Sh*t I Watch – Wolf Creek Season 1 and 2

Greetings, Glancers! I know it feels like I keep saying this recently, but we’re back with another entry from one of my long-standing series. Wolf Creek was a film I liked to a certain extent when it was first released, though my opinion on it was probably soured by the horror community’s over abundant love for it. At the time it just felt like a perfectly watchable addition to the ‘trip gone wrong, oops here’s a psycho’ sub-genre. It didn’t bring anything new but the main character of Mick was refreshingly smug. With the sequel, Wolf Creek 2, it explained more of Mick’s character and presented another group of hapless travelers in Australia with a series of bloody endings. Both films were torture porn with a self-mocking smirk, a fun time but nothing out of the ordinary beyond a charismatic lead villain. My wife enjoyed them too, but since that time she has moved away from a lot of the horror stuff we used to watch. It’s almost like she was just putting up with them until I put a ring on it.

Jump forwards a few years and Greg McLean decided to return to the outback and good old Mick, not with a third movie, but with a small screen outing. Wolf Creek Season 1 is a spin off from the films, and while it does loosely mention events and characters from the series, it’s its own thing. You don’t need to have seen the films to see the series, and vice versa. Within the opening scenes of the pilot episode, you know pretty much all you need to know about Mick, and about the show, and while the series as a whole does try to fill in his backstory and possibly explain his murderous intentions, it is more simply a female driven, wonderfully no holds barred, revenge story.

We open with an All American family on some sort of camping trip in the outback. They seem like your typical family – a bit of arguing, but clearly nothing out of the ordinary – Mom, Dad, athletic underachieving daughter, and cute son. Enter John Jarratt’s infamous Mick, the sly killer always ready with a racist quip, and a variety of guns and blades. Mick has this was of being charming and dangerous at the same time – lulling his audience with his Oz ways but simultaneously making you wary. You know there’s something wrong with this guy, but you cant honestly believe it. It’s not a spoiler to say that, in the middle of sharing the family’s food for the evening, he snaps and kills them. Pleasingly for a TV show, there is no shying away from the violence – mid conversation he slams a knife into Daddy’s leg before opening up his throat (in front of wife and child, naturally), then as mummy and son hold hands he throws another knife straight through mummy’s face. Son tries to run, but gets a bullet in his spine. When he goes stalking after daughter Eve (singing as he goes), the brutality finally hits home. Before going further, let me just say that Lucy Fry is a fucking beast. Her performance here, and in the series as a whole, is deserving of all the nominations and plaudits, and if she doesn’t become a superstar in the future it will be a damning slight for the human race.

Without giving away too many other spoilers, the rest of Season 1 sees Lucy, in classic Hitchcock style, trying to track down Mick to kill him while at the same time avoiding the cops. She learns more of his history as she goes, there are numerous side-plots about the cop who has been working Mick’s case for years, various locals with their own criminal or heroic pasts, and Mick himself who quickly realises that someone is following him for a change, and tries to turn the tables. The first season is only six episodes long, but this feels right. It never reaches the point of feeling bloated or unnecessarily stretched, but the various interweaving stories in the end are side dressing for the main event. While we end up caring about some of the others involved, in the end all we want to see is Eve and Mick standing off. Eve shows herself to be quick-witted and resourceful, a horror heroine in the vein of Ripley, Sarah Conor, or Sydney, and she plays the long game instead of rushing in. Fry and Jarrett have great chemistry, even though she don’t appear together too often, and on their own each is addictive and entertaining.

Credit should go to the writers and directors for continually thinking up great one-liners or speeches for Mick to chew on, and for shooting Australia in all its gorgeous, barren beauty. You’ve probably heard me talk about my love for sunrises and sunsets and twilight in movies, and Season 1 and 2 smash this look and atmosphere head on. Both series are among the prettiest I’ve seen in recent years – all the more so because there is little or no CG or false trickery going on – what you see is what the actors saw and felt.

Season 2 then concerns a new group. It isn’t readily apparent at what point in the Wolf Creek timeline any of this takes place, but again it’s not overly important. In classic sequel tradition, we up the ante by increasing the cast numbers – think Aliens or The Hills Have Eyes 2. We follow a group of people from various countries and of various ages going on a coach trip. We have a German couple and their daughter, a Canadian couple trying to salvage their marriage, a couple of tourists suffering from unrequited love, a psychologist, an ex soldier, a gay couple, a party boy, a bus – whatever the bus equivalent of a train spotter is. Through the six episodes we get to know this group, love them or hate them, and watch them get picked off by you know who. Yes, thanks to an unintended insult at a roadside cafe, Mick is back – this time taking charge of the coach and everyone inside. If there’s one thing Mick hates, it’s foreigners, and after driving his prey into the middle of nowhere he begins dispatching them with remorseless glee.

If I have any criticisms about Season 2, it’s that they have turned Mick too much into an unstoppable killing machine like Jason Voorhees. There are a number of teams he should quite easily have been killed, or at least slowed considerably, but there he is moments later back and badder than ever. Couple that with a few silly and unlikely decisions by our protagonists or others they meet along they way, and we have something which feels more contrived and cartoonish that the first Season. That being said, it’s still great stuff. Most of the cast are good and the time is taken to get to know their strengths and flaws. There is still a lot of up close and personal violence, with gruesome practical effects, and Mick is as rewarding and funny as ever. The story sometimes hints at a wider or future plot, but whether or not a third entry in the show or movie series will be made remains to be seen. With lead actor Jarrett accused of some serious crimes from a few decades ago, I can’t say much being done until is name is cleared (if it is). Would Wolf Creek work without him? It’s hard to see it happening, as Jarrett completely embodies the character, and all of his ticks, smirks, his voice, his stature, and of course that laugh – without those you would have a very different prospect on your hands.

Who’s it all for then? Fans of the movies should feel right at home, and anyone with a love for horror should get on board. If you like your horror violent and without holding back, then you’ll get a kick out of this, but it’s also funny, beautifully shot, and well acted and written, even if things do get a little silly the further down the line we get. My wife loved it too, and she has been avoiding the horror scene for a while now, unless it’s a creature feature. Horror is making a splash on the small screen in recent years, but it feels like this show flew a little under the radar. If you like horror, then you have no excuse not to seek this out and enjoy a bloody good time.

Let us know what you thought of the series in the comments below!

Wake In Fright

For the longest time, Australia has been known more as an exporter of beer, singers, and Television, even though they have a wide, varied, and interesting home-grown cinema. Even though there have been a number of breakthrough hits or films which have brought attention to the country – Mad Max, Wolf Creek, and of course Crocodile Dundee, it remains a mysterious uncharted land for your average cinema goer with a slew of undoubted classics of multiple genres passing far under the radar. Wake In Fright is arguably the foremost of these – a film which received critical praise upon release but a muted commercial response and which has found subsequent acclaim with each new generation of viewers.

I should get the notorious elements out of the way first, as they may be the deciding factor on whether you watch or not. The film does feature live and active violence against kangaroos, with some scenes of a drunken hunt. We see them being chased by dog, by car, shot, wrestled with, and stabbed – it’s understandable if you want out at this point. The filmmakers defended the footage by saying it was part of a real hunt and later became disgusted by it that they feigned a power outage so it would end. The hunt is just one of the symbols of machismo which the film explores, surrounded by drinking, fighting, a give no fucks attitude, and a disregard for anything resembling cultured humanity.

It’s the descent of an otherwise decent man into this male pack mentality which takes up most of the film. John is an affable teacher in the Outback but who wants more from life – an escape from Australia and a more cultured and worthwhile existence. During the Christmas holidays he heads towards Sydney and his girlfriend, stopping off in an outback town known as The Yabba. The locals are overbearingly friendly, casing John as an outsider and keen to involve him in their customs – namely, drinking, eating, and gambling. John as an intelligent educator views himself as better than them, treating these experiences as an off-putting but nevertheless interesting excursion on his way to civilization, but the effects of alcohol and the lure of a huge gambling win to fund his escape to London set him on a downward spiral. Trapped without a penny to his name, he must rely on the charity of the locals and pay them back by getting involved.

The film takes a different approach to the ‘fall of the civilized man’ sub-genre which populated the early 70s. Rather than some extreme event twisting the protagonist towards violent revenge, John is led by smiling faces and helping hands towards what would appear to be man’s natural state. He isn’t forced or forcibly coerced but knowingly succumbs to a societal peer-pressure however horrendous the result. This is all convincing thanks to a terrific lead by Gary Bond and a host of buffoon locals and drunks, most notably a fantastic lost performance by Donald Pleasence. Pleasence veers between funny, charming, extremely creepy, displaced, and at home often within the same scene, often with just a glance and a facial expression. Few films have a power to fill you with unease quite as much as this, and upon rewatch it’s not clear why or how these feelings come so powerfully. There is nothing overt in the first 30 minutes, nothing grim or harsh or violent or frightening. Certainly Kotcheff’s direction has a lot to do with it with plenty of rapid camera moves and spins and frantic close-ups of shouting and claustrophobic masculinity. More likely it is that the film, through its many combinations of writing, direction, score, performance and more, has tapped into a fear which many men have – a fear of the alpha, a fear of not being part of the pack or possibly worst of all, the fear of being part of it – and enjoying it.

The film starts out with a wonderful shot, evocative of Once Upon A Time In The West of all things – just an empty landscape which stretches on forever, a railway track yearning for the horizon, and a single building on either side. The camera does a creeping 360 and we see, impossibly, that there is nothing else for miles – we may as well be at the end of the Earth. It’s the only glimpse of beauty we get as the camera spends the rest of the film closed in and up close. As hopeless and vast as the opening shot is, and as much as John desires to escape from it, by the end he and us want nothing more than a return to its simplicity. Wake In Fright is one of the finest Australian movies ever made and one of the best films of the 70s. It’s depressing that so few film fans have seen it or even know it exists, but it should be spoken of in the same breath as Straw Dogs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Taxi Driver as an example of striking, unforgettable 70s Cinema.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Wake In Fright!

Neighbours – Bonus Post 6

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Happy 2018 everyone! By the time you read this of course it’ll probably be closer to 2019, but as I write this on the 11th of January, Neighbours has just recently returned to our screens. If you followed my previous posts, you’ll know I started watching the show again after being excited about the Dee returning storyline. That story and its repercussions dominated much of 2017 and in the final episode of the year, as Toadie and Sonia renewed their marriage vows, someone watched from the shadows – is it fake Dee, or could it actually be real Dee? Elsewhere we’ve had dead old Scottish guys, uncomfortable prancing cupids, kidnapped babies, and Elly struggling to keep her clitoris in check. Yes, it’s just another ordinary week on Ramsey Street! Rumours and confirmations that a number of key figures will be leaving this year, so expect some new faces too – that dreaded curse of ‘what do we do with the teens once they finish school’ continues. Lets take a look back at some golden oldies.

Todd Landers – Kristian Schmid – 1988 – 1992

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Significant Others: Katie Landers. Hope Gottlieb. Beverly Marshall. Phoebe Bright.

Todd and his sister Katie were among the first ‘orphans’ on the street, taken in by other relatives in Erinsborough due to issues at home. In all honesty I don’t remember much about Todd, except for somehow convincing myself when I was younger that he was played by Christian Slater –  no idea why. My greatest memory of him is of course his death – being hit by a van when trying to catch up to Phoebe as she was on her way to have an abortion. I remember this being one of the first switcheroos I’d experienced, as he woke up in hospital, apparently fine, then died moments later. Neighbours would pull the same stunt with my beloved Cody a few years later.

Where Are They Now:

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In the dirt, though he did return as a ghost shortly after dying. We’re still waiting for Hope, his daughter, to make an appearance, though she did of course return for Neighbours Vs Zombies. Schmid has maintained his acting career, appearing in The Tomorrow People, Sea Patrol, and can currently be seen in Home And Away.

Lori Lee – Michelle Ang – 2002 – 2004

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Significant Others: Jack Scully. Connor O’Neill. Michelle Scully. Taj Coppin. Nina Tucker. Madeleine Lee. The Kennedys.

Oh man, I loved Lori Lee. She was one of my favourite smaller characters of the time and of course I had a bit of a crush. She first appeared as Jack Scully’s girlfriend, but it was her one night stand with Connor which brought their daughter into the world. The enduring question from all of this is how the hell Connor had relationships with so many hot women. My biggest memory of her is of course her slipping at the pool.

Where Are They Now:

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Lori left with Maddie in 2004, with Connor keeping in touch. When Connor returned to the show in 2012 he let us know that Lori had recently been married and that he was going to move closer to her to spend more time with Maddie. It seems unlikely she’ll return after 14 years, but the time is ripe for Maddie to make an appearance now as a new regular teen. I may have literally screamed when I saw that Michelle Ang joined Fear The Walking Dead – spoiler alert – she only appeared in a couple of episodes and wasn’t shown being killed – she could yet make a return there, or even better on The Walking Dead itself. She’s appeared in some other notable movies and shows too – The Taking Of Deborah Logan, Top Of The Lake for example.

Joe Mangel – Mark Little – 1988 – 1991 (2005)

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Significant Others: The Mangels. Kerry Bishop. Melanie Pearson.

Joe Mangel for me was the prototype Australian man. When I was young if someone asked me to think of someone from Australia, I thought of Crocodile Dundee and Joe Mangel. While they’re both drenched in cliche, it doesn’t make their characters any less true. Joe was a beer-drinking, easy going bloke’s bloke but still had a soft hart. Joe was involved in one of the show’s most famous moments when his wife Kerry was shot and killed but I mostly remember him for his relationship with the ever-laughing Melanie.

Where Are They Now:

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Joe left the show with Melanie and Sky, leaving son Toby behind for some reason, only to return to Australia and re-connect. By the time Joe came back for the 20th Anniversary show, he and Melanie had divorced. Joe was one of a handful of characters who returned for multiple episodes in 2005, sparking a potential relationship with Lyn Scully before leaving again. I’m not sure if he has been mentioned again in the years since, but it seems likely given his ties to the street. Mark Little has stated he doesn’t want to come back to the show and outside of Neighbours he has remained popular in Britain, appearing on The Big Breakfast, The Wright Stuff, and multiple pantos. He did narrate the 30th Anniversary documentary, so maybe he has softened his stance and could return.

Sky Mangel – Stephanie McIntosh (Miranda Fryer) – 1998 – 1991, 2003 – 2007 (2015)

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Significant Others: Joe Mangel. Harold Bishop. Serena Bishop. Boyd Hoyland. Dylan Timmons. Stingray. Lana Crawford.

I don’t remember much about Sky from first time around, but when she returned she quickly became a fan favourite. She had an independent and rebellious streak which set he at odds with her Grandfather Harold, but they quickly fell into a cozy relationship. Speaking of relationships, she had a few during the time on her street, including the first same-sex kiss in the show, shared with Lana Crawford. Sky continued an on-off relationship with Boyd, but eventually has a baby with Dylan (though there was some uncertainty over whether Dylan or Stingray was the daddy). She eventually moves away to Port Douglas and in her brief 2015 return she convinces Harold to come join her.

Where Are They Now:

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Presumably still in Port Douglas with her children and Harold. I’m not sure if Dylan is there too… or Boyd. There’s every opportunity she could return, and all the more likely one of the Bishops will return given it’s been a few years since we’ve had one on the street. Sky could come back with her kids, or one of the kids could come back now they’d be in their early teens. McIntosh has not appearing in much since leaving the show – a couple of interesting little known films and her own reality show, as well as releasing a moderately successful album.

Let us know in the comments what your memories of these Neighbours icons are and who you would like to see returning to Ramsey Street!