Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekly Top Five: Ozploitation

Posted By on 11.04.12 at 04:00 PM

Richard Franklins Patrick
  • Richard Franklin's Patrick
Seeing as the Gene Siskel Film Center is currently hosting a weeklong run of Wake in Fright, the forgotten Australian classic that's been enjoying retrospective screenings all year, I figured I'd present my Top Five Ozploitation films.

Not familiar with the term? A subcategory of the Australian New Wave, which produced such notable films as The Devil's Playground and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Ozploitation is an era of Australian cinema—generally cited as lasting from the mid-70s to the early 80s—that depicted Aussie culture at its most inane. Utilizing various forms of genre technique, it presents a wide array of films that range in style and, of course, quality. But like any brand of exploitation cinema, there are few diamonds to be found in the rough.

Those diamonds are:

5. The Man From Hong Kong [aka The Dragon Flies] (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1975) Heralded as Australia's "first kung-fu movie," this coproduction of Golden Harvest studio's Raymond Chow and the Australian production house the Movie Company boasts the sort of lowbrow charm that demands a "-ploitation" suffix. What it lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in tongue-in-cheek dialogue and dynamic action sequences—many of which involve hang gliding, if that does anything for you. Bolstered by a cast that includes Sammo Hung, George Lazenby, and Jimmy Wang-Yu—who apparently directed a sizable chunk of the film himself—it's a tough film not to love.

4. Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978) This intriguingly bizarre ode to Hitchcock tells the story of a young man (the titular Patrick) who, after brutally killing his mother and her brother, falls into a years-long coma, in which he remains under the constant surveillance of a mysterious doctor in a private hospital. As it's slowly revealed, Patrick possesses psychokinetic powers that allow him to murder people with his mind, a truly unique narrative ploy that was unfortunately spoiled in every poster that promoted the film—"He's in a coma . . . yet, he can KILL" reads one particularly blunt one-sheet.

3. Thirst (Rod Hardy, 1979) Along with Patrick, this atmospheric vampire film represents the pinnacle of 70s Australian horror. Efficiently directed by Hardy, it's also notable for its moody score from Brian May—an underrated composer who penned the themes to the first two Mad Max films—and a small but effective appearance from David Hemmings of Blowup/Deep Red fame. There's a DVD version out there that preserves the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 that's pretty simple to track down.

2. Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston, 1978) An unhappily married couple (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets) venture into a wilderness for a camping trip, only to have their respective discontent boil over into senseless destruction of the environment. These transgressions include polluting, spraying insecticide on unwitting bugs, and even killing a helpless dugong. Like Wake in Fright, the film is a sort of cautionary tale that warns against taking the outback too lightly—eventually, the tide is turned on the nefarious couple as nature begins to fight back, giving the narrative an almost mythical quality.

1. Mad Max (George Miller, 1979) Predictable, I know—but this dystopic actioner remains one of the most thoroughly entertaining and endlessly fascinating genre films around. Themes of heroism and social order are presented in the most backhanded ways possible yet still manage to find a place within Miller's kinetic direction, which boasts a number of what Australian film scholar Adrian Martin calls "bravura set pieces." Miller truly has a gift for film action sequences, in the purest sense of the world. A truly raucous, provocative time.

Honorable Mentions: Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout might deserve a spot on this list, but like Wake in Fright, it predates the true Ozploitation boom and is a decidedly different sort of film. Beyond that: Trenchard-Smith's BMX Bandits plays like a spiritual sequel to The Man From Hong Kong in terms of its sheer ridiculousness; Franklin's Roadgames is a fairly inventive send-up of Rear Window—it also happens to be the film he made right before Psycho II, cementing him as a true Hitchcock head; and, of course, Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior, is every bit the spectacle as its predecessor.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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