David Michael Brown's Blog - March 19, 2009

As the final films are announced and the time table takes shape for this years A Night of Horror festival, what better time is there to look forward to the year ahead in the Aussie horror genre. The year shaping up nicely with a slew of Aussie bred chillers all at various stages of production. Most will have heard of films like the Long Weekend remake and Daybreakers but they are merely the tip of the bloody iceberg of a hopefully fabulous line up of Antipodean horror.

Jon Hewitt's Acolytes has just been screened at Popcorn Taxi in Sydney, hosted by yours truly, and will be touring the State capitals prior to its DVD release by Madman. The film, telling the tale of a group of teenagers who blackmail a serial killer to kill someone who abused them as children, is visually striking and boasts a beautifully crafted soundscape that deserves to be heard in the cinema. Acolytes is the first of many films being released at the lower end of the budget scale. Joel Edgerton and Michael Dorman are both fabulous in the film. In fact Dorman is turning into Australia's horror Renaissance man as this year he also appearing in Triangle and Daybreakers.

The low budget No Through Road is getting good worth of mouth. The synopsis on the official website describes the film. The serenity of a yet another quiet evening alone is shattered for amateur photographer, Richard (James Helm). Desperate, frightened and uninvited, Samantha (Megan Palinkas) has taken refuge in Richard's sprawling, suburban home. Is there substance to her fear and paranoia, or are substances the cause? Is her arrival a break-in or an escape? As she seeks salvation from savage retribution, Richard is forced to fight Samantha's battle for survival in order to save his home, his life and his sense of humanity. Only dawn will reveal the blood-soaked fallout of being alone in the middle of suburbia... No Through Road – one way in, no way out. The film toured the worlds film festivals last year and has since won accolades at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. A local DVD will be released in April.

Presently in post production is Coffin Rock. Produced by David Lightfoot, the man who watched over Greg McLean's Wolf Creek and Rogue, the film tells the story of a woman unable to conceive a child with her husband, despite years of trying. In a desperate and drunken mistake, she sleeps with a young stranger. Determined to prove his paternity, his intentions soon become terrifyingly psychotic and the young woman finds herself at the centre of a psychological and brutally physical battle which she must win if she is to survive and have the family she longs for.

This May brings the Aussie release of Prey. I interviewed stars Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Jesse Johnson last year and both were thrilled with how the filming went but it seems now that the film's original director Dr George Miller has removed his name from the film. It remains to be seen how this will affect the final product but the Prey website has a taster of the plot. "When six friends decided to leave the city and head for the surf, how were they to know that they were being drawn into a world of ancient curses and inescapable nightmares. Trapped, in a valley of primordial evil, these friends try to come to terms with past wrong doings but no matter how hard they try and escape, they always end up staring death in the face. Welcome to a place where the supernatural world hunts the real world. Welcome to Prey.........Dreamtime is Over!"

Lake Mungo is already lined up for a US remake, despite the fact that the film is yet to have an Australian release. The film tells the story of a teenager whose apparent death sets off a series of paranormal events. Frightened by what appears to be otherworldly activity, her family discovers secrets about their daughter as well as what lurks beneath Lake Mungo. The film was shot in the now clichéd faux-documentary style so it remains to be seen if the film manages to be original or a Blair Witch clone.

More details are becoming available on Christopher Smith's Triangle. I visited the Queensland set of the film and it looked fabulous. My hopes are high after seeing Smith and the cast in action. The only details of the plot that can be discussed so far appeared on the British Film Council website "When Jess hits a seagull on a drive to the local harbour; little does she know that it is a harrowing omen of things to come. She sets sail on a yacht with a group of friends and already things are not as they seem, she just can't put her finger on why. Her suspicions are heightened when the yacht hits a storm and the group is forced to board a passing ocean liner to get to safety, a ship Jess is convinced she's been on before. The ship appears deserted, the clock on board has stopped, but they are not alone... Someone is intent on hunting them down, one by one. And Jess unknowingly holds the key to end the terror".

Every year filmmakers wait with bated breath to see if they will be receiving funding from Screen Australia. This year one genre film was among the lucky few. Directed by Richard Turner and starring Jacqueline McKenzie, of Romper Stomper fame, Luv Sux will attempt that difficult beast, the horror comedy. The film is about a vampire who fathered a child with a human. Now, 17 year later, he must find his son before the boy undergoes a blood-soaked puberty in a distant hell-hole of sun, sand and savagery that his mother has kidnapped him to: Australia.

Any film described as "A balls to the wall, edgy thriller. Think Get Carter in 'stubbies' crossed with Tarantino." That's exactly what Wolf Creek director Greg McLean has said about the debut feature from Steve Kastrissios, The Horseman. Already one of eight Australian films to have secured spots at the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival, hopes are high. The films website gives us a brief synopsis of what's on offer. "An action-packed, multi-award winning Australian thriller that features a range of powerhouse performances in an unflinching study of grief & retribution. Explore the dark fantasies we all dream up as Christian (Peter Marshall) grieves over the suspicious death of his teenage daughter. As he travels through rural Queensland to investigate, he picks up Alice (Caroline Marohasy), an awkward young runaway and an unlikely bond develops. But as the crime is pieced together, an ugly truth is revealed and Christian spirals down a dangerous path."

In other production news the team behind Black Water are moving from crocodiles to sharks with The Reef and the Duel clone Road Train is revving up to threaten Aussie freeways. Finally it wasn't going to long before the dire state of the world was going to become a horror film and The Strawman promises a futuristic vision of a financially destitute world. Will this be the beginning of another wave of post apocalyptic Aussie Mad Max clones? We'll have to wait and see?

David Michael Brown's Blog - November 13, 2008

In the outback no one can hear you scream! And scream they did at the A Night of Horror festival's premiere screening of Dying Breed as stars Leigh Whannell, Nathan Philips and Melanie Vallejo introduced the movie to a packed audience at Newtown's Dendy Cinema.

The Aussie horror film has never been shy in using the unique terra firma of its countries landscape to generate fear and revulsion. From Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright and Greg McLean's Wolf Creek to Russel Mulcahy's Razorback and Fair Game; the harsh, unforgiving environ down under has brought out the best and worst in its inhabitants and the odd killer pig to bloody boot. Well now its Van Diemen's Land time in the gory spotlight with Dying Breed; director Jody Dwyers tale of inner breeding, cannibalism and the hunt for the Tasmanian Tiger.

On first view it is almost impossible to fathom exactly how this film could ever have been backed by the Tasmanian government; it's hard to think of a worse example of a celluloid tourist brochure. The Islands inhabitants are most definitely not pictured at their best. Looking back, however, the Tasmania terrain has never looked this good. Chopper cinematographer Geoffrey Hall has worked his magic once again and produced a lush, dramatic landscape in which Dwyer can massacre his cast. The plot, taking historical inspiration from convict Alexander "The Pieman" Pearce and his cannibalistic diet of British prison guards, appears simplistic at first glance. Matt, Jack, Nina and Rebecca, form a team of explorers seeking fame by heading deep into the jungle to search for the supposedly extinct feline. The emotional resonance of the plot resonates around a previous trip to find the tiger where Nina's sister died. When our heroes have their first encounter with the odd inhabitants of Tasmania thoughts of Deliverance ring true even; down to a cheeky nod to the duelling banjos scene.

This does lead to air of over familiarity, despite the film's original locations, there are a few too many "let's split up moments" along the way. Anyone who has seen the aforementioned Deliverance, along with Wrong Turn and the Family episode of The X-Files will know exactly what's going down but the performances of the four leads help keep things fresh. Leigh Whannell, of Saw fame and Nathan Philips, from Wolf Creek, work well together as the odd couple who shouldn't really be friends. Whannel's Matt is a quite, often introverted thinker almost always unwilling to make that first move whereas the bullish Jack, played by Philips, is a lout with more money than sense. He is given all the best comedy moments, nicely interspersed to relieve the tension, and his scene with the rabbit is a classic. Mirrah Foulkes and Melanie Vallejo also shine as Nina and Rebecca. Without the delicate subtleties of their performance the film could have turned into a testosterone charged action film but the girls not only hold their own in the woods but give the film some much needed glamour.

Dwyer has shown himself to be a talented writer and director. The slow burning build up, with sinister flashes of what's to come perfectly crank up the tension without destroying the film's pacing. When the shocks come they are gruesome and bloody without being gratuitous. The old adage that there is nothing more terrifying that what's seen in the viewer's imagination certainly rings true. One scene in particular could have descended into Ruggero Deodata inspired viciousness but the quick editing and clever camera work, while never leaving the audience in doubt as to what has happened, help further ratchet up the horror rather than linger on the carnage and provoke repulsion in the audience.

Dying Breed is another bright light in the ever growing legion of the Aussie horror film. After Wolf Creek paved the way for a bloody slew of imitators and showed the Australian government bodies that there is money to be made in some good old fashioned bush butchery; it's amusing to see Whannell back in an Australian horror film after all of the troubles he had raising Aussie dollars for that little film he wrote called Saw. Hopefully, with the success of Dying Breed funding will flow as freely as the plasma in Cody's debut feature for future outback terrors.

Leigh Whannell and Melanie Vallejo
DYING BREED stars Leigh Whannell and Melanie Vallejo at A Night of Horror's special Halloween screening of the film.

David Michael Brown's Blog - April 11, 2008

Last time around we looked at the horror films haunting the state of New South Wales. Plenty to look forward to but as we know, Australia is a big place and filmmakers nationwide are turning to our favourite genre.

Queensland is doing very well out of producer Chris Brown. The British veteran who made his name producing The Company of Wolves and Mona Lisa for Neil Jordon is now an Australian resident and has recently finished shooting Daybreakers with the Spierig brothers. The siblings came to our attention with their low budget zombie gore fest Undead and have now definitely moved up the food chain. Daybreakers has attracted such Hollywood luminaries as Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke along with local talent like Claudia Karvan. This futuristic vampire epic promises to be an interesting take on the tried and trusted genre staple. The film will be joined on Brown's resume by Triangle which the producer is shooting later in the year. He is flying in Brit Christopher Smith to direct after the young directors sterling work on the horror comedy Severance.

The Gold Coast will also be the location for a low budget film with the best moniker in town. Goblin Shark Attack, previously known as Malibu Shark Attack, has such a fabulous synopsis that it just can't fail. "When a Tsunami floods the seaside town of Malibu, prehistoric sharks invade the streets and buildings of the town." With a premise like that I'm sure Spielberg won't be losing sleep, it sounds like this will less Jaws and more Tirentora The Great white crossed with Blood Beach. Turkey Shoot legend Brian Trenchard Smith was originally linked to the project.

As we head down the coast to Victoria we find that Jamie Blanks hot of Storm Warning headed to the Mornington Penisula, Victoria, to film his remake of Long Weekend. This time around Claudia Karvan returns to her new favourite genre along with Jesus Christ himself...Jim Cazaviel. The film, once again written by Everett de Roche, will update the storyline but rest assured, the Australian wildlife will be striking back against the beleaguered couple who take a vacation to try and save their struggling relationship. Whether the film takes the nature gone wild motif to the graphically over the top moments featuring the dog in Storm Warning it remains to be seen but its reassuring that Blanks seems happy back on home turf after his brief foray into Hollywood with Urban Legends and Valentine. Victoria is also the base for Daniel Armstrong and Strongman Pictures who have a couple of films in different stages of production. In pre production the team have The Disturbed; which, in an interesting diversion from the norm, they have shot the trailer for to help generate interest and more importantly funds, to complete the film. A zombie film set in an old disused mental institution looks like an incredible stylish and gory ride; let's hope that they get the cash to finish this project. In the meantime the team have From Parts Unknown in post production. The self proclaimed romantic, sci-fi, comedy horror about professional wrestling at the end of the world where technology has gone mad promises everything but a blood filled kitchen sink.

In Adelaide Ian 'James' Colmer is in pre production on The Fury. The production designer, who's work can be seen on the likes of House of Wax and Superman Returns is taking on writing and production duties along with directing the chiller about a group of teenagers who wander into an abandoned slaughterhouse that is haunted by poltergeist. Interestingly enough Calum Sanderson who will be composing the score for the film is also writing, directing, scoring and producing his own film, presently at development stage. The Ghost of Molly Brown, promises to return to the B-grade 70s trash. Molly is brutally murdered so her ghost, along with a zombie named Jack, goes on the hunt for her killer. Another Southern Australian feature in post production is Dark Souls. Directed, written and produced by Patrick. J. Callagher, there does seem to be a lot of multi tasking going on in the industry at the moment! The film tells the story of Carrie Nolan, the only survivor of a vicious psychopathic attack that left three of her friends dead. As the killer closed in; Carrie begins to realise that there maybe supernaturals powers at work.

Finally we have Dead Country, directed by Andrew Merkelbach. The population of a small rural town is turned into zombies when a spaceship carrying toxic waste explodes over the town releasing a deadly virus. The flesh eating tendencies of the townsfolk will spread unless it is stopped by a small group of survivors who must join forces the alien responsible for the mishap.

Well as you can see the horror industry down under is in relatively fine shape at both ends of the budget spectrum. As these projects get released lets hope they generate more local interest in the genre. You never know, maybe some of these will turn up at next years festival.

David Michael Brown's Blog - April 1, 2008

If you flicked on the news over the last week the image of Morris Iemma basking in the glory of his recent tax breaks announcements, mixing with a who's who of the Aussie film industry at Fox Studios you would think the whole industry would be bowing down prolapsed in front of the new saviour of cinema in New South Wales. Let alone the fact that he should have done this years ago and that his previous policies have driven filmmakers from their homes on the hunt for interstate or international work. As the industry does all it can to get the next big Hollywood film onto the Fox lot it seems to have been missed that a large amount of films are still being made in New South Wales and the reason for this oversight? It could well be that the majority of these film's are low budget films in that bete noire of the AFC, the horror genre. A quick glance at what film's are in production at the moment brings up a plethora of blood curdling delights. I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer, The Forest, The Fury, Zombies in Kombies..the list goes on. The success of the likes of Wolf Creek has made the various funding bodies take note of the genre but the chances of them reaching into their pockets to help finance anything with Zombie in the title are a long way off.

So its up to he filmmakers to raise the funds, or pay for it from their own wallets, as was the case with Doug Turner and Stacey Edmonds, the ex pat couple who, following their short film Swerve it Like Merv, put their money where there mouth is to produce the cricket themed slasher film I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer. Featuring a moustachioed killer complete with sharpened stumps, a cricket ball full of nails and nice line in bloodied cricket whites, the film takes its Friday the 13th meets The Professionals motif and runs with it seriously but never forgetting to remember how silly the whole bloody affair is. From it's A Nightmare on Elm Street style opening until the final bloodbath the film, going through the final stages of post production is an obvious labour of love from a couple of Brits who love the Aussie culture.

The Forest, on the other hand, is a far more ominous affair. A quick glance at their Myspace page shows a film where something dark and sinister lurks amongst the gum trees. The director Wayne Dixon promises a film that will "make Wolf Creek look like Dawson's Creek." Nothing like a bit of over exaggeration to excite the film going public and get bums on seats so let's hope this isn't a false promise. Zombies in Kombies looks like it is going for the slightly less serious approach to horror as the synopsis explains. A backpacking American is looking forward to meeting up with the girl of his dreams before an outbreak of zombiism thwarts his rural rendezvous. With his best mate, a team of underperforming Aussie soldiers and a wise old Aboriginal, they are left to find the girl and save the day. Standing in their way though is a town full of the undead and the only thing worse than a Sunday Volvo driver... Zombies in Kombies! Director Mike Fitzpatrick is planning to shoot towards the end of 2008. One film, while not really a horror film, that will push the boundaries of what is possible on a low budget is director Dwayne Labbe's Kill Car 9. A fusion of Death Race 2000, Speed Racer and the old Spy Hunter video game, the film, using a combination of live action and CGI, Kill Car 9 will use the freeways of New South Wales as a racetrack with a difference. On the action front we also have The Hunt, "Five killers, five victims, one aim... to survive" searching for an audience. The film, directed and written by JD Cohen is presently in post-production.

Mark Hatley's Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary on the halcyon days of the Australian exploitation industry of the Sixties and Seventies may well be coming soon but the fact that elsewhere in Australia we have Daybreakers, Long Weekend, The Fury, Goblin Shark Attack and Acolytes in various stages of completion shows that the horror genre is in no way resting on its laurels.
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