Directed by: Tony Williams, Starring: Jackie Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott. Horror, Australia 1982, 89mins, Cert 15.
Released on Blu-ray, download and on-demand by Second Sight Films on 25th March 2019.
Championed out of obscurity by Quentin Tarantino, Kiwi director Tony Williams’ only foray into the horror genre is a little gem of Ozploitation. Whilst citing Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS and 1900 as being among his visual influences, Williams’ nifty slow burner also displays (perhaps unwittingly) many cues from another Italian source of cinematic tradition, namely the giallo.
Despite winning the best director award at the Stiges Film Festival in 1982, the film unjustly slipped below the radar for various reasons including being a victim of the tax incentive scheme it was borne out of. I would also suggest it’s not an easily marketable product, as evidenced by the films’ slightly misleading contradicting artwork (e.g. a little girl standing rigid with a red ball by her side) and the tagline: “There is something evil in this house.”
Granted there are gothic elements enlisted here. Firstly, there’s a spooky old mansion - a retirement home named Montclare - inherited by Linda (Jackie Kerin) from her late mother. There’s tree-felling flashes of lightning which help illuminate a spiral staircase leading to a dust laden attic with a leaky window and a child’s red ball. Taps are mysteriously left on in bathrooms and candles are lit by unseen hands. However, there is a lot more happening at Montclare beyond the supernatural trappings.
A childhood trauma, buried in Linda’s subconscious is about to resurface as Montclare’s residents appear to be rather alarmingly prone to drowning in the bath tub and Linda becomes convinced there’s someone or something else stalking the corridors of the retirement home.
Utilising gliding steadicam (for the first time in an Australian production) together with innovative crane and ambitious camera set ups, the visual palette achieved is at times akin to a fever dream. This ethereal quality is further enhanced by the evocative electronic music of synth maestro and early Tangerine Dream member Klaus Schulze (the producer originally approached Vangelis: unavailable). Striking set pieces and memorable images abound, a fountain’s water turns to blood, there’s a painting which signifies a key character trait, sparkling crystals lit by lightning, misdirection glimpsed through a window pane, raindrops rhythmically cascading down a windscreen – and even a giallo-like silhouetted figure in raincoat and hat briefly glimpsed from afar in the stormy night. Then there’s the good old well-worn feline jump-scare, a hideously creepy child’s doll tumbling out of a stowed away box and a red-coated figure which may or may not be a red-herring.
And as well as the numerous giallo references, there’s also a horribly effective slow-motion visual nod to the classic French thriller LES DIABOLIQUES.
The cast provide solid support as they pirouette around the gliding camera work. John (WOLF CREEK) Jaratt essays local hunk and Linda’s former sweetheart Barney with a disarming level of open-shirted charm whilst trying in vain to allay Linda’s suspicions as they crank through the gears right up to full-blown hysteria.
There’s even a steadicam shot following the aforementioned moggy down a corridor which reminded me of the husky tracking sequence in Carpenter’s THE THING (1982)!
After a measured hour of build up, director Williams lets rip and the powder kegs which have been kept in reserve are lit in a bloody and literally explosive final third which also boasts a modest but admirable body count in a dénouement which is suitably barmy, implausible and yet strangely satisfying all at once. In many ways this perfectly summarises my thoughts on the film itself. A real treat. (Tip: try to avoid watching any of the trailers prior to first viewing – they really give far too much away).
Extras: two audio commentaries, director Tony Williams and Producer Tim White, and a separate commentary with cast members. There’s a lovely evocative montage of shooting locations revisited accompanied by Klaus Schulze’s gorgeous music, extended interviews with director and John Jarratt, 2 short films from Tony Williams, a tantalising glimpse (using film stills) of a sequence deleted prior to release which would have been a real humdinger, trailers, the complete ballroom footage (which will make sense once you’ve watched the main feature), and finally an image gallery and reversible sleeve art.
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