Australia has a short, but eventful history of horror film production. Although staples of the genre were popular with Australian audiences during the gold and silver ages of early horror cinema, they didn’t see home-grown horror until the 1970s. The culture around which early Australian horror was created is complex – and is somewhat reflected in the output of scary films from the country. We invite you to grab some fine Australian wine, tuck into some lamb (apparently it’s the national dish!), and perhaps check out this Australian online casino as you learn about horror from down under.
The 1970s saw the birth of filmmaking for Australia as a whole, largely due to increased support for the arts through government funding. It’s first horror, of sorts, was the satirical The Cars That Ate Paris – a horror-comedy that drew on the tropes of imported B-Movie productions from the states. Directed by Peter Weir, it tells the story of a town where the majority of residents appear to be profiting from road traffic accidents. In a climate where home made horror was a new idea, it struggled to find an audience. A confusing marketing campaign, which couldn’t decide if it was a horror, a comedy, or an art film didn’t help.
It wasn’t long until horror caused a stir. Night of Fear may have been the first true Australian horror movie, but was also the first to cause outrage and face criticism and censorship. The film is extremely similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, although Night of Fear was actually released two years earlier. The Australian Broadcasting Commission actually in part funded the film, which was banned shortly after release by the censorship board, only to have the ban lifted the same year. After it was permitted for release, it did enjoy a cult following due to it’s notoriety; particularly at Drive-In movie theaters. The unpolished slasher flick used the landscape and environment of Australia to it’s advantage, creating a feeling of isolation for it’s unnamed characters. Audiences would discover this feature would come to define the country’s horror output in the decades ahead.
The untamed, harsh environments were further demonstrated in Western-horror Inn of the Damned, and Long Weekend. The latter in particular came with the focus on characters who disrespect nature, only to have animals and the environment they have destroyed seek revenge. This concept was to become one of the defining characteristics of Australian horror films. In the 1980’s, Aussie filmmakers began to bring other staples of the genre to their creations as support for independent filmmaking continued. Australia would in this decade see it’s first vampire movie Thirst (1979), stalk and slash Dangerous Game (1987), post-apocalyptic Dead-End Drive In (1986) and monster movie Razorback (1984). Neighbouring New Zealand joined the party in this era, with the cult classic Braindead from Peter Jackson becoming one of the most bizarre horror films of the era. Thanks to it’s director graduation to much more high profile projects, this early film from Jackson has gained a cult status for it’s over the top gore and comedic violence.
The era of modern Australian horror perhaps began with Wolf Creek in 2005. Heavily inspired by the horror-meets-nature ideas of earlier films, it follows backpackers who are taken hostage by a deranged killer in the Australian outback. Made with a budget of only $1.4 million, the film screened at Sundance and saw mainstream cinema release in it’s home country, the UK and the US. Prey was released in 2009 and explored the aboriginal heritage of the country and the misfortune that occurs when it is disrespected in further nature-horror tradition. The Pack followed in 2015, an action-packed horror movie with the villains being a pack of terrifying wild dogs hunting down a family. However by far the most successful Aussie horror in recent years is The Babadook. The independent film, and directorial debut from Jennifer Kent, was a breakout hit that saw release outside it’s native country and widespread praise across the US and Europe. The eerie villain of the film has become a cult icon of modern horror, with the film being considered one of the best of 2014. Winning multiple awards, it explored more complex themes than the nature-horror of previous decades in it’s tragic, frightening presentation of grief and depression.
Where might Australian horror filmmakers take their craft next? Might the array of vicious and venomous creatures that call the country home inspire a new wave of nature inspired horror? Or will we see more in the vein of The Babadook – with dark, gothic and haunting stories? Let us know some of your favourite Aussie horror films!