Some might argue that it is paradoxical – perhaps even hypocritical – to follow a post lamenting the generally poor quality of horror cinema with one celebrating the schlocky oeuvre of Australia’s exploitation cinema during the 70s and 80s. I would suggest that an observation of this kind may well be absolutely correct, but such contradictory attitudes are a fundamental part of being human so I’m going to exercise my humanity by doing just that.
Ozploitation, for those who are not aware, is the name given to low-budget Australian exploitation films made after the country’s introduction of an R rating in 1971. Quentin Tarantino initially coined the term ‘Aussiesploitation’ to refer to these films, but it was shortened and popularised to ‘Ozploitation’ in the Tarantino supported documentary Not Quite Hollywood on the same topic in 2008.
These films were generally cheaply made, poorly acted and profoundly violent genre productions whose renewed popularity has largely been fuelled by ironic appreciation, nostalgia and the unexpected success of the aforementioned Mark Hartley documentary, Not Quite Hollywood.
For anybody with more than a passing interest in retro cinema of an excessive and less than perfect nature (I.e. so bad its good), these films are absolutely essential viewing. So without further ado, here are a dozen Ozploitation films that the genre buff absolutely cannot miss.
Dead End Drive-In (1986)
A kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian vision of a world in which lazy unemployed youths are kept as prisoners in giant drive-in theatres that have been converted into concentration camps. Most notable for some unexpectedly impressive cinematography and pretty solid action sequences, this is a must see for anybody interested in the topic.
This is the definitive masterpiece of Brian Trenchard-Smith, the single most important figure of the Ozploitation era. Outside of Australia, Trenchard-Smith is best known for his direction of several entries in the absolutely disastrous Leprechaun series.
Mad Dog Morgan (1976)
Ozploitation films often invested most of their budgets on hiring waning Hollywood celebrities to improve commercial prospects internationally. In this case, Dennis Hopper was flown to Australia during the peak of his drug and alcohol fuelled stupor to play Mad Dog Morgan, a famously psychotic Australian bushranger. The performance is outstanding (as a general rule he wasn’t even acting).
At one point, Hopper’s behaviour was so erratic that his aboriginal co-star, David Gulpilil decided to abscond to the bush for several days and ask the kookaburras and the trees what they thought of Hopper. He returned several days later and told the director: “The trees say Dennis is crazy.” Directly after shooting, Hopper got violently drunk at the gravesite of Mad Dog Morgan where he was arrested and immediately deported.
The director, Phillipe Mora, is perhaps most infamously known for his later direction of one the Howling movies, which also happens to be an Ozploitation movie mentioned below.
Mad Max (1979)
The Mad Max trilogy is perhaps the most auspicious set of films to come out of the Ozploitation era, although it is only really the first of the trilogy that meets the criteria. Most of you are probably familiar with the adventures of Mad Max (Mel Gibson), the hero cop in a post-apocalyptic era of high-powered super cars who ends up a wandering nameless antihero, always on the lookout for the next tank of petrol.
The Mad Max films are all directed by Dr George Miller, who would go on to become most widely recognised outside of Australia for his direction of The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and the two Happy Feet films (2006, 2011).
A giant boar roams the Australian outback killing people. What more do you need to know? Absolutely stunningly shot, this “Jaws in the outback” is an astounding collection of scenes that somehow end up being less than the sum of their parts. But I mean… giant boar in the outback… you need to see this.
Razorback was directed by Russell Mulcahy who would later become best known outside of Australia for his direction of the first two Highlander films (1986, 1991) and Resident Evil: Extinction (2007).
The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie (1971)
I’ve mentioned this film in an earlier post, but it’s something special. This is the irreverent tale of an Aussie bloke (Barry Crocker) who finds himself unwillingly going on a trip to England with his aunt Edna (Barry Humphries). The film is loaded with a savage critique of both Australian and English culture at the time, and people offended by the coarser side of humour should probably give it a miss. And yes, Aunt Edna’s character carries on beyond the McKenzie films and eventually becomes Dame Edna.
Bruce Beresford directed this film, and would later become best known outside of Australia for films like Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Mao’s Last Dancer (2009) and Double Jeopardy (1999).
The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
This is a surprisingly passable Kung-Fu film from aforementioned Ozploitation king, Brian Trenchard-Smith. The film starred the rising Hong Kong star Jimmy Wang-Yu, best known for his direction of classics like Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) and The One Armed Swordsman (1976), as a Hong Kong cop who has arrived in Australia to solve a big case.
The film is most notable for the performance of George Lazenby (one-time James Bond) in the role of the villain. Due to a low budget, Trenchard-Smith asked Lazenby if he could dowse himself in petrol and set himself on fire for a pivotal fight scene. Unfortunately, the fire didn’t go out as quickly as expected and Lazenby suffered nasty burns. His response was to punch Trenchard-Smith square in the face.
Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)
Everybody interested in horror films has seen The Howling (1981). Few have seen this, the third film in the series. I don’t know how Philippe Mora got his hands on the rights to make this travesty but he did. Most notable for an actual birth sequence involving a were-roo, this is abysmal. Don’t miss it!
This is perhaps the film most commonly identified with Ozploitation, best evidenced by Mark Hartley’s (Not Quite Hollywood) decision to remake it. Told simply, this is the tale of a psychotic young man who winds up becoming a vegetable, confined to his bed. However, when Patrick develops the ability to control things with his mind, things get ugly. A personal favourite of Tarantino’s – he decided to give the unconscious Uma Thurman a spitting reflex in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) as a reference to the same behaviour in Patrick.
Patrick was directed by Richard Franklin, who would become best known for directing Psycho II (1983).
Turkey Shoot (1982)
If Dead End Drive-In is Trenchard-Smith’s masterpiece, this is his greatest disaster. This dystopian tale of a futuristic concentration camp where the prisoners are bought and hunted by the rich sounds much better than it is. Loaded with much of the worst dialogue of all time, and featuring the least convincing monster costume in living memory, this is the anti-masterpiece of the Ozploitation era. Brilliant. Note – often referred to as Escape 2000 in the United States.
Road Games (1981)
Jamie-Lee Curtis and Stacy Keach star as two Americans who happen to bump into each other in the outback. Keach is a trucker carrying a load across the vast desert, and Curtis is a hitchhiker just looking for a ride. As they move through the vast empty Australian space, the two find themselves involved in a series of murders that seem to occur wherever they go. This is a surprisingly good Hitchcockian thriller from the aforementioned Richard Franklin – definitely one of the Ozploitation peaks.
Allegedly Australia’s answer to Easy Rider, this bikie movie’s cast is largely comprised of real bikies who were reportedly very difficult to keep under control. A cop infiltrates a bikie gang, becomes one of them, must betray them. You get the idea.
Not Quite Hollywood (2008)
Thought I’d chuck this one in at the end. This outstanding documentary from Mark Hartley is the definitive look at Ozploitation cinema and is absolutely essential for anybody interested in this subject. Quite an outstanding film – largely due to some outstanding interviews with Tarantino and all the key players of the era.