When Shawn asked me to contribute to The Ozsploitation Files, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I get to do a dandy little guest spot here on The Liberal Dead, but I’d get a chance to talk about one of my favorite genre film things, Aussies. It was only recently in a Salvation Army I dug up a VHS copy of the Ozploitation flick Fair Game (1986), and I thought it would be perfect to share with you folks. Director Mario Andreacchio’s name didn’t mean anything to me, and judging from his recent films unless you are a fan of John Goodman voiced macaws (and I know a few of you might be) or golden retrievers with parrot friends, there would be little reason to have his current filmography on your radar. However, this was Andreacchio’s first film, and friends, he produced a piece of business that is well worth hunting down. Speaking of hunting down and segues, that’s what this movie is all about, well, not segues so much, but hunting for sure.
Specifically we’re talking about kangaroo hunters, a despicable trio of fellows who go by the names Sony (Peter Ford), Ringo (David Sanford), and Sparks (Gary Who). When they start killing the marsupials in Jessica’s wildlife sanctuary, she was worried. When Ringo and Sparks knock her car off the road and almost into the obligatory movie ravine, she becomes terrified. The local sheriff is no help, and with her husband away at a conference, Jessica decided there no other proper course of action than heading back to her place. Once there she strips down nude, and takes a nap. (Because, as we all know, this is what you do when creepy kangaroo killers are after you.) When she wakes up she gets a feeling someone had been in the house, and thanks to a nude Polaroid of her hanging in her fridge, her suspicions are confirmed. A battle of wits between Jessica and Sony and Co. ramps up steadily as they trade non-lethal annoyances back and forth. Eventually, the macho hunters can take no more, and the film culminates with Jessica, bare-chested, tied to the front of the boy’s truck as it speeds though the Australian outback.
In a nutshell, take a dash of I Spit on Your Grave, the tense, brightly lit set pieces of And Soon the Darkness, and sprinkle them lightly with George Miller dust, and what you come up with is Fair Game a.k.a Death Game: The Return of Jessica (the return from where I don’t know). Much like in Zarchi‘s exploitation classic, the bad guys torment Jessica for the majority of the film’s runtime, with only a about fifteen minutes for her to exact her revenge. She does get it, but I really prefer movies like this take a more balanced approach. After all, I didn’t sign up to just see Aussie dudes act like douche bags. I could just Google Mel Gibson if that‘s all I was after. I’m on board for the moment where she can’t take it anymore and decides it‘s high time to get her revenge on. Jessica gets there, but way too late in the film for it to be much fun. While Fair Game comes up short in the vengeance department, it gets a real boost from the tense scenes were played out in broad daylight, under secluded conditions, with a great sense of stillness in the air. If Andreacchio didn’t get a single other thing right in this flick (don’t worry, he did), then his main achievement here was a use of the barrenness of the Australian countryside to evoke such ominous tones.
I can’t go on about Fair Game any longer and not talk about the motley crew of kangaroo hunters. While Sony goes for a dashing, but evil, leading man and Sparks looks like if Rob Reiner and The Dukes of Hazard’s Cooter had a baby, I have really got to give it up for the fashion choices made by the group’s loose cannon, Ringo. If I had to sum up what he looked like then I’m pretty sure I would have to bring up Adam Ant and Mad Max in the same sentence. From the tips of his zebra striped boots to the fringe on his shirt and ubiquitous leopard print bandana (which comes in real handy later), Ringo looks like post apocalyptic new wave threw up all over him. But the time Ringo put on his war paint before going off to hunt Jessica, I couldn’t help having the melody of “Goodie Two Shoes” ringing in your brain.
The Australians always do something really special with cars, and the hunter’s appropriately named “Beast”, a full size pickup with enough bumpers and roll bars to cause its front end to appear as a devilish grin. These guys were prepared. If this kangaroo thing didn’t work out, they could join a convoy looking for gas in a heartbeat. Actually after seeing what lunkheads the three baddies prove themselves to be, I started to take the the truck as a comment on the characters. It’s very easy to imagine Sparks and Ringo seeing The Road Warrior and wanting a badass car like that just in case they ever had to tie a naked girl to it. Granted, It’s not a plan everyone will put much time into thinking about. I’m not sure what kind of brainstorming session leads to schematics for such a thing, but I feel somehow certain that those two might just have struck upon the topic at one time or another.
Actress Cassandra Delany, who bore a resemblance to Farah Fawcett in quite a number of scenes, doesn’t have a long resume, and Fair Game was her only starring role. She turns in a wonderful performance that sees her go from a peaceful animal lover to a vengeful killer within the span of 90 minutes. Sure, with the myriad of torturous tricks the hunters play on her (who wants a dead kangaroo in their car?), it is believable that Jessica would eventually snap. Delany really sells it while maintaining the true nature of the character right beneath the surface. I just really wish her part in the film could have been made a little righteously vengeful. What I really wanted was something more Christina Lindberg than Camille Keeton.
Peter Ford gives an interesting performance as Sony, the leader of the gang. At first, he seems put off by his cohorts’ tomfoolery, but in the very next breath he is encouraging them to hunt her down. I never could quite figure him out, or if it was a strange way to play the role. Ford might be familiar to fans of the classic Prisoner show for his role in many episodes as Michael Simpson. Fair Game’s two most interesting characters, Ringo and Sparks played by Sanford and Who, easily steal the show with their interplay, but neither actor’s career amounted to much. I must mention again how great Ringo is, and the character is made even better because every time there are cars to be jumped between or dirt bikes to ride, Ringo pulls up his scarf and suddenly he turns into a taller and darker haired stuntman. The man behind the mask was probably Rikki Van Gyen, a stuntman for films such as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Stuart Gordon’s Fortress, among others.
In the end, what Fair Game does best is take pieces of films that we’ve all seen before (if it looks and smells like The Most Dangerous Game then it probably is) and shakes them all up with quirky plot points from Rob George’s script. The film contains enough little goodies to make what could have been a rather rote story and molded them into something that had a sense of its own original flavor. It sure it wont have you booking that expedition into deepest Australia you’ve been planning (just go to The Outback instead, it’s safer and you can get that kick ass bread and the Chocolate Thunder), but it may just make you want to see how many bumpers and chromed out pipes you could stick on your car. You might not think it now, but someday when you least expect it, you may have to tie a naked person to the front of your car or truck, and if you don’t prepare now, won’t it be embarrassing tying someone to the grill of your Ford Prius.