It’s hard to imagine it now but at one point Australia was one of a small group of countries alongside Ethiopia and Iceland which didn’t have a film industry. Infact the only films being made were via studios outside of the country who came over to make classy pictures such as “Walkabout” or “Age of Consent”. Still thanks to the success of these films the Australian government’s eyes to the potential of Australia setting up its own film industry.
Australian cinema itself can be seen as falling into two categories with the mainstream cinema often coming across like a hybrid of both European and Hollywood cinema. Ozploitation meanwhile is a much more wilder and bawdy beast born out of the relaxing of censorship laws which had previously been some of the strictest by Don Chipp the minister for customs and excise who also brought in the “R” rating. With this simple change he unwittingly also opened the gate for a host of directors looking to make money off the drive in / grindhouse market both in Australia and more keyly in the states.
These early examples of the genre were largely bawdy sex comedies and skin flicks such as the hard drinking “Barry Mckenzie” films which not only featured rivers of vomit (a cinematic first for Australia) but also came with their own “NPA” Rating standing for “No Poofters Allowed”. Amusingly rather than being seen for their intended satire they were instead embraced by the same people whose lifestyles were being mocked and who instead saw it bizarrely as some kind of endorsement. By 1980 however interest in these films had severely declined though at the same the genre was still going strong thanks to the large number of genre films being produced, which embraced not only their exotic locale but also brought a distinctive style of splatter and vehicular carnage to the screen. The demand for these genre films soon providing a place for the likes of Brian Trenchard Smith who favouring a “laughs and gasps” style over traditional storytelling soon became a firm favourite amongst genre fans. At the same time other directors such as George Miller and Russell Mulcahy also made their debuts through the genre with Miller arguably crafting with “Mad Max” the definitive car smash movie and one which suprisingly didn’t usher in a host of imitators in his native Australia but Italy instead who churned out a host of post-apocalyptic car smash fantasies.
As the popularity of the films quickly increased productions started importing American actors such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Dennis Hopper to help boost their productions, though more often the so called stars being recruited had often fallen from fame due to age or personal issues making it always surprising who you find turning up in these films such as one time Bond George Lazenby who found a way out of his blacklist status through these genre films most noteworthy by appearing as the villainous gangster Jack Wilton in Australia’s only Kung fu movie “The Man From Hong Kong” staring Hong Kong Legend Jimmy Wang Yu.
These productions were often fraught with as many issues caused by these imported stars as they were the lack of general health and safety with Wang Yu seeing the production of “The Man From Hong Kong” as perhaps being beneath his legendary status, even beating up director Brian Trenchard Smith for real in the film where he appears as a thug during the elevator fight sequence, leading Roger Ward offering to give him “a slap”. Smith declined the offer stating that his “revenge would come in the box office” which it unquestionably did when the film out grossed all of Wang Yu’s own directed movies. Dennis Hopper meanwhile during the shooting of “Mad Dog Morgan” was at this point still every bit the Wildman as he proceeded to consume copious amounts of drugs and alcohol during the shoot, while rubbing many of the production the wrong way with his method acting. Unsurprisingly by the end of the production thanks to a series of offset incidents Hopper had added a ban from Australia to his list of felonies acuminated during the shoot. At the same time the influx of American actors caused tensions with “Actors Equity” who felt that jobs were being taken away from Australian actors.
By 1985 the genre was running on fumes as the quality of films being churned out severely lessened in quality with the occasional title such as “The Return of Captain Invincible”, “Turkey Shoot” and “Blood Moon” with its “fright break” appearing as standouts with “Dead In Drive In” being often touted as the last great movie of the genre, especially with stunt man Guy Norris setting a world record truck jump of 160 feet challenging the already impressive record set by "Survivor" for most gasoline exploded in one scene during its memorable plane crash sequence. Still while it might have seemed that the genre ended here, it was infact merly dormant as the spirit of these film lingered on within the next generation of film makers who'd been inspired to direct their own features having grown up with these movies.
Kicking off this new era of Ozploitation movies was the grimy and downright brutal “Wolf Creek” the debut feature by Greg McLean in which a trio of backpackers are hunted by the serial killer Mick Taylor played by Ozploitation regular John Jarratt, while not only essentially sold on it’s “Head on a Stick” scene but also marked a brutal and darker direction for horror, as it brought in elements which would be later embraced by the “New French Extremity” movement. It could be argued that this new era started earlier with the hit and miss zombie movie “Undead” but it was “Wolf Creek” which had us suddenly paying a lot more attention to what Australia was producing once more, even though it wouldn’t be until 2007 when these films really began to gain moment as McLean gave us his giant croc follow up “Rouge”, while the following year saw it being accompanied by the likes of Revenge thriller “The Horseman” which gave us a penis on the wrong end of a bicycle pump aswell as “The Loved Ones” which gave us a dark tale of high school obsession.
While these films all seemed to homage in one way or another back to the glory days of the genre while showcasing a love for shock and splatter while the popularity of these early films also inspired misguided remakes of genre favourites such “Long Weekend”, “Turkey Shoot” and “Patrick”, it would the 2015 release of “Mad Max: Fury Road” which truly made the world sit up and take notice as after 30 years of development hell and time away making delightful family fare about talking pigs and dancing penguins George Miller finally brought back his wasteland folk hero aswell as his fetishtic lens for shooting vehicular carnage as he reminded everyone how you truly make a car smash movie let alone proving he’d not lost his edge in the intervening years.
As of the time of writing Australia’s film production especially for horror films has only continued to grow marking a promising future for its genre cinema and ensuring that the Ozploitation spirit continues to live on, as it continually proves as it did during its golden years as a valuable source of inventive cinema for genre cinema fans.
Starting Point – Five Ozploitation Essentials
Long Weekend - Peter and Marcia decide to go camping for the weekend, at a remote beach in an attempt to save their marriage, only to find that nature isn’t in an accommodating mood. This is an eco-horror where nature itself runs amok or is it? The movie won’t confirm it either way, but to those outside of its native Australia the woods surrounding the couple have never seemed so menacing, while director Colin Eggleson teases us with what is happening to them and what is actually responsible which is a hard trick to pull off but one perfectly achieved here.
The Return of Captain Invincible – Released during the dying days of the Ozploitation boom, this random mishmash of Musical and superhero movie, sees the titular superhero who is essentially superman with the power of magnatism forced into retirement after being accused of being a communist. Now thirty years later he is hiding out in Australia and a raging alcoholic while called back into action by the US government to battle his nemesis “Mr. Midnight” played by a game Christopher Lee who is threatening the world with his hypno-ray.
A random film to say the least and one which while it might not work all the way through, still has enough randomness to make it worth a curious watch alongside some fun songs. Plus how many superheroes can cite Alcoholism as their weakness?
Roadgames – Playing like a road movie version of “Rear Window” as Patrick a truck driver traveling across the Australian outback finds himself tracking a serial killer praying on women along the highway. Director Richard Franklin is a self confessed Hitchcock obsessive and here it really shows in this unique road movie which had originally been penned for Sean Connery to play the lead role which eventually went to Stacy Keach instead after he couldn’t afford Connery’s salary. Still the film is noteworthy for featuring Jamie Lee Curtis on the end of her Horror starlet period which ended with her next role in “Halloween 2”.
Celia - Celia is a nine year old with an active imagination growing up in 1950s suburban Melbourne, who constantly escapes into a fantasy world to escape the ongoing troubles around her, while society deals with both the fear of communism and the rabbit plague. An obscure film which sits amongst the likes of “Lord of the Flies” and “War of the Buttons” with a playful dark side which at the same time left me wanting to compare this film to arguably Peter Jackson’s best film “Heavenly Creatures” plus how many films can boast of their child cast carrying out a mock hanging?
The Loved Ones - When Brent turns down Lola’s invitation to the school prom, she concocts a plan for her own prom instead. One of the most exciting entries in the Ozploitation revival this tale of the scorned wallflower with a dark side is grimly gripping viewing which plays better than being just another torture porn movie, especially as this one is packed with some truly jaw dropping surprises throughout.