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Destination Horror: Australia


 

If you weren't already concerned about travelling to Australia for fear of death from the extreme heat of the outback or black widow spiders biting your nether regions, watching some of the horror movies that the country has produced over the years might keep you away for life!

   The film that put Australia on the horror map was game-changer Wolf Creek in 2005. All too often you hear of Europeans and Americans globe-trotting around the world thinking it will be just as safe as their homeland, but then it turning out not to be. Wolf Creek followed a pair of backpacking British girls and the Sydney-born friend whom they have met along the way, as they went in search of a huge meteor crater at Wolf Creek. After coming across some predictably shady characters at the local petrol station, it was soon apparent that they were in for a bumpy ride with the 'locals'.

   The film had no supernatural element, with the  exception of the car battery dying at the crater site for no obvious reason (we are given to assume that it is due to a magnetic field or something similarly geophysical, as their watches also stop), but nor did it need one. When the friends realise their predicament, an outbacker shows up to help and takes them back to his farm to fix their car. They go along, somewhat trepidatiously, and the tension increases as he  leads them to their very own hell on earth where everything goes murderously awry. Having been described as doing the same for backpacking as The Blair Witch Project did for camping, Wolf Creek was enough to put off even the most fearless global trekker.

   2009 brought an even more horrific tale of rejection and revenge. The Loved Ones introduced a girl desperate for a boyfriend and a boy who blamed himself for his father's death in a recent car accident. The former is actually completely insane and with the help of her implicitly incestuous father, she kidnaps the boys who reject her invite to the school prom. After an hour or so of weirdness, torture and dinner with the girl's lobotomised mother, the film takes another wild turn: not only do the protagonists lobotomise the boys, but they keep them alive in an underground dungeon, whose darkness is rent only by the screeching of creatures who once were happy teenagers.

   In 2014, The Babadook received wide critical acclaim when Jennifer Kent made her directorial debut, with herself in the lead role. It was the story of a boy and his obsession with a boogeyman-style creature that causes his (single) mother to spiral into a syndrome of hatred and resentment for her son. Premiering at FrightFest 2014, Kent explained how her film was also a tale of a mother unable to cope on her own with a difficult child, and the audience loved it on both counts. Using monsters as metaphors for more complex emotional issues is common practice in supernatural horror films and The Babadook was no exception. Kids have 'imaginary' friends, but how do you know if that's just a natural part of their emotional development, or if there really is something there? That intriguing premise was what The Babadook was all about, and it resulted in an ambiguously terrifying  journey into alienation and loneliness.

   If the weirder the better is for you, Bad Boy Bubby was a terrifically odd 1993 film about a 35-year-old mentally-disturbed man who discovers the outside world for the first time after his over-protective mother has spent years telling him that the air out there is poisonous. After capturing a cat that has found its way into his dungeon-room (and wrapping it in cling film, then failing to understand why it dies), Bubby eventully ventures outside, where he ends up joining a rock band! The film's unconventional nature and ponderous pace doesn't help matters, as the viewer is asked to relate to a strange child-like man who can't think for himself. But Bad Boy Bubby's Adelaide setting gives it an unusual edge and its incestuous subject-matter marked it out as a sign of more interesting things to come from Australian horror.

   With the British industry quite failing to perform and the genre taking a repetitive turn for the worst in Hollywood, Australia has stepped up to the plate in recent years to bring a fresh take to familiar themes, despite a wayward side-step into 'crocodile' films in 2007. If you're looking for something distinctly different from the average teens-in-peril slasher to which horror cinema has become addicted of late, Australia could be the destination for your next fright-fix.

   Just make sure you don't venture too far from centres of population!