Australia is already a freaky place, what with all our sharp-toothed and poisonous wildlife. But it isn’t enough to fear for our lives when we venture into the bush. Over the years, our homegrown movie makers have delighted in making some bloodthirsty films to really bring the fright.
And you can’t blame them. Our forlorn deserts, serial killer history and deadly fauna are perfect ingredients for a two-hour dose of terror with your popcorn.
While a lot of the movies made in Australia are forgettable, there are some things in Australian movies that can never be unseen. Ever.
Van Diemens Land (2009)
Director: Jonathan Auf Der Heide
Starring: Oscar Redding, Tom White and Greg Stone
This film is based on the life of cannibal convict Alexander Pearce, who was sent to Australia for stealing six pairs of shoes. It follows a small band of escapees who kill and eat each other one by one while on the run in the Tasmanian wilderness. There are no heroes in this flick, just drab scenery and brutality, made even more haunting by the Gaelic narration of Pearce.
The most harrowing moment is the difficulty the convicts have with killing one of their fellow escapees before they devour him.
Director: James Wan
Starring: Shawnee Smith, Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell
Saw spawned a series of films, but the original is the best. The intricate and mind-boggling life-and-death choices set it apart. Jigsaw’s ruthless game player pits his victims against each other and themselves, with plenty of gushing blood and bone crunching. The two main characters find themselves shackled to opposite sides of a dingy bathroom, plotting their escape, overlapped with flashbacks to other gruesome traps and snares.
(Gore warning.) The worst of these is the jaw trap, which forces the female victim to tear the key to her face-splitting contraption from the stomach of her mildly-sedated husband.
Of course, the most unforgettable scene is not the torture, but Jigsaw’s big reveal. And for good measure, here’s an ending spoiler:
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Rachel Roberts, Dominic Guard, Helen Morse and Jacki Weaver
Adapted from the Peter Weir novel, this film explores the mysterious vanishing of three school girls and their headmistress. More eerie than horrific, the film has seemed to glue itself to our collective consciousness, probably because of its notoriously ambiguous ending.
The original ending of the novel, which was excised before publication and did not appear the film, gave a decidedly science fiction explanation for the disappearances. Its absence makes for much more spine-tingling moments:
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Daniel Henshall and Lucas Pittaway
This has got to be one of the darkest and most grotesque film made in Australian cinema history. Based on the true story of the ‘Bodies in the Barrels’ Snowtown murders, 16-year-old Jamie is brought under the psychotic spell of John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer.
There is not one ray of light throughout this entire film. Instead, viewers are subjected to a horrific, murderous journey as Jamie and Bunting try to eradicate pedophiles from their small suburban corner of Adelaide.
In this scene, Bunting persuades Jamie to shoot his dog, which is somehow just as shocking as some of the more heinous crimes on which they collaborate:
Long Weekend (1978)
Director: Colin Eggleston
Starring: John Hargreaves and Briony Behets
Karma comes back to bite a couple who show disregard for the Australian bush. With the tagline “Nature found them guilty”. You know what comes next.
The Loved Ones (2010)
Director: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy and John Brumpton
A badass film with hints of the 1976 movie Carrie, Brent is invited to a school dance by Lolla. When Brent turns her down, Lolla goes out for torturous revenge.
“I’m going to your house now. I’m going to stab your mummy in the neck,” says Lolla in a particularly fearsome moment, as blood drips from her face:
Black Water (2007)
Director: David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki
Starring: Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody and Andy Rodoreda
A giant croc stalks three tourists in a swamp in the Northern Territory. Most of the film is spent up a tree – the horror equivalent of Phone Booth. The last ditch effort by Lee to rescue herself and her sister from the reptile is heart-stopping stuff, especially when Lee’s feet are dangling helplessly in the water…
Director: Richard Franklin
Starring: Susan Penhaligon, Robert Helpmann and Rod Mullinar
It’s aged terribly, but there is still some menace in this flick about a paralysed psychopath who uses his psychokinetic powers to terrorise the staff of his Melbourne hospital, and draw in the nurse he is infatuated with. In this scene, Patrick menaces a doctor who has been trying to euthanise him.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Director: Greg McLean
Starring: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi and Nathan Phillips
Probably the best known of our horror movies, its newly released sequel seems unlikely to top the menace of the first instalment. The Crocodile Dundee-style bushman Mick Taylor is the centrepiece, as he morphs from laconic outback shooter to a ghastly murderer. His torture and sexual assault of three backpackers is (very) loosely based on real events. But it’s the made-up bits that spook the most:
Wake in Fright (1971)
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence and Chips Rafferty
This classic failed to find an appreciative audience at the time of its release, but has aged into a cult following. It plots the story of a cultured NSW schoolteacher who finds himself trapped as a misfit in the outback town of ‘Yabba.
Its key moments have earned the film rave reviews from critics over the years and pride of place in any self-respecting Aussie horror collection.
Will you have a drink, mate?
And a new film to look out for…
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman
The Babadook, a new local release funded on Kickstarter, is shaping up to be a high-quality, scary as hell horror-thriller.
A single mother struggles to care for her troubled son while dealing with the loss of her husband. Along comes a fairytale book about a monster, which seems to pop off the page and invade the house. It showed at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, and could be the next frightful Australian story burned into your mind.
Is the creature real? We’re not sure yet but, judging by the trailer, the dread is palpable.