Let’s talk about Australian horror movies and the subgenre affectionately dubbed “Ozsploitation”: There are actually films produced in Australia that are virtually indistinguishable from Hollywood genre offerings, movies like Saw and Daybreakers. For the purpose of this list, however, I’m highlighting films that weren’t simply made “Down Under”, but films that were produced by Australians, starring Australians, and set in Australia. With its vast and hostile Outback, uncharted Tasmanian jungles, and shark-infested waters, Australia presents a myriad of horrors that are uniquely its own.
Throw a some shrimp on the barbie, crack open a can of Fosters, and enjoy this list Australia’s best horror movies, mates!
The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall |
Expect to see The Babadook mentioned a lot as “Best Horror of 2014” Lists begin hitting the net over the next few weeks. This story of a single mother, her rambunctious son, and a dark and nebulous presence with a sinister agenda is one of the scariest films ever produced. Believe me, it takes a lot to creep out this jaded old gore-hound, but The Babadook instills a sense of dread that’s physically palpable. I felt like that little boy, cowering in a corner, as evil forces beyond my understanding manifest around me. In addition to being unnerving as hell, The Babadook is a poignant and intelligent exploration of grief and depression. This film is a definite “Must See”.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Director: Greg Mclean
Writer: Greg Mclean
Stars: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi |
Trivia Time: Mick Taylor, the sadistic fiend of the Outback in Wolf Creek, is based in part on real-life Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. During the 1990’s, Milat killed no fewer than seven people, all between the ages of 19 and 22 years; 5 were foreign backpackers who came to Australia on vacation. To prepare for the part of Mick, actor John Jarratt sought to emulate Milat as much as possible; to this end, he subjected himself to long periods of isolation in the Outback and even went weeks without bathing. The sign at the entrance of Mick’s lair reads “Navithalim Mining Co”; “Navithalim” spelt backwards reads: Milhat Ivan.
Acolytes elevates stereotypical “Ozploitation” to the level of High Art, in no small part due to the incredible talent of the film’s young cast; it follows a trio of high school kids who try to blackmail a serial killer into becoming their personal hit man, initiating an unnerving game of cat-and-mouse. An unfortunate love-triangle adds additional levels of complexity and intensity in a film that delves into themes of abuse and voyeurism. A Third Act twist is both shocking and devastating.
Dying Breed (2008)
In addition to being one of Australia’s best horror movies, Dying Breed is also one of the greatest films ever about cannibalism—and proof that isolated, inbred communities of Hillbillies are not a strictly American phenomena. A quartet of adventurers and conservationists in Tasmania cross paths with descendants of a flesh-eating 19th century fugitive called “The Pie Man”, a reimagining of real-life cannibal and prison escapee Alexander Pearce. Dying Breed will please fans of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel, but it’s something altogether unique and terrifying, with one of the scariest “Creepy Kids” in all of horror.
Lake Mungo (2008)
Director: Joel Anderson
Writer: Joel Anderson
Stars: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe |
Lake Mungo is one of the most effective horror “Mocumentaries” ever produced; everything about it feels real, making it absolutely effective and psychologically unnerving. When 16-year-old Alice Palmer drowns while on vacation, her family begins to suspect that her death was foretold. In the months that follow, dark secrets are revealed as clues materialize in what appears to be proof of Spirit Photography. While the entire film is chilling, the final few minutes hit like a gut punch. Intelligent, compelling, and eerily beautiful, Lake Mungo chronicles one family’s extremely unique grieving process.
The Loved Ones (2009)
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Stars: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine |
Black comedy and gruesome horror collide in The Loved Ones; this film is not for the squeamish sporting FX that are absolutely disgusting—very hyper-realistic depictions of extreme mutilation. When young Brent declines a prom invite from mousey Lola, he sets off an unimaginably twisted chain of events. The tortures Brent endures go far beyond the suffering of your average horror movie victim, and just when it seems like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they do—much worse. Jilted Lola and her doting father make one of the most unsettling and deranged duos in all of horror. Fans of extreme horror should consider The Loved Ones another absolute “Must See”.
Primal is the kind of movie I refer to as “Bubblegum Horror” but I mean it as a legitimate compliment. Truthfully, there’s not much in this film that you haven’t seen before, but it’s got great pacing and a slick presentation. Primal might seem a bit goofy when held up against hardcore “Ozsploitation” like Wolf Creek, but sometimes you just want a violent good time that won’t necessarily devastate you emotionally. This doesn’t mean the film is shallow or sterile; it’s actually very controversial with poignant examinations of gender dynamics amongst a small isolated group under extreme stress. It’s also a feminist nightmare featuring some sloppy, nearly-obscene Lovcraftian monster-rape.
The Reef (2010)
Director: Andrew Traucki
Writers: Andrew Traucki, James M. Vernon (script editor)
Stars: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering |
The Reef has a lot in common with Open Water: Both films follow unlucky sea-farers who find themselves separated from their boats; both use real sharks in filming as opposed to mechanical or CGI versions, and; both are based on true stories, in this case, events that befell Ray Boundy in 1983 when his yacht capsized on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Both films also examine how extreme stress can fracture even the strongest of relationships when people are forced to face their mortality. As far as maintaining an extreme level of suspense, The Reef will have you on edge, pulse racing, palms sweating for its entirety without a single moment of relief.
Caught Inside (2010)
“Caught Inside” is a surfing term: When a surfer is paddling out and can’t get past the breaking surf to the safer part of the ocean in order to find a wave to ride, he or she is “caught inside”. Caught Inside is also an Australian psychological horror movie where the title takes on a sinister double meaning as a metaphor for rape. Sexual tension and machismo prove a dangerous mix on a surfing charter fittingly called “The Hedonist”. The water below may be teeming with sharks, but the scariest monster here is the psychotic human at the helm.
The Snowtown Murders (2011)
Based on an actually crime spree that shocked the nation (dubbed the Bodies-in-Barrels-Murders), the Australian film The Snowtown Murders is the most arresting and disturbing film on this list. Between the sex abuse, animal abuse, and realistic portrayal of abject poverty in the community of Adelaide, it’s impossible to experience this film without being profoundly affected. Daniel Henshall is brilliant as the personable and manipulative sociopath John Bunting and Lucas Pittaway is gut-wrenching as his submissive protégé Jamie Vlassakis. Straight up, most mainstream movie-goes simply won’t have the stomach for a film like The Snowtown Murders. Of those who can handle the brutality, many won’t have the patience to take this movie all the way to the end. Those who do will never forget the experience—though they may wish they could.
While Australia and New Zealand were both colonized by the British, geographical and indigenous factors make for vast environmental and cultural differences. While the films of New Zealand often find themselves on lists of Australian cinema, I believe it’s unfair and insensitive to lump the two countries together. I’d love to do a Top 10 list of horror movies from New Zealand but, unfortunately, their cinematic output is rather limited and under-promoted in all genres (the most obvious exception being the Lord of the Rings films).
As a sort of “added-bonus” to this list of Australian horror, I’d like to include a couple of New Zealand’s most impressive offerings while acknowledging that both countries are unique entities that, in most cases, need to be regarded as such.
Perfect Creature (2006)
Director: Glenn Standring
Writer: Glenn Standring
Stars: Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows, Leo Gregory |
Perfect Creature is an epic yet tragically under-known and/or underrated horror movie; it takes place in a dark and atmospheric alternate reality where immortals with fangs drink the blood of humans. Yet this is a world where the word “Vampire” does not exist; in Perfect Creature, a “Brotherhood” of super-humans guides and protects a society that literally worships them by “donating” blood as an act of sacrament. These monastic aristocrats would never kill, but they do require the blood for sustenance. In a subversion of the standard parasitic dynamic between vampires and humans, Perfect Creature offers us a co-existence based on respect and symbiosis. Writer/director Glenn Standring has created an absolutely singular innovation in the somewhat played-out Vampire subgenre (essentially desecrated by the Twilight Franchise).
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse |
One of Peter Jackson’s lesser known works is also Kate Winslet’s debut film; Heavenly Creatures is based the notorious Parker-Hulme murder case that rocked New Zealand in 1954. What begins as a heart-warming (if off-kilter) friendship between teenage outcasts becomes something altogether more sinister when two girls descend into an elaborate fantasy world. Sexual awakenings lead to additional levels of unhealthy obsession and paranoia, as the duo begins fearing that the rest of the world is against them. A climactic act of brutal desperation proves just how unstable and dangerous a teenage mind can be.
Honorable Mentions from New Zealand: Dead Alive, The Frighteners, and Housebound.
Did I miss your favorite horror movie from Down Under? Sound off in the Comments Section, mates!
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Acolytes to me, was too slow and not that effective. Loved most of these other films on the list.
Yeah, Acolytes is slow-burn for sure, but the ending was such a shocker and the back-story o sexual abuse is heartbreaking. I was really impressed.
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I was thinking of doing a “That’s Kind of a Horror Movie” article on Heavenly Creatures. I consider that solidly Peter Jackson’s best movie.
I’m thinking of doing a list of Crime Thrillers for Horror Fans and Heavenly Creatures has def got a spot.