As an Australian, I am often disappointed to see great local films go unnoticed by a wider international community. Our local flora and fauna is unique and strange thanks to our isolation and our films – especially horror films are no exception to this rule.
The bleak, empty and unforgiving backdrop of the Aussie Outback creates the perfect setting for our own blend of harsh horror and disturbing chills. With the recent “Wolf Creek 2” poster making its way online and the release date creeping ever closer I look back at ten Australian horror films you can’t miss.
Note: This list doesn’t necessarily represent the BEST Australian horror films, simply the ones I feel no horror fan should miss.
10. ROGUE (2007)
One of the better “wild animal eats lots of attractive tourists” movies, Rogue centres on a scenic boat tour in the Northern Territory Kakadu national park which goes awry after the boat is attacked and damaged by the massive saltwater crocodile aptly named… Rogue. The poor tourists must then fight the elements, each other and the giant beast as they fight for survival. This film is made all the more terrifying with the number of fatal croc attacks on the rise the past years and the fact that Rogue was actually based on a real saltwater crocodile! The croc in question was a 5.1 metre (16 ft) monster called ‘Sweetheart’ who was responsible for a number of attacks on fishing and tourist boats throughout the 70’s.
9. VAN DIEMENS LAND (2009)
Another Australian film based on a true story, this is horror of the human, rather than the supernatural type. After escaping from the Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement in Tasmania, Irish convict Alexander Pearce and seven other convicts quickly discovered that survival in the harsh Tasmanian wilderness is harder than they ever imagined. After 15 days the men were starving and drew lots to decide who would be killed for food and from there it turned into a grisly spectacle of betrayal, murder and cannibalism. The film itself is superbly shot and acted, and the long, eerie shots of the cold Tasmanian wilderness coupled with a chilling score makes this one worth watching.
8. RAZORBACK (1984)
Well – where to even begin with this. I heard one reviewer once call it “Jaws on land and with a giant pig” and that pretty well sums it up. I’m not going to say anything along the lines of this being a great movie, it’s not – but it is a LOT of fun. Combining an interesting premise with lots of cheesy 80’s special effects Razorback sees our giant porcine friend tearing apart cars and buildings to ravage those inside and what it lacks it technical mastery it more than makes up for in pure cheesy enjoyment. When I first saw this film it was in a room full of slightly drunk horror lovers, screaming and laughing at every scene and I think that is the perfect way to view this movie.
7. SAW (2003-4)
We all remember the original Saw film – the one with an amazing story, amazing performances and a twist ending which legitimately shocked audiences. Before it devolved into a series of ways to show human misery and suffering it was a nine and a half minute short film made in 2003 used to shop around to studios for funding to make into a feature length film. Finally getting picked up by Lionsgate the short was extended into the very first feature length Saw film, and the one which launched a franchise.
6. UNDEAD (2003)
A zombie comedy from Michael & Peter Spierig – though certainly not of the calibre of Shaun of the Dead it is still a delightful and charming film about a meteorite strike which turns a small outback town into zombie central. Well received by critics and regarded for its wicked sense of humour and introduction of “Cinemas first ever triple barrelled shotgun” this film perfectly captures both the bizarre style of Australian cinema and the unique Aussie humour. Think Shaun of the Dead meets Evil Dead 2 and you won’t be far from the craziness of this film.
5. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)
Peter Weir’s unforgettable masterpiece of Australian cinema is (allegedly) based on the real life unsolved disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher in the Aussie outback. Even with its age, this still ranks as one of the most unsettling, eerie and downright chilling Australian films ever made. The film works so well as Weir, like the real life mystery the film is allegedly based on, gives you no real ending – concluding with the disturbing and creepy notion that 4 people just disappeared into thin air with no explanation given or found, and with the vast emptiness of the Outback caught so perfectly by Weir, you walk away with the unsettling notion that perhaps that is exactly what happened.
4. LONG WEEKEND (1978)
Wilderness Horror! A cocky suburbanite couple decide to go camping to try and repair their rocky marriage, and instead wind up taking their frustrations out on the wilderness around them. It goes well until Mother Nature decides She’s had enough and the wilderness begins to fight back! Never before, and never since has the Australian outback been so ominous and fatal – with the actual landscape around them being cast as the “monster” Australia itself becomes the horror – and by god is it done well. On paper this sounds like the amusing premise to a schlocky B-Movie, on film though it is anything but. . I cannot recommend this movie enough.
3. THE LOVED ONES (2010)
A movie which has been described equally as “a masterpiece of Aussie cinema” and “a film which offers nothing but sick, gruesome imagery” and which inspired a real life murder by a man so obsessed with this film he acted out many of the scenes on his best friend, the Loved Ones has divided audiences since its release. The film sees Brett (Twilights Xavier Samuel, don’t judge him on Twilight though – his performance in this film is ASTOUNDING) abducted and submitted to various tortures and brutalities by jealous and psychotic Lola (Robin McLeavy) and her “Daddy” who may just have more than fatherly love for his daughter… This film certainly is bleak and unforgiving in its portrayal of the tortures and violence committed on Brett, but with solid directing and strong performances, this masterpiece of Aussie horror somehow captures the picturesque scenery and the beauty of the outback, even amidst the carnage onscreen.
2. WOLF CREEK (2005)
Wolf Creek – even without the creepy, serial killing John Jarrat (who has the creepiest laugh in Aussie horror) the Wolf Creek Crater is one creepy (and totally real) place. Add in three backpackers, one serial killer and a night of sheer brutality and terror and you have one of the slickest, most disturbing Aussie films made. What makes this film more unsettling is its resemblance to the real life “Backpacker Murders” in which seven young foreign tourists and backpackers were tortured and killed by Ivan Milat during the 90’s. Add to that an eerie musical score composed by recording the haunting notes of rusted metal cables rubbing together in the wind and the atmosphere and sheer terror created by director Greg McLean makes this one almost impossible to beat.
1. SNOWTOWN (Also known as: The Snowtown Murders -2011)
What is it with Australian horror being based on unforgettable crimes and gruesome murders? In the case of Snowtown it’s not just based on, it IS the story. A retelling of the absolutely horrifying “Body in the Barrel” murders of the 90’s this controversial film is superbly well made, with an astonishing performance from Daniel Henshal and incredible directing from Justin Kurzel it all comes together to create one of the greatest, most chilling and all round disturbing Australian horror films of all time. For the families of the victims however, it served as a painful reminder of the atrocities with the film coming out barely a decade after the last murder was committed. Not even Saw or Wolf Creek could match the level of controversy this film garnered, with one popular critic stating: “I watched this film so you don’t have to”.
However for one unattached or unfamiliar with the terror the murder-spree created, or the horror felt as the details of what took place emerged, the review by critic Fiona Williams is closer to the mark. “Snowtown sidesteps the gore – mostly – to focus instead on the circumstances that enabled the atrocities to occur…It’s a gripping, discomforting watch.”
Either way, it’s one of the greatest Aussie films I have ever seen.
With six of the ten films on this list either being inspired by, or inspiring, true events it isn’t going to do wonders for Aussie Tourism, however it is a wonderful celebration of Australian Cinema, and the many and varied ways you can die a miserable death while on our shores! So what do you think fellow horror fanatics? Did I miss your favourite film? Think the list should be rearranged? Sound off in the comments and have your say.