Festival Daily

By Ghita Loebenstein

The director of the “Ozploitation” flick Not Quite Hollywood, three Australian horror cohorts and Colin “Midnight Madness” Geddes join the Daily’s resident Aussie, Ghita Loebenstein, at a virtual round table to discuss the free-wheelin’ sex romps, blood-soaked terror tales and high-octane action extravaganzas that made up Australian genre cinema of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Players:
Mark Hartley, director, Not Quite Hollywood
Jon Hewitt, director, Acolytes (also screening at the Festival)
Michael and Peter Spierig, co-directors, Undead
Colin Geddes, Programmer, Midnight Madness

GL: Ozploitation has in many ways been Australia’s forgotten genre until now. When and how did you all come to know about this seminal era of Australian filmmaking?

Mark Hartley: I first discovered Ozploitation on TV in the late 1970s. I vividly remember seeing Snapshot – what kid could forget a film with a killer Mr. Whippy van [that’s Australian for ice cream truck]? – and Patrick. I responded to the American-style stories with the added attraction of the Aussie accents. But it was The Man from Hong Kong that was my favourite TV viewing experience. It was the wildest, most eye-poppingly exciting late-night programme I’d ever set the VCR to record – even if they did make savage cuts to all the groin kicks! The only Ozploitation titles I was lucky enough to see on the big screen were The Chain Reaction and Turkey Shoot. The promise of seeing Lynda Stoner nude was what lured most of the pimple-faced boys sitting in the cinema!

Colin Geddes: I’d have to admit that I don’t think it was until The Road Warrior [also known as Mad Max 2 in Australia] that I clued into Australian cinema, but growing up in the Canadian countryside, not too many “exotic” films came my way. I am sure that my entry into that nation’s cinema was through fast cars roaring through a post-apocalyptic wasteland rather than any of the pastoral cinema imports.

Michael Spierig: For Peter and I, the Mad Max movies were really the first of the Aussie genre films we became aware of. In time, films like Razorback, Turkey Shoot, Patrick, Howling III, Zombie Brigade, and Roadgames all became part of my weekly one-dollar rental at the local video store.

GL: What appeals to you about the genre and the films? What are some of your favourite titles or directors and why?

Jon Hewitt: I think the films of that era were made with an irresistible fearlessness and bravura that we haven’t seen since in movies from down under. Rather than being intimidated by Hollywood and British product, the filmmakers took ‘em head-on with larrikin confidence and fuck-you chutzpah.

Mark Hartley: I hope Not Quite Hollywood doesn’t foolishly represent the films as all being good – they certainly aren’t – and I hope that when you’re watching the doc you can easily work out which are the good, the bad and the very, very bad. My favourites are Roadgames, Long Weekend, The Man from Hong Kong, Next of Kin, Razorback, Barry Mckenzie Holds His Own, Mad Max and Money Movers. In my humble opinion, Richard Franklin was just as skilled a “Hitchcockian” craftsman as De Palma, and no one knew how to position camera rigs to shoot car chases as well as Trenchard-Smith – just look at The Man from Hong Kong and BMX Bandits. Ozploitation fans constantly bemoan the fact that Sandy Harbutt never got the opportunity to follow up Stone with another movie, but I think a far greater cinematic crime is the fact that Tony Williams never got to follow up the atmospheric Next of Kin.

Jon Hewitt: For me the first 15 minutes of Stone is still one of the most perfectly realized sequences in cinema, right up there with the opening of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil. It’s also got a couple of the best “kills” in movies – the piano wire decapitation is as vivid in my mind now as it was when I first saw it as an awed teen. And it’s an incredibly political film. It was one of the first movies anywhere to dramatize social and psychological influences and consequences of the Vietnam experience. It opens with the political assassination of a greenie, even more prescient now as we careen toward environmental apocalypse.

Colin Geddes: I admire the fact that many of the films were made for the drive-in circuit, and Australia was possibly the only nation to exploit that great outdoor pastime besides America. I’ve regularly come across cool posters and ephemera from Australian drive-ins that were very different from US campaigns for the same films. The double and triple bills included strange films that I had never head of – local films that never got a proper export.

GL: How did the Ozploitation films inform and inspire your own career?

Michael Spierig: Ozploitation films reminded me that it doesn’t matter where you come from – splatter, gore and extreme cinema is a universal language. More than comedy or drama, it has a real fan base that is hungry to find whatever is out there. Low-budget filmmaking lends itself so well to horror. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a star because the genre itself is the star. That was certainly something Peter and I were aware of when we decided to throw our life savings into Undead.

Jon Hewitt: I first started to think about making movies in 1975 when I was 15 and saw Stone. The town where I grew up had a huge bike culture and the people in Stone seemed just like the bikies around me. That was the watershed moment when I saw that movies could come from life.

GL: At the height of the Ozploitation fad, Australian film had built a great reputation all around the world. Colin, can you tell us what the view was like from outside Australia?

Colin Geddes: If you pick up the old Cannes market issues of Variety, you can see full-page ads for Australian films going head-to-head with more established exploitation films like Dawn of the Dead or Cannibal Holocaust. Sure, there would be a two-page ad for My Brilliant Career, but you know that there were more bidding wars for Razorback or Thirst.

GL: There seems to be resurgence in genre filmmaking in Australia now. Why is that? What remains of the genre and what has changed in this new wave?

Jon Hewitt: There does seem to be something in the Zeitgeist. Perhaps the change in the whole structure of film financing and support down under is leading to a greater support of more genre-oriented material. The success of Wolf Creek was hugely influential in Acolytes being financed in Australia.

Michael Spierig: Many of the new generation of Australian filmmakers grew up in the days of VHS video nasties like Peter and I did. [We are] a generation influenced by similar movies. The big difference is that audiences now tend to be more film savvy because there are simply more films out there. Audiences today seem to demand so much from even the lowest-budget horror pics, so it has become harder for little Aussie horror films to find theatrical releases. In turn DVDs have essentially replaced art house cinemas and drive-ins as the new platform for underground releases.

Mark Hartley: Not Quite Hollywood ends with the re-emergence of the Australian genre film, and this is obviously due to the success of Wolf Creek at the local box office. While it’s true that prior to Wolf Creek Oz genre films were few and far between, it’s interesting to note that no other recent Ozploitation film (including Storm Warning, Prey, Gone, Rogue, and possibly even Undead) has connected strongly with Australia’s cinema-going public. If Rogue had been a hit I think it would have helped our genre films get to the next level in terms of budget and scope. It seems to me that most of them are equivalent in scope to our art house dramas – and still confined only to the horror genre. Where are our action extravaganzas, sci-fi tales and thrillers? Maybe Daybreakers is the next great hope to propel Aussie genre films into the big league. Good luck guys.

Sept. 9, 2:30pm, AMC 7      
Sept. 12, 6:15pm, Varsity 2