In 1975, Peter Weir’s haunting Picnic at Hanging Rock cast a spell on viewers worldwide; the ambiguous tale lulled its audience into a dreamy haze with the mystery of three schoolgirls vanishing at the titular Hanging Rock. The picture heralded a New Wave of Australian cinema, and local critics were ecstatic to have such a work represent the continent to filmgoers across the globe.
Then, in 1978, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Stunt Rock mashed together Grant Page and Sorcery — Grant Page a stuntman/madman, Sorcery a rock band/magicians. There were stunts, there was rock, and the only spell cast was by Merlin during his onstage magic duel with Satan.
The tagline: “Death Wish at 120 Decibels.”
It was part of a different kind of movie movement in Australia. A movement comprised of werewolf marsupials, kung fu cops, and rampaging oversized razorbacks. And now, the critics were appalled.
It was the true cinema of Australia—it was Ozploitation.
From my perspective, Australian critics were—and are—notorious snobs who hide behind Picnic at Hanging Rock, Breaker Morant, and other awards contenders, aghast at the true face of their homegrown film industry. This is an industry that was kickstarted by bawdy, raucous comedies like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, The Naked Bunyip, and Alvin Purple. They were filled with projectile vomit, outrageously offensive stereotypes, people slipping and sliding across shit-smeared sidewalks, and sex. Oh, and lots and lots of sex.
And wherever there’s sex, violence can’t be too far behind—most likely in the form of a head-on collision with a pack of mohawked marauders and their nitrous-powered, high-octane muscle car. Or, if you’d prefer, a topless woman strapped to the hood of a raging monster truck. Or a serial decapitator leaving heads scattered across the outback.
All of these are the ingredients of that distinct brand of shameless, go-for-broke moviemaking that can only occur when the government allows film investors a 150% tax incentive. That’s a full 50% higher than the Canadian deal that birthed Canuxploitation, which equals—I believe—fifty times the onscreen insanity.
So strap yourselves in like you’re about to speed across the outback at 250 mph—you won’t find any sexually repressed schoolgirls wandering into a rock around here, but you will see a top-hatted circus freak dine on human toes.
Because this ain’t no picnic, it’s Ozploitation on VRV.
Maybe the only film where a guy is stabbed in the face while doing shadow puppets. Also, in my humble opinion, the finest Australian teen slasher mind control movie set in Illinois, but shot in New Zealand.
Pete Brady is your typical midwestern high school kid, standing around naked in front of his dad—who clips his toenails at the breakfast table—and stressing over how he’s going to pay for college, which is why he’s headed to the local university to participate in experiments for cash. Here a long-dead professor delivers lectures via video and makes a chicken obey his every command. But when Pete is given an intelligence boosting drug, he begins exhibiting some Strange Behavior. Mutilated bodies are turned into scarecrows, actors struggle to suppress their accents, and we take a lengthy break for the greatest costume dance party ever captured on film.
Writer Bill Condon would go on to win an Oscar for Gods and Monsters, before directing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Consider avoiding if you’ve ever peed blood or been stabbed in the eye with an enormous hypodermic needle.
Patrick is the best kind of knock-off, because it pulls off the all-too-difficult trick of being similar—in this case to Carrie—but different. You see, instead of an awkward teen girl with telekinesis having her first period, it’s a bug-eyed Australian guy in a coma with telekinesis who wants a hand job. Like I said: similar, but just different enough make things interesting.
Kathy applies for a nursing gig at the Roget Clinic where the matron tells her the job normally attracts “nymphomaniacs and enema specialists,” before assigning her to Patrick. He murdered his mother and her lover, fell into a coma, his EKG registers “just farts,” and he spits ala The Bride in Kill Bill.
Patrick is basically a comatose, telekinetic incel who rages out on Kathy and any man who gets close to her.
Hitchcockian is a term I’d normally avoid, but in this case it applies—and not just because Patrick has a mother complex, and the Roget Clinic resembles the Psycho house. It’s because director Richard Franklin not only studied the films of Hitchcock, he visited the sets and studied the man himself. And in his best work, he builds tension with a sense of style that nearly rivals that of The Master of Suspense — Patrick being no exception. Franklin and screenwriter Everett De Roche would go on to make the incredible “Rear Window in a semi truck” masterpiece that is Road Games, before Franklin would leave for Hollywood to helm, surprise, Psycho II.
And now for the top-hatted, toe-munching circus freak you’ve all been waiting for. A splatter-filled F.U. to fascism, and the best movie ever to have a chunk of its budget blown at the race track. And to bring things full circle, it’s from Stunt Rock director — and Ozploitation auteur — Brian Trenchard-Smith.
Former Charles Manson Steve Railsback and former Juliet Olivia Hussey are deviants, a proud label to bear in this particular dystopia—because if you aren’t a deviant, you’re the nazi scum in charge. And the nazis love to toss these so-called deviants into reeducation camps where they’re beaten, tortured, forced to eat green Jello, and hunted by government officials and their obscenely rich corporate cronies. The motto here is “Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life.” So it’s a lot like working for Amazon.
But most of all, it’s about human hunting. And these hunters firmly believe that “Excess is what makes life worth living.” And you know they believe it because one drives a turreted bulldozer, and pulls around a furry circus freak on a leash. Which is still not extra enough to overshadow the impeccably dressed murderous lesbian and her exploding, electrified arrows.
If only real fascists were this colorful and interesting.
Speaking of fascists, the film bombed upon release in Australia, but became a surprise hit in the UK. Or maybe not such a surprise, as it was given a new title—one that I imagine appealed to local deviants—Blood Camp Thatcher.