the camera is Storm Ashwood (great name by the way) who leads his vision and marks another chapter in the growing genre from the land down under.
Ashwood’s vision takes the audience on a journey into a Lord of the Flies type of underworld where the kids have formed a tribe within a school setting and try to defend themselves against the various entities that reside within the rotten and dank domain.
Our guide on this journey through the land that strides between the living and the dead is Doctor Amy Wintercraig, who is so consumed with her profession looking after people in hospital that she neglected to attend to her own family.
When tragedy strikes, her son slips into a coma following a drowning accident leading Amy to become consumed with grief and detached from the ‘real world’.
In an attempt to take her own life she winds up in the School of the damned where she attempts to find her son again and bring him back home.
The story is a compelling one with Amy coming to terms with potentially losing her son and is played with remarkable strength by Megan Drury.
It was also rewarding to see Nicholas Hope (Ash vs Evil Dead, Event Zero, Picnic at Hanging Rock TV series) albeit briefly as voice of reason, Dr Wang.
The fact that most of the cast are kids and that they are all incredibly believable in their roles is a testament to Ashwood’s direction and that he isn’t afraid to tackle one of film productions more troubling areas.
Ashwood certainly has a visual style in his direction that seemingly feels part Hellraiser, part Labyrinth, and a trickle of 80s to he raw and untapped edges that ground this movie and give it an unexpected appeal that belies it’s low budget. It’s this vision that is the glue to the movie where every surface seems to leak or ooze through the ceilings, walls, and floor.
All we see is a dark analogy and constant reminder of why Amy has found her way there anyway.
If there is one niggle to be had, it’s in the audio. The choice of production music and sound effects feel low budget and breaks you out of the narrative on occasion as it smacks of made-for-tv movies of the late 70s and early 80s (and not in a good way).
It’s a shame as the movie has some interesting concepts and Ashwood is clearly a storyteller with a creative eye.
It feels a little harsh to be so downbeat on an otherwise well crafted movie from a storyteller with a unique vision but the audio is such a killer for me and pulls you back to the surface, ripping you away from the dark and delightful playground that Ashwood has created.
Celebrating 40 years this year is this little known gem of a movie.
Scribed by Everett De Roche, who produced some cracking screenplays for classic ozploitation flicks such as Patrick (which also celebrates 40 years this year), RoadGames, Razorback, and Snapshot. (The latter of which is due for a DVD release in April)
The film centres on a couple who are going on a camping trip for one last attempt to reconnect. As the story unfolds though, the couples marriage problems are the least of their concerns as director Colin Eggleston crafts an intricate tale of ecology.
At first it would appear that we are facing a typical story of a couple forced to unite against some strange, psychopathic local, which has been predominant in recent Australian movies like Wolf Creek or Killing Ground.
Instead we see Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia’s (Briony Behets) blatant neglect and destructive behaviour towards animals and the environment become so paramount that Nature fights back.
Now, we’re not talking about some trumped up science fiction narrative like M.Night Shyalaman’s The Happening, but a well structured slow-burner of a movie that eats away at the core of what is left of the lead characters humanity.
Some may feel that the characters grate too much and admittedly their flaws as people can find it difficult to connect with them, but it only makes their plight when things turn dire all the more pleasurable as you seriously hope that they receive their comeuppance.
They are so caught up in their own lives that they fail to see the bigger picture around them and the tangled web of paranormal and paranoia that surrounds them with every fateful action they take.
The pace may turn you off as well as wishing that Nature acts more swiftly in dispatching the characters, but stick with it as the labyrinth of despair unfolds.
It’s a cracker of a movie which has as much relevance today as it did back in 1978 about the world and humanities destructiveness.
Steven Kastrissios takes us deep into modern Albania for his sophomore outing in the director’s chair.
Paving his way into the horror scene, Kastrissios turned heads with his debut feature, The Horseman, partly for hits ‘extreme violence’ but also for his ability to not shy away from the harsh society that is infused throughout the films narrative.
With Bloodlands, the subject of vengeance is once again at the forefront of Kastrissios storytelling, a subject that seems close to his heart.
In this instance, we are faced with a family struggling to make ends meet and with conflicting interests pulling at their innermost desires. It is only when confronted with a blood feud set by a witch and her mysterious clan that the family must unite and stand together against a common enemy in a brutal fight for survival.
Recently Bloodlands took out 3 awards at A Night of Horror Film Festival for Best Foreign Language Film; Best Australian Film; and Best Australian Director, and one can see why as it this tale of mythology and highly tense drama is a refreshing sight against the anarchy and gore that has been presented of late on our screens.
Cinematographer, Leander Ljarja beautifully captures the Albanian landscape, and Kastrissios slow burn direction allows the tension to build steadily to keep the viewer gripped to its gritty conclusion.
It just feels a shame that the characters feel so two-dimensional in places and this makes the strong concept and themes lost in what would have been thoroughly engaging piece had more care and attention centred on this area.
As such, there are no real shock moments, and the path becomes a predictable one as a result.
A slow-burn horror that is reminiscent of The Hills Have Eyes in tone, but is embedded with Albanian culture, which adds a new flavour to the horror scene. A rewarding watch despite some character flaws.
WHEN I first heard about the Horror Movie Campout earlier this year, I instantly fell in love with this notion of a festival dedicated to like minded individuals all eager to have their appetite for all things blood and gore.
I had to be there and immerse myself amongst the horde and delight in the horror that lay before me.
So, I have to thank the organisers of this event for setting the stage for what was a truly awesome night ahead.
As you can see from the video below, I was pumped.
AUSTRALIANS HAVE A CERTAIN knack for delivering successful horror films throughout the ages.
One only need to look at the likes of Wake In Fright, Razorback, Saw, Wolf Creek, to name but a few to see how influential this country is at producing Horror gems.
So, when I heard that the Cairnes brothers, Cameron and Colin were returning behind the camera following their hugely delightful bloody romp, 100 Bloody Acres, I eagerly anticipated where this new direction would take them.
At first glimpse, the premise behind Scare Campaign sounds awesome.
A TV prank show that delights in scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting participants only to come a cropper when they prank the wrong person.
All the right ticking points are in place for what should be a great movie.
There’s an old mental asylum that hosts the location of the prank itself which adds the perfect sense of eeriness needed for atmosphere.
There’s the girl with a heart, Emma, who cares for the people being pranked, perhaps a little too naively, and played brilliantly by Meegan Warner.
There’s the absolute tool of a guy, whose arrogance and lust for success which can only lead to ruin, Marcus. Again played really well by Ian Meadows.
Add a psycho on the loose chasing down our victims and you’ve got a good chemistry to play with.
So why did this movie not elevate itself into the mainstream?
Instead it slipped under the radar a little with very little impact at all.
The problem that I see is that the premise in itself.
It’s a prank show where the audience are supposed to be in on the joke, so they are already expecting or suspecting that all is not as it seems.
So when the reveals occur along the way, we (the audience) have already guessed the outcome.
I did read one review that proclaimed that we don’t see the twists coming, but I completely disagree with this statement.
The twists are evident and it’s a shame, but you need to be extremely clever to pull off the storytelling device that the Cairnes brothers were going for.
It’s a tough ask and in my opinion they fall short in this area.
Likewise the menace isn’t as impactful as you hoped it would be.
The introduction of the Masked Freaks at the beginning holds a lot of promise and if more focus were aimed at this tribe, then we might have been in for a genuine scare.
The masks look fucking fantastic and the special effects team are pulling some crazy effects in here that it’s a joy to watch each character face a unique and grisly demise.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom despite my negative declaration.
The film is enjoyable to watch and if you allow yourself to be taken on that journey, the cast (including the supporting players, notable standouts being Sigrid Thornton and Olivia De Jonge) and the SFX allow for a fun and gore-filled story to unfold.
So if you did instinctively skip this movie based on initial feedback from critics or lack of cinema screenings, or if it merely slipped you by, I would recommend watching it. It’s a far cry better than some movies out there and deserves a lot more attention than it actually received.
So here at Surgeons of Horror we thought that we would look across the years at the movies that helped shape the horror movie genre in our Southern Land.
So without further adieu, here’s our definitive list, let us know if you agree.
Night of Fear (1973) Dubbed the first Australian film of the renaissance, (and closely resembling Texas Chain Saw Massacre in style, released another 2 years later) you can see why this movie is well respected among horror movie lovers.
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) The legendary director Peter Weir would debut with this fantastic comedy horror that he also wrote. Set in the fictional town of Paris where the towns inhabitants forage off the remains of car accidents, the movie has established something of a cult following.
Long Weekend (1978) One of my favourites on this list and fittingly released on the year that I was born. Long Weekend wasn’t initially well received upon its initial release, but has a strong message from director Colin Eggleston, where nature fights back on a disrespectful couple. It has since been remade in 2008.
Patrick (1978) The first of two films by Richard Franklin in our list, this science fiction horror is often cited by fans of the genre. Part of the Ozploitation movie scene, Patrick tells the story of a comatose boy with psychic powers.
Alison’s Birthday (1981) It’s got all the right ingredients for a horror movie, with ouija boards, spirits from the beyond, demonic possessions, and that killer ending. All good reasons why this independent movie makes the list.
Roadgames (1981) It’s the movie most noted more recently because of its vocal nod from Quentin Tarantino. Starring Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis it follows a truck driver and a hitch hiker who take it upon themselves to track down a serial killer on the loose. Oh and yet another soundtrack from Brian May.
Razorback (1984) Australia’s creature feature and our very own Jaws movie albeit about a wild boar on the loose. Say all you like about it, but this is a classic in its own right.
Bloodmoon (1990) This slasher film may have come late to the Ozploitation, but such was its impact and not necessarily in a good way that it nestles amongst some great titles here purely for its shocking comedy.
So bad, it’s positively good.
And features music from Brian May.
Again this might not necessarily be a good thing.
Body Melt (1993) The influence of Peter Jacksons early work is evident to see in this satirical horror. It’s got gore to the max and delights in every possible way.
Saw (2003) Yet another Australian horror film that would ignite a genre with horror porn, which some don’t have the stomach for. In this instance it generated a horror icon in Jigsaw with its glorious deadly traps and launched the careers of both James Wan and Leigh Whannel. It also spawned a massive franchise with a success that only falls short of being the best in the entry by The Friday the 13thmovies. All that could change though come the release of the next instalment, Saw: Legacy this year.
Undead (2003) This movie should be better than it is, and goes all guns blazing in the first third of the film before losing the plot entirely. Film critic Roger Ebert to say it’s so bad that it’s bad, but despite its flaws, the film still resonates and is a bit of fun at the end of the day. And it did launch the careers of the Sperig brothers, who have gone on to direct bigger movies with a lot more fan fare.
Wolf Creek (2005) Inspired by the afore-mentioned Roadgames, director Greg McLean has made a strong name for himself in the horror genre with movies such as Rogue, Wolf Creek 2 and the eagerly anticipated The Belko Experiment. Part of its appeal was capitalising on the daunting and dangerous world of the Australian Outback and made Mick Taylor on of modern horror movies most glorious villains thanks to John Jarratt’s chilling performance.
Lake Mungo (2008) One of a couple of movies on our list to adopt the doco style of storytelling, Lake Mungo received fairly positive reviews of a family coming to terms with the loss of their daughter, hinged on a supernatural component. It’s a slow film but worth the wait for its gripping climax.
The Horseman (2009) A revenge thriller with violence dialled to the extreme and may not be everyone’s taste. Personally though, I feel that this film speaks to the fringes of human emotion, evoking rage, heartbreak and empathy all in the space of its 96 minute running time.
The Loved Ones (2010) Sean Byrne is still a director to keep an eye on and I for one can’t wait to see his follow up Devil’s Candy. His debut feature though would gain a huge following with its gender swap of a damoiselle in distress and a female killer played by the delightful Robin McLeavy.
The Tunnel (2011) The second movie to adopt the doco style of storytelling, but through the medium of found footage horror.
The Tunnel shook up the movie industry with its new approach to distribution, allowing viewers to buy frames from the movie as a means to raise the quota to cover the budget and leave room for a little profit.
It was a business model that was both brave and rewarding for the producers, but more importantly, the film itself seemed to echo that sentiment.
It’s a bold movie that keeps you hooked as a camera crew delve into the hidden tunnels beneath the city of Sydney only to find more than they bargained for.
The Babadook (2013) One of the more recent movies to make the list and one that has the Surgeons sitting on both sides of the fence. Jennifer Kent’s debut feature deserves the recognition though as this psychological horror starring Essie Davis tackles a strong subject matter and tells it in a unique fashion.
Wyrmwood (2014) Rounding out our list is this balls-to-the-wall bloody fantastic roller coaster of a movie. There is nothing predictable about this movie about a zombie horde let loose. Rumours are abound that there is a sequel in the works too.