Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Dark Age

Title: Dark Age
Director: Arch Nicholson
Released: 1987
Starring: John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Burnham Burnham, David Gulpilil, Ray Meagher, Jeff Ashby, Paul Bertram, Ron Blanchard, Gerry Duggan, Ken Radley

Plot: When a giant crocodile starts feeding on the local population, park ranger Steve (Jarratt) must work with a pair of Aborigine guides Oondabund (Burnham) and Adjaral (Gulphilil) to track down the beast.

Review: Probably one of the more elusive films I have track down as of late, having first caught by interest when it was featured on the essential Ozploitation documentary “Not Quite Hollywood” which served to provide a shopping list of titles as it did expose the until then little recognised sub-genre of cult cinema. Of course its nothing compared to its native Austrailia which didn’t get to see the film untill 14 years after its release thanks to Avco Embassy who held the Australian distribution rights going bust and even then it was down to Quentin Tarantino once again doing his part for film preservation held a screening of the film in 2011.

Entering into the film I was pretty much expecting another fun crocodile movie in the vein of “Lake Placid” or “Alligator” but what I got here was something actually a little different as what starts off essentially as a scene by scene remake of “Jaws” only to then goes off in a completely different direction for its final twenty minutes as director Arch Nicholson throws us an ecological curveball. Infact its rather uncanny when the film is examined closer just how much it matches up as John Jarratt’s park ranger is essentially a transposed Sheriff Brody while Hooper is represented for the most part by Aborigine elder Oondabund who sees the croc as being the mythic croc “Numunwari” and as part of his peoples beliefs belives that the creature has to be saved rather than destroyed which is exactly what local hunter / poacher Jackson and his band of lowlifes have planned.

Jackson here essentially fills the Quint role as the blue collar thug who cares only about making his living hunting the local crocodile population while also to blame for the monster croc showing up in the first place when him and his buddies piss it off during a failed hunting expedition. Outside of the fact that him and his gang are constantly drinking, to the point where there is no scenes in this film where one of these isn’t at any time seen holding a beer, he also becomes obsessed with an Captain Ahab style desire for hunting “Numunwari” after it chews him arm off following his misguided attempt to kill the creature with an axe and while standing precariously in a boat no less and which ends pretty much how you’d expect. But for that one moment it looks pretty badass if still totally ridiculous at the same time.

John Jarratt now no doubt best known for his turn as the psycho Mick Taylor in the “Wolf Creek” films here is almost unrecognisable as he plays the dashing Shrieff Brody esq lead here who constantly tries to walk the tightrope between his loyalty to his boss who is concerned it will affect tourist developments while equally noteworthy for being played by legendry soap actor Ray Meagher from “Home and Away” and keeping the local Aborigine popularity happy. At the same time he also has to deal with his feeling for his ex Cathy who he is forced to work alongside and inevitably they get back together with Nicholson randomly deciding that their sex scene should be dumped in the middle of a chase scene as one moment we get an old man being chased by some local thugs and the next we have the argument foreplay between Cathy and Steve which soon leads to a gratuitous sex scene before we are then flung back into the chase. It’s almost as if Nicolson suddenly remembered that he hadn’t finished the scene and randomly tossed its conclusion in not knowing any other way to work it in and no doubt hoping that we were all too distracted by Nikki Coghill’s boobs to really care. The same could be also said for the final act car chase which not only sees Oondabund sitting on the front bonnet of a speeding truck like a old man hood ornament but him also being launched through the air when said truck crashes with him still on the bonnet in a scene which I had to rewatch a few times as I couldn’t figure out if it was the actor or a dummy being launched through the air. Still this being an Ozploitation movie it would be kind of disappointing if we did get random nudity and car chases being the backbone of the genre that they are.

The final act on a whole though is pretty random seeing how we essentially have a great ending only for the film to carry on for another twenty minutes which I would argue should have been cut had this extra time not contained so many great moments which loosely justify its inclusion here. At the same time I like the idea of the group trying to save the croc and relocate it rather than being another film in which they have to kill the monster animal with Nicolson including arguments for the crocodile following its nature than any kind of desire to hunt people.

When it comes to the crocodile while its always great to see a practical effect, even if it is a rubbery looking croc, let alone one which moves oh so slowly, making it all the more surprisingly that it can catch anyone had it not been for its ability to randomly pop out from any body of water it chooses including one memorable moment where it’s supposed to be tied to the front of the boat only to suddenly appear at the back of the boat. Nicolson even gives us his version of the beach attack from “Jaws” in probably one of the better known scenes from the film and also one of the most violent scene as the croc chomps down on a small child in a scene which is actually surprisingly shocking to watch. While the attack scenes are certainly a lot better than anything we’ve seen from recent croc attack movies with their heavy use of CGI and sudden cuts, it’s still a pretty gore light film outside of some bubbling red water and the occasional lost limb but still satisfying to watch none the less.

Despite his background mainly being in TV Nicholson here crafts a film which is strangely intriguing as I’m sure there is a great film which could be if you can cut through the frequently plodding plotting and rubbery looking croc. While it might equally be as noteworthy as other films in this category it’s still miles ahead of more recent efforts.

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