Come learn all you can handle about Ozploitation
Over the last week, for no reason whatsoever, I have been immersing myself in the sleazy joy that is “Ozploitation.” What? You haven’t heard of Ozploitation? Well, boy have you come to the right place. I’m here to learn you a bit about the greatness that was, and still is, coming out of the Land Down Under.
You see in November 1971, the Australian Classification Board (basically the Aussie’s version of the MPAA) introduced the R rating into their classification system for films. And with that, the flood gates opened.
As best as I can tell, prior to 1971, anything that would be classified R would be effectively banned, or at least be slapped with something equivalent to an X rating, which would basically be a death sentence for any movie. But once the R rating was available a flood of exploitation films began to get produced. Mostly sex comedies, over the top action flicks, and of course horror flicks – all through the “similar, but different” lens of Australian filmmakers – these movies were all uniquely Australian and are a hell of a lot of fun to dig into.
Over the course of this week, I’ve checked out Ozploitation flicks from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, and there are plenty more that I need to get to, both old and new. Patrick (1978) is a story about a comatose dude who uses his telekinetic abilities to fuck up anyone who comes between him and the new nurse he has the hots for. Next of Kin (1982) is the Australian take on a Gothic horror story that Quentin Tarantino compared to The Shining. Turkey Shoot (1982) is the familiar story of humans hunting humans for sport, but this time it’s set in a dystopian Australian future with dissidents as the prey. Body Melt (1993) may be the gooiest, slopfest of all the … well, body melt horror genre that includes Street Trash and The Stuff.
More modern flicks like The Loved Ones (2009) and Triangle (2009) show that the crazy folks down there are doing more than designing interiors for Outback Steakhouse. The Loved Ones was especially fun, showing us that some people take prom way too seriously down there.
Of course, there are a ton more, all of the Mad Max movies, new classics like Wolf Creek, The Babadook, and Lake Mungo, and oldies like Wake in Fright, Road Games, The Cars That Ate Paris, and Long Weekend. But right now, I’m going to take you down the Ozploitation rabbit hole as we discuss the 1984 swine symphony that is Razorback!
What we have here is the story of a feral pig the size of a rhinoceros that’s terrorizing the desolate Outback town of Gamulla (which we’re told is an Aboriginal word for “intestine” or “gut”). Now, “desolate” is being generous when describing this place. It’s like what you picture when you think of a stereotypical gutter town in an old western with a sprinkling of Mad Max. And a camel. No Mar-A-Lago here.
Two men with different pasts find themselves with a shared mission – hunting down and killing this mammoth razorback. Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr) is out for vengeance after the animal blew up his house and dragged his grandson off for a midnight snack. Carl Winters (Gregory Harrison) is an American investigating the disappearance of his wife, an investigative reporter who ended up getting rescued from an attempted rape by our local monster, only to be dragged out of her car and noshed on just when she thought she was safe.
This is also my favorite kill of the movie as the way she is pulled from the car is very reminiscent of when the shark kills Quint in Jaws, swinging him back and forth in his mouth as Quint struggles to grab on to something before being dragged under. You know, classy shit.
Jake and Carl, with help from Sarah (Arkie Whiteley) who may or may not be a pig scientist, try to track down this hog and end its reign of terror. And as if that isn’t enough, they also have to deal with two brothers, Benny and Dicko Baker (Chris Haywood and David Argue) who run a processing plant that turns kangaroo and wallaby into dog food and live in a cave. They are sort of like if the Sawyers from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jupiter’s clan from The Hills Have Eyes got drunk on Fosters at a psycho hillbilly jamboree and exchanged bodily fluids. Either way, they are quite a pair.
There isn’t really anything revolutionary about this story. It has often been described as a lesser cousin of Jaws. And in fact, while it may not reach the same quality of that classic, it does have a lot in common with it. Bob McCarron was the man who was responsible for the design of the giant razorback. He built a total of six models, including a full-sized animatronic model which cost $250,000.
However, similar to Jaws, we only see glimpses of it until the end, and usually in really tight shots. Despite the cost, as shocking as it may sound, a rhino-sized boar just didn’t look realistic. But by using some creative techniques, what we don’t see is just as effective as what we do see. Bob McCarron went on to handle the special effects for Peter Jackson’s gorefest Braindead (aka Dead Alive) and oddly enough was the medical supervisor for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Razorback was written by Ozploitation great Everett DeRoche. Born in Maine, raised in San Diego, he moved to Australia when he was 22 and was responsible for some of the most well know Ozploitation flicks of the late-70s and early-80s including Patrick, Long Weekend, Harlequin, and Road Games.
Dean Semler was the cinematographer who got hired based on his work on Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. To be honest, his work in Razorback is fantastic. For an exploitation movie with a budget of $5.5 million, the way this is shot is impressive. Semler even won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Cinematography for Razorback in 1984. He went on to shoot Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Cocktail, Young Guns, Dances with Wolves (for which he won an Academy Award), City Slickers, Last Action Hero, Water World, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (yikes!), and Apocalypto. Actually, if you look at his filmography it’s fucking nuts how many well-known movies he’s shot. Pretty impressive.
The director, Russell Mulcahy, has had quite the career, too. Before Razorback, Mulcahy directed some pretty big music videos including the very first video played on MTV in 1981 “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. He also made videos for AC/DC, Culture Club, Paul McCartney (“Wonderful Christmastime”), Duran Duran (10 videos, including “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Rio”), Bonnie Tyler (“Total Eclipse of the Heart”), Def Leppard (“Pour Some Sugar on Me”), and Elton John (20 videos). After Razorback, which like so many other future cult films was a total flop at the time, Mulcahy did pretty well for himself. His credits include Highlander, Highlander II, The Shadow, Resident Evil: Extinction, and of course the TV movie 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story.
So that about does it. Now you know way more than you ever wanted to know about Ozploitation, giant killer hogs and an Australian music video director. Razorback was a lot of fun. Ozploitation in the ’70s and ’80s gets to be pretty recognizable just based on the overall atmosphere in all of these movies. Oppressive and uncomfortable is the best way I could describe it. Like just underneath the surface, total madness is waiting to burst out and have its way with a still warm kangaroo carcass.
For a story about a killer feral pig and the people out to kill it, Razorback has some really effective, suspenseful bits. What I took note of is how it seems to be a huge influence on one of my favorite flicks, Tremors. From the guy climbing a tower to escape the monster, a woman being menaced while in her car from the monster, and even the young female scientist who is studying the monster – if it didn’t directly influence Tremors, then that is quite the coincidence. Either way, I enjoyed the hell out of this one – three stars.