Thursday, August 16, 2007

Horror In The Outback

Australian Gothic : Movies That Actually Make Money

Huge crocodiles, like this one we photographed last year on the East Alligator River, will star in the new movie, Rogue, from Wolf Creek director Greg McClean.

Some Australians were sickened by the backpacker serial killer flick Wolf Creek, others thought it was kind of funny, and pretty silly. American friends were shocked by the violence and the intense sense of isolation the movie conjured up, but they also said it made them want to visit the outback and see the place for themselves.

They're not alone.

When Wolf Creek was first released a few years back, there was genuine horror amongst tourism industry executives, fearful that the movie would put off tourists and backpackers from visiting Australia, and visiting the arid, remote stretches of the Australian outback in particular.

But the stream of tourists and backpackers hiring dodgy old vans, or renting air-conditioned homes on wheels for a few weeks of hitting the desert highways has actually increased in the past two years.

As terrifying (or funny) as Wolf Creek could get, it also showcased a hauntingly beautiful series of landscapes, barren, empty but dazzling. Why wouldn't tourists want to come and see such places for themselves?

The Australian tourism industry learned its lesson well.

When Wolf Creek director's Greg McClean's follow-up, Rogue, which pits a bundle of tourists caught on a sand island at night against huge and hungry crocodiles churning through the rising waters, hits cinemas across the world in the next few months, there are plans to launch publicity campaigns about the NT, where the movie is set, and Kathryn Gorge in particular, and those dead-eyed, cold-blooded dinosaurs will be the star attraction.

Thanks to the success of Wolf Creek, and the zombie flick Undead, Australian movie-makers are now turning out a string of horror movies and they are being snapped up by international distributors.

Australian horror movies are the rarest of Oz flicks - many of them actually make money and are seen by millions around the world.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

Joel Anderson, the writer and director of the supernatural mystery Lake Mungo, puts it starkly: "One of the main reasons that Lake Mungo exists is because of Wolf Creek. That film had a big profile, and it made money, and film always follows money."

"We call what we do 'Australian Gothic'," says Everett DeRoche, a key figure in Australian horror who wrote the scripts for classics such as Patrick (1978), The Long Weekend (1978) and Razorback (1984). The term was coined to describe Razorback, and anyone who has seen this smoky, heavily backlit tale of a giant pig terrorising the outback will understand why. "Australia doesn't have that iconic 'haunted house' that we are familiar with from American movies. But it does have the outback, and people's fear of that, that agoraphobia."

A DeRoche script, Storm Warning, has recently been filmed by the director Jamie Blanks, who is also set to direct a remake of The Long Weekend. The original Long Weekend is a fascinating film, with a central idea of humans disrespecting the environment and suffering the consequences feeling years ahead of its time. Interestingly, DeRoche says the notion of the outback as a spooky place is more prevalent abroad than in Australia, perhaps explaining why his films have proved more popular in the US and Europe than here.

IndiVision, an Australian Film Commission scheme now in its third year, has given a boost to local film production, including the horror genre. The director of the commission's IndiVision Project Lab, Megan Simpson Huberman, explains the thinking: "Amongst a diverse national film slate, we wanted to make more films at a lower budget. This will allow more filmmakers to practise their craft."

One film helped by IndiVision is Black Water, from the first-time writer-directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich. Set in crocodile-infested mangrove swamps in northern Australia, it was actually filmed in Gungah Bay on the Georges River.

"There's nothing worse than making a film and no one goes to see it - which has been the case with many recent Australian films," says Black Water's producer, Michael Robertson. The film has been sold to more than 30 countries, and has already recovered its production budget of $1.2 million. It's an effective shocker, featuring three city-dwellers battling for survival against a man-eating croc, and brilliantly taps into that fear of remote Australia.

Lake Mungo, from the writer-director Joel Anderson, has also benefited from the IndiVision scheme. It tells of the drowning death of a 16-year-old girl, how the family copes with the tragedy, and the investigation into subsequent sightings of the girl. A line from the film - "Whenever someone dies, there's always a ghost story never far behind" - sums it up well.

Anderson did not set out to make a genre film, but has enjoyed the opportunities of working within genre. "Australia has often made self-consciously Australian films, which can be inhibiting. Horror movies, though, are really B-movies. If we can inherit the vitality associated with B-movies, then questions of Australian-ness are absorbed into the story. The question takes care of itself."

More Australian horror movies? Yes, please. Anything but another $6 million movie about the grim struggle of junkies in decaying urbania.

We want to feel The Fear. Not fear The Boredom.

The Orstrahyun : Killer Crocodile Flicks Set To Terrify

Watch The Trailer For Rogue Here

Rogue And Black Water - Australian Monster Movies Make A Welcome Return