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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Playing On Fear: Wolf Creek

Horror movies in general do well when they play on real fears.

Don't believe me? Then look to the films of old. They have stood the test of time because something about them terrified a generation. Personally speaking, I find a man in a mask toting a large butcher knife to be ten times scarier than being set up to fail in a metal death trap. Why? One word: Realism. Because, unless I piss off an engineer, I'm not going to wind up in a Jigsaw styled trap. But a psycho brandishing a knife, I'm more than likely to connect with because it's a lot more real.

Let's take a moment to look at one of Australia's most known horror films: Wolf Creek. Now Wolf Creek played on the fear of being stranded in the middle of the outback with no hope of survival while being stalked by a local who was a little crazed. So why didn't that translate well with the rest of the world? Simple. It's because, unless you call Australia home, you have no idea how many people go missing in the outback every year. 

If Wolf Creek had have been an English, Canadian or American film, the outback would have been substituted for a remote house in the wilderness, surrounded by wildlife like bears or wolves, while being stalked by a possible demented and disfigured hill-billy or criminally insane madman who had just escaped from a nearby asylum, repeating films of the past and lacking originality which therefore, for some unknown reason, would make it appeal to more people world wide.

Instead Wolf Creek was created, and marketed, for a target audience, not a general horror audience. It was marketed at Australians, playing on the very real fear that there could be another Ivan Milat roaming the country, picking off backpackers and disposing of the bodies where no one would bother to look. This fear was doubled when John Jarratt hit the scene, in a role that would forever change Australia's view of him.

John Jarratt is a loveable Australian personality. From his time in soap opera styled shows like A Country Practice and McLeod's Daughters to a home improvement show he hosted called Better Homes And Gardens, John was in our homes, making us laugh with his outlandish personality. He could make audiences reach a flurry of emotions, but fear was never one of them.

Then it happened. Taking the meaning of “tourist season” a little too literally, writer and director, Greg Mclean, got to work changing the way we viewed our loveable larrikin. By turning John into a ruthless killer, Greg got exactly what he wanted and what the horror genre desperately needed; a highly anticipated and talked about movie.

The scare factor increased when you consider the following facts: Australia's land mass is ¾ the size of the United States. We're not as small as some people might think, not to mention that we're pretty isolated being an island and all. Most of the country is desert which is pretty uninhabitable and with the exception of a few sheep stations and mines, there's nothing out there but dust, dirt, trees and wildlife. Add on the fact that Australia is home to 9 out of 10 of the world's deadliest snakes and 8 out of 10 of the world's deadliest spiders and you're in for a world of trouble should you get stranded in the outback. 

Now you can see how this film appeals to my homeland. The terror and fear is all in the knowledge. Something like Wolf Creek could actually happen. And that aside from the Peter Falconio disappearance in 2001, it has happened before.

And if those facts aren't reason enough for you go out and pick up a copy for yourself, then maybe this will. While there are only 3 on screen deaths, the bodies of past victims are decorating his lair. 

The gruesomeness of Mick Taylor's depravity knows no bounds as he rapes and tortures his victims before eventually killing them. 

What disturbs me the most in regards to his actions is that when it's shown that he had 'kidnapped' a family with a young girl, my mind began to wonder how long he kept that little girl alive and more importantly, what vile things did he do to her. The most powerful aspect of horror is the audiences mind, not what is shown on screen. By making the audience ponder such things, there's a lift in the horror of the film as a whole.

I have friends that reside overseas who have seen this film. Some of them said it was that boring that it would induce a hundred year long coma, while others said it's put them off touring Australia indefinitely. One of my girlfriends, whom for the purpose of this article we'll call Sydney (see what I did there), said that she would never be able to watch John Jarratt again because from that moment on he was and will always be Mick Taylor. 

Now, I have to admit that I agree with Sydney's line of reasoning. John Jarratt's performance as the crazed local with near-perfect aim and a disrespectful attitude towards tourists was pure genius. Never before have we been subjected to him in a role so creepy and terrifying that people actually walked out of the movie in sheer terror and disgust. That takes brilliance. So, to both Greg and John I issue a hearty well done and thanks.

So, if you're bored one Saturday night, and you're looking for a good scare, check out Wolf Creek. The sinister nature of the film in general is refreshing in the world of horror and it not only delivers on chills, but gore as well. Wolf Creek is a must for any horror fan, and with a sequel currently in the works, it's best to go back to where it all began...

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