G’day! Grab yourselves a coldie (beer) from the pesky (ice chest), and get ready for some true blue Oz and Kiwi horror films. Listen in to The Scariest Things talk some Southern hemisphere horror.
In the 1970s Australian Cinema came of age, with their New Wave or The Australian Film Renaissance, and lasted through the 1980s. In many ways, this new wave shadowed the trends of the independently directed American films from the ’60s and ’70s, with the newfound ability to use sexual and violent themes. Led by auteurs like Peter Weir and George Miller, films from Oz were serious and intellectually resonant pictures even when tackling genre fare. Probably the most important to the genre were Wake in Fright (1971) – more on that in our Podcast, The Cars that Ate Paris (1973), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977), Thirst (1979) Mad Max (1979) [and its illustrious sequels The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)], and culminating with the Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill thriller Dead Calm (1989).
From the 1990s going forward, much of Australian horror kept the serious tone and followed a couple of favorite tropes. Survival horror, capitalizing on some of Australias more dangerous fauna, like Razorback (1984… yes not a ’90s film, but it fits the trope), Black Water (2007), Rogue (2007), The Ruins (2006) and The Reef (2010). Another favorite trend in Aussie horror is their own version of the roadside hillbilly killer. Good old fashioned grindhouse thrills, in the vein of early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper. Good examples of the Oz indie roadside horror include Dying Breed (2008), Road Train (AKA Road Kill) (2010), Killing Ground (2016), and most importantly Wolf Creek (2005) which served up perhaps the best horror villain of the past 20 years, this side of Pennywise, with the mercurial Mick Taylor.
Meanwhile about 2500 miles away, the filmmakers of New Zealand were taking a very different path for their horror films, and the penchant for Kiwi horror to lean into the comedic and gory side of the genre. Many people forget that Peter Jackson was an exploitation film director before he took on Middle Earth. His first three features were aptly named Bad Taste (1987), the highly inappropriate puppet movie Meet the Feebles (1989), and the splatterfest fan-favorite Dead Alive [AKA Braindead](1989). And it was the Matthew J. Fox led The Frighteners that convinced Hollywood studios of the craftsmanship and storytelling chops of the scruffy Jackson.
It would be fair to say that New Zealand horror for many years WAS Peter Jackson. Not only did he develop the world-class effects house WETA studios, but his influence has had left a legacy that many would follow. Some of the best horror comedies of all time are recent Kiwi productions. Black Sheep (2006), Deathgasm (2015), and What We Do in the Shadows (2014) are all must-see horror comedies. And the trend continues, as the Scariest Things has two more Kiwi horror comedies in our Podcast for you to check out!
The future of horror down under looks bright. Both Australia and New Zealand now have a sophisticated film industry with some of the brightest talent in film production today. Sometimes you forget that James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious) is an Australian, and so is his collaborator Leigh Whannell (Upgrade, The Invisible Man) who is now a formidable director and producer in his own right. They don’t always do Australian films, but certainly Saw was, even if it had a more international cast. Jennifer Kent is a director that garnishes a lot of attention, due to her masterpiece psychological tale The Babadook (2014), and could end up being one of the leading lights not just for Australian film, but for female directors as well. Taika Waititi, of course, has gone from obscure indie New Zealand director to mega-star director of projects such as Thor Ragnarok and The Mandalorian. You can’t help but think that these young directors will serve as inspiration to a generation of filmmakers to come.
With that, the history lesson is over! Go listen to some of our favorites, light up the barbie, and throw on a chunk of chook (chicken). It’s dime to dive into the darkest Down Under with the Scariest Things Podcast!