For an undetermined amount of time, we’re going to be profiling some of the better, and in some cases, worse films in the category referred to as Ozploitation. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to exploitation films that were created in the land down-under, Australia. This will be a wide-range study, and not focused exclusively on horror titles. There will be old films covered, as well as some recent classics. The Liberal Dead’s Jesse Bartel leads us off with his thoughts on the recent animal attack/creature feature from director Greg Mclean(Wolf Creek) Rogue.
This film is not what many of you would associate with the exploitation boom of Australian cinema 30 years ago. This is definitely tied to the new wave of Ozploitation films, bringing back the relevance of the nation and attacking many themes that outsider’s link with Australia. Greg McLean is a fine director; he fashioned Wolf Creek; which was (kind of) based on true events but really it was an attack on that Americanized idea of Crocodile Dundee. The killer (played by John Jarratt) was a representation of that character; he even quoted lines like; “That’s not a knife; this is a knife” as he thrusts a blade through the female victim (phallic imagery). Americans continually think of Australians as that goofy Hollywood (Dundee) character. An Aussie meant that you shout “G’day” all the time and are completely ignorant of social norms or the modernity of America. So in a way; McLean was trying to put that stereotype to rest and it was for the better. Rogue works on a few different levels of horror and exploitation compared to its ultraviolent and realistic predecessor. A dichotomy that is created between horror and beauty, two very different contexts but in the end it works.
The story is quite simple; a travel writer from America is thrown into the Northern Territory of Australia and has to write a special on a crocodile river cruise. The character is played by Michael Vartan; who represents a snobby American city slicker. From the beginning the viewer understands that he does not want to be there and would rather be back at home; having a splendid cup of coffee. The river cruise boat itself consists of all sorts of tourists (even a little part played by John Jarratt) and is run by the strong headed Kate; played by the fabulous Radha Mitchell. The boat of course; is attacked (due to events that I won’t talk about because I don’t want to spend this entire piece summarizing a film most of you have seen already) by a giant croc and the tourists are forced into an extreme situation of survival. The events of the film are loosely based on a real giant croc by the name of “Sweetheart.” The croc was known to attack big boats and devour the people that fell off, this happened in the 70’s and the only real effect it has on the movie is just giving it a great context. The movie at its core is a “creature feature” but it doesn’t play out in a typical creature feature fashion. When I think of a creature feature (redundant, I know); I think of goofy films or films that you casually toss in to watch with friends to get inebriated to. Like Wolf Creek; the movie is more concerned about the complex characters and the overall vision of the film.
What McLean really wanted to do (partly) with Rogue, is exploit the vastness of Northern Australia and show how untamed some of the wilderness still is. In a behind the scenes featurette; McLean proudly boasts the fact that some of the shots that you see in the film have never been caught on film. There are many incidents when the camera pans around the beautiful and diverse landscape that is very (visually) breathtaking. Animals and insects play a large role; there are plenty of shots of them, giving a nice look at what else stirs in the wild. The gorgeous flora and fauna are elements that are not meant for a horror film but it works here. McLean was very much focused on showing to the world, what Australia still contained.
The thing I really love about McLean’s films (just about everything) is the use of character development and character insight. A lot of times in horror films, we are left with two dimensional characters that you don’t miss once they’re murdered/eaten/raped. In McLean’s films; you know when someone dies and you’re devastated by it. Ok, devastated might be a strong word (it is a movie) but you know what I mean. Aside from the brief ox kill in the beginning, the first forty minutes or so is fully devoted to the wide range of characters instead of the highly anticipated super-croc. Much like we get to see the snobby coffee and cigarette loving writer, we soon see a widower, an Aussie rebel, an Irish women, some stereotypical Americans, a stuck up English couple, and a proud boat captain. At first you feel nauseated because all these people are tourists (except the captain) and have that bothersome manner about them that makes you wish they WOULD get eaten by a large crocodile. Then there’s a turn of events, we see Russell (played by John Jarrett), a widower, pour the ashes of his wife into the river. A young girl watches and they make eye contact. This is the sort of scene that takes you away from the horror (that you know is in store) and puts you into a real human situation. It is truly beautiful, much like the landscape and the wildlife but we know that idyllic context does not last long.
When the “Rogue” crocodile attacks, my heart would fucking leap every time. This thing is massive and CGI was used but not done poorly. The only bad effects was that sometimes on the boat it was easy to see that there was a blue screen behind some talking cast members. The movie was filmed entirely outside but some close ups and isolated dialog scenes were probably done in a studio; not a big deal really. So there is a CGI croc but its practical and it works. End of story. You have to remember that this was a “Dimension Extreme” film (yikes), so considering that; we’re looking at great special effects. Animatronics are not used very often today and they would probably be even more expensive than some CGI. I was happy with the turnout. You should be too. Also, this is a film in which Sam Worthington gets eaten. So you need to see it just for that, he comes off as a total dick but you do end up loving him before his inevitable death.
That’s another point I would like to make, the characters that you hate and despise so much at the beginning are completely endearing in the end. A movie has not made me rethink how I viewed the characters since District 9 (I saw Rogue after I saw D9), meaning I totally did a 180 character hating. The ending is wonderful too, the beast is killed and the girl is saved (barely). Not a “sappy” ending but one that is appropriate. A classic ending with a modern edge, the defeat of the monster and all is well back in the land of Oz. The movie seems to attack tourists at first but the one who fit in the least is the hero and has his faced proudly displayed in an Outback Aussie bar.
The idea of an exploitation film is to bring unwritten fears or ideas to the forefront in an exaggerated manner (like black power, Mexican power, and different political ideals). This film is not what you would normally tag to that genre but in a way it is appropriate. It’s a film about both entertaining you and bringing back the beauty of Australia. The tourists themselves are part of this, people always hate tourists and Australia in particular is odd about immigration (unofficially). Maybe these new people can do “good” for the country but we also need to remember that Australia is a beast itself. The frontier is untamed and will act out as if it lives, breathes, and thinks like a hunter. If you’re not tough or strong of heart, you will die out there and you probably should have stayed away from that sacred land in the first place. Wink.