More than a few trips down under have likely been inspired by the Movie’s depiction of this green and golden land. Ever since cinema-goers gasped at the turn of the century as they watched Ned go down guns blazing in The Story of the Kelly Gang, Australian film has been enticing travellers with panoramas of untamed wilderness buzzing in dusty magic, charmingly unkempt rogues with smiles as quick as their fists, and golden sands lapped by perfect blue waves.
Some filmmakers however prefer to take these tropes and twist and tear at them some until the remoteness, the dreadful beauty of the Australian wilderness, and the rugged free spiritedness of its people are transformed into something rather more unpleasant.
The scariest Australian horror films: 10-6
Who brings a children's book called Mister Babadook, rife with illustrations of toothy terrors peering around bedroom doors, into their home? The answer to that is left deliciously vague in this slow-building, expertly unsettling horror film, but it's probably safe to assume that it wasn't the broken family at the heart of the story. Amelia (Essie Davis), a tired-looking caregiver working in a nursing home, grapples with single motherhood in the wake of a catastrophic car accident that killed her husband while he was driving her to the maternity ward. Samuel (Noah Wiseman), the surviving child, now six, is stuck in his shrill phase, has a hyperactive imagination and is obsessed with building weapons. These are precisely the wrong people to be reading dark bedtime stories, yet mysteriously, there's the book on the shelf. And there goes your peaceful night's sleep. Maybe the better question is: Who thinks up a film like The Babadook? Actress-turned-debuting-feature-director Jennifer Kent has the narrative chutzpah to show her entire hand in the pop-up story and then make us squirm as foretold events come true. Even more impressively, Kent doesn't shy away from Amelia's off-putting mental state, an internal battle between parental love and palpable resentment. (Young Sam will always be a reminder of her marital loss.)
Everyone knows that Australia is home to some pretty nasty critters: crocs, funnelwebs, great whites, dropbears. The ways in which nature can bite you on the arse are as numerous and varied as they are well documented. Something that visitors might not be expecting to have to worry about however are giant homicidal pigs.
Thankfully, Melbourne-born director Russell Mulcahy found time in between directing some of the 80’s most famous and campest music clips to address this lack in essential outback survival knowledge and cook up this fun and visually startling cult classic. Surprisingly smart for a film about a boar the size of a combi-van leading a squealing horde of pigs in a vendetta against the local populace.
Body Melt (1993)
Australia’s entry into the very small and very sloppy ‘melt’ genre. Whilst these films were primarily a (thoroughly commendable) excuse for the special effects guys to see just how much latex and corn syrup they can shovel into a film before someone calls them on going that little bit too far over the line, Body Melt manages to keep the viewer entertained during the parts where Melbourne suburbanites aren’t turning into puddles of colourful gloop.
It’s maniacally funny, has a killer electronic soundtrack and gets in many a dig in at the image obsessed, health gimmick fixated culture of the pill popping early nineties. If you have a strong enough stomach this film is worth tracking down even if it’s only to watch Ramsay Street’s Harold Bishop gleefully throwing himself into the madness as a psychotic doctor.
Bad Boy Bubby (1993)
A film to make you glad that you decided to leave Adelaide and come to Melbourne, Bad Boy Bubby tells the twisted tale of a 35-year-old man taking his first steps into the outside world after having been confined to his room for his entire life by his abusive mother.
Bubby’s darkly funny and oddly touching odyssey through the city of churches involves incest, murder and blasphemy, but it’s the scenes of him ‘playing’ with his pet cat that really got people worked up. I’m pretty sure that isn’t an animatronic kitty, and would be willing to bet that the words ‘no animals were hurt in the making of this film’ aren’t to be found anywhere in the credits...
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
As if rampaging bikies, killer fauna and Harold Bishop with a handgun wasn’t enough to worry about, the villain here is a million year old volcanic rock formation. The dreamy feel and period setting of this film, which tells the story of the unexplained disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during an outing to the eponymous rock, belies a creepiness that settles over the imagination and is difficult to shake.
Whilst the supernatural is never explicitly alluded to, the film does an excellent job of anthropomorphising Hanging Rock into a malignant, manipulative entity capable of stirring a weird fascination and repulsion in the impressionable young minds of those who wander too deep amongst its crevices and phallic peaks.
Like the novel it was based upon, the film ultimately offers no real explanation of what happened to the girls, and is all the more disturbing for it.
The scariest Australian horror films: 5-1
Dead-End Drive In (1986)
Lawless youth running amok and daring escapes from unusual prisons are two things that filmmakers in the 80’s apparently couldn’t get enough of, and this film combines both in a masterstroke of celluloid genius.
Problem teenagers are rounded up into a drive-in and left to their own devices. Attempts to keep them occupied with fast food, trashy television and Hunters and Gatherers songs inevitably go tits up and the movie lot is soon looking like an adolescent version of Mad Max. Rather surprisingly based on a short story by esteemed Victorian novelist Peter Carey.
Turkey Shoot (1982)
Prisoners are hunted down and creatively murdered for entertainment in a bleak dystopian future. No, it’s not The Running Man, it’s a low budget but imaginative, bat-shit insane exploitation film notable for it’s ludicrously over the top gore and sheer number of Australian soap actors and actresses.
What it lacks in Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jesse Ventura cage matches it more than makes up for in crossbow wielding lesbians, severed limbs, top-hat wearing wolfmen and gratuitous scenes of 70’s bush in the shower block. Possessing the same crazy genius as Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, it makes modern day grindhouse imitations such as Machete and Planet Terror seem like anaemic shadows in comparison.
The Reef (2010)
Sharks: Australia has ’em in spades (those famous underwater scenes in Jaws were filmed off Adelaide, FYI) but it was only in 2010 that someone decided to make an Australian stranded-yacht crew-getting-picked-off-by-a-great-white movie.
The characters in Andrew Trauki’s film are as shallow as the water they’re frantically paddling in isn’t, but the actors (including Gyton Grantley) are good enough to make you feel their terror as the monster fish stalks and devours them one by one. Welcome to the famous Barrier Reef!
Wolf Creek (2005)
The bleak documentary feel, the senselessness of the slayings and the everyman mundanity of the antagonist in Greg McLean’s shocking debut feature set the worms of doubt squirming in the brains of many a backpacker planning a road trip through the Australian outback. Nicely touching on themes explored in films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Jindabyne, it drops hints that the land itself holds a mysterious and not necessarily benevolent power over those that walk upon it.
It is also responsible for tainting a much loved scene in cinema: here the words “that’s not a knife...” aren’t followed by an affable bloke showing some New York street thugs who the boss is, but rather an affable bloke giving an explanation, then demonstration, of what a ‘head on a stick’ is.
All too believable in its depiction of the horrific Snowtown murders of the 1990s, Justin Kurzel’s film has had viewers all over the country asking, is it too soon?
By showing how popular and likeable John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) was, and yet how utterly without remorse he went about torturing and murdering anyone he took dislike to, the film puts a question mark above the head of every seemingly friendly ocker bloke the unsuspecting visitor should happen to meet. Gourmet travellers, beware: in South Australia, it’s not just the wine that ferments in barrels.