Until recently, if you asked me to tell you about the Australian film industry I’d probably rattle off a list of Hollywood actors (Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson) and directors (Baz Lurhmann, Peter Weir) who happen to originally hail from the Land Down Under. I might have mumbled something about Crocodile Dundee, Picnic at Hanging Rock, or Mad Max. Beyond that, I would have had nothing.
That’s why I recently made a point of watching Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation, Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary which looks past Australia’s more commonly known history of stately costume dramas and gets down and dirty with the country’s truly insane brand of exploitation cinema. The creation of the R-Rating led to a series of boundary-pushing sex comedies like Alvin Purple in the 1970s which were so successful the country was inundated with highly caffeinated B-movies for the next two decades. Mad Max just happened to be the one film from this run which caught on worldwide, but in its day it was surrounded by countless Aussie films featuring gratuitous nudity, insane action, and schlocky horror.
Occasionally, however, the Ozploitation factory would produce a surprisingly restrained film, one which took on an American classic but did so in an entirely Aussie way. Tony Williams’ 1982 haunting movie Next of Kin is pointed to in Not Quite Hollywood as one such example. Quentin Tarantino of all people appears as a talking head to praise Next of Kin as being Australia’s version of The Shining. That type of praise might needlessly elevate expectations, but with imagery like this you can see his point:Either way, there’s still a streak of Ozploitation in there. After all, at one point someone, spoiler, gets their head blown off with a shotgun. That gives Next of Kin enough of an off-kilter vibe to feel wildly inviting for fans of leisurely-paced haunting stories/murder mysteries which have no problem eventually dropping the Kubrick vibes in favor of something closer to a Dario Argento giallo.The plot is fairly standard. A woman named Linda (Jacki Kerin) returns home to small Australian town to take over the retirement home she inherited from her dead mother. Once there, she hooks up with an old boyfriend and enjoys nostalgic trips through the same old haunts which haven’t changed at all since she left. However, she quickly starts having strange nightmares calling back to possibly repressed memories from when she was a little girl. Making matters worse, people in the retirement home start dying and not just because they’re old and that’s what old people do (hat tip, Old School). No, one old man drowns in a bathtub and later appear to Linda in her dreams.
Much slow-mo madness ensues, with composer Klaus Schulze laying on the strings pretty heavy to imply Linda’s possible descent into madness.
Is there something supernatural afoot? Does Linda have the Australian version of “the shine”? Or is it all a simple conspiracy being orchestrated by the retirement home’s doctor (Alex Scott)? Is he Dr. Red Herring? Or Dr. Evil?
I won’t say. At a brisk 89 minutes, the film is worth watching to see how it all plays out. Prepare to be shocked, not so much by the big reveals in the third act but instead the way director Tony Williams suddenly leans into over-the-top action. A film front loaded with haunting dream imagery and moody overhead shots like this one……just completely goes for it at the end, yet it does so in a way which still feels of a piece with the everything else. The switch doesn’t feel incongruous, but instead quite inevitable. Of course an Australian Shining made in the heyday of Ozploitation would have to end with…well, you’ll have to watch to find out.
THE BOTTOM LINE
One of the big trends in horror movie fandom over the past half decade has been to seek out lesser-known horror movies from outside the U.S. which feel in part intimately familiar, but also entirely different. There’s such a unique joy in seeing different cultures take on well-worn genres and giving them their own unique spin. The Ozploitation B-Movie, for example, is so similar to what the U.S. was doing at the time but taken to bigger extremes. Next of Kin does this as well. It starts out like a classy, moody thriller but turns into just pure over-the-top mayhem. I had a blast with it. Tarantino calls it the Australian Shining; I call it a fun use of 89 minutes.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Severin recently put this out on Blu-Ray with the marketing slogan “The Suspiria Down Under!” That’s a pretty good reference point, along with The Shining.
- Make sure you look up the right Next of Kin. If you find yourself getting lost in Patrick Swayze’s smoldering stare from under an Indiana Jones-style fedora as he investigates his brother’s murder, you’ve picked the wrong Next of Kin.
- List of horror movies set in a retirement home: Next of Kin, Bubba Ho-Tep…um….ummmm…that one Twilight Zone: The Movie segment about the old folks who turn young again?….Cacoon?…
Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation is currently streaming on PlutoTV. Next of Kin was just added to Shudder this weekend.