A SICK PICKS SPECIAL (May 31, 2008)
THE NAKED BUNYIP
Color, 1970, 139m. / Directed by John B. Murray / Starring Graeme Blundell, Barry Humphries, Gordon Rumph, Russell Morris / Shock (Australia R0 PAL)
It's only fitting that the Australian film industry as we know it began with a sexploitation film. Since other countries were making a fortune with pseudo-documentaries about public attitudes towards sex (including some very popular, unsimulated "demonstrational" documentaries), a bunch of aspiring Aussie actors and filmmakers got together and decided to lampoon the trend with this goofy outing, which hinges on the fictional framing story of young Graeme Blundell (who later became a sex comedy star in his own right as Alvin Purple) going around Melbourne finding out what the average citizen really does between the sheets. Along with familiar faces like Dame Edna, he uncovers the truth about such subjects as cross-dressing, strippers, lesbianism, swinging, and pretty much everything else you can think of, though it's all depicted in a light, carefree manner. The running time is way, way too long, but if you want to see a new spin on sex-ed moviemaking, this should be just the ticket. The full frame DVD preserves the original aspect ratio (it was shot in 16mm, of course) and certainly shows its vintage, but all things considered, it's fine. The region-free disc includes a satisfying slice of extras to put it all in context, including a half-hour featurette called "A Funny Sort of Way" with the cast, director and producer (including a very funny Humphries) talking about the film's censorship history, plus a reel of mild deleted footage, an excruciating single version of the theme song, the trailer, and promotional photos.
Expose yourself to the trailer :
Color, 1971, 85m. / Directed by Tim Burstall / Starring Bruce Spence, Graeme Blundell, Sean McEuan, Helmut Bakaitis / Roadshow (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The film that put pioneering Aussie distribution company Village Roadshow on the map, Stork was the brainchild of director Tim Burstall (more on him in just a bit) who formed part of a new entity called Hexagon Productions, which became the staple name for sex-laced dramas and comedies throughout the '70s. Based on a rather different play called The Coming of Stork, this film stars Bruce Spence (who later became a familiar face in the second and third Mad Max films) as a slacker hypochondriac who shacks up with his girlfriend and, a la Joe, indulges in lots of conservative verbal sparring with their roommates (one of them played by, who else, Graeme Blundell). Lots of crass, gross-out humor is included to keep things commercial, and the super-skinny, super-tall Spence makes for an interesting, very unusual leading man. The film became a notable cult hit and played on screens in its native country for ages, though its local sensibility didn't export very well. The only extant home video version now is a briefly-released Hexagon DVD, which features a decent enough full frame transfer (the 16mm production never looked glossy to begin with) as well as half an hour of new interviews with the cast and crew, an early Burstall short film called "Three Old Friends" with the same trio of male leads, an additional making-of about the short, and the usual array of filmographies, trailers and bios. As of this writing the DVD is inexplicably only available as part of the highly recommended Hexagon Tribute Collection Region 4 box set.
THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY McKENZIE
Color, 1972, 108m. / Directed by Bruce Beresford / Starring Barry Crocker, Barry Humphries, Spike Milligan, Dennis Price, Maria O'Brien / Shock (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Future Oscar-winning director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, etc.) got his unlikely start with this completely ridiculous, cult classic smut comedy conjured up with co-writer Barry Humphires, who originated the comic strip source and also appears in the film as his more famous onscreen persona, Dame Edna. Crude, bizarre, and packed with accents completely inexplicable to non-Aussies, it's still wildly entertaining if you've kicked back a few beers. As an added bonus, a weird variety of guest stars including British comedians Peter Cook (Bedazzled) and Spike Milligan and regular Jess Franco player Dennis Price pop up to keep you on your toes. There isn't much of a plot as the film skips from one rowdy misadventure to another after naive Barry McKenzie (played by popular singer Barry Crocker) inherits a chunk of money on the condition he go to England with his Aunt Edna to help resuscitate his family's name. Public indecency, drinking songs, lesbianism, and other nonsense ensues before the incredibly strange ending which takes an unforgettable swipe at media censorship.
Not surprisingly, the best available edition of this film in current circulation comes from Australia, whose restored widescreen version looks about as good as could be expected. Dame Edna chips in a new video intro, and on the second bonus disc you get a ridiculously epic two-hour documentary called "The Adventures of Bazza in Chunderland," a hilarious piece with pretty much everyone remotely affiliated with the film talking about its history. You also get an audio-only deleted bit, four much earlier Beresford short films, a really wacko Dame Edna Whirlpool commercial, a Beresford film retrospective, and a Dame Edna segment from The Naked Bunyip. The UK also offers an anamorphic, scaled-down version from Guerilla that's a lot cheaper if you don't want the bonus disc, and in America there's a bootleg DVD from the shysters at "Televista" (aka Substance), but as with all of their product, it's an overpriced piece of junk to be avoided at all costs.
BARRY McKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN
Color, 1974, 93m. / Directed by Bruce Beresford / Starring Barry Crocker, Barry Humphries, Donald Pleasence, Dick Bentley / Shock (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Bigger and wilder than its predecessor, this cult classic sequel introduces exactly what every movie needs: Donald Pleasence as a tourist-craving vampire named Count Erich Von Plasma. You see, the Count's communist country is suffering from a lack of visitors, so he decides to kidnap Barry's Aunt Edna (Humphries again), who looks exactly like the Queen of England. Yup. So it's off to Transylvania, where much beer is consumed and many dirty jokes are told. Critics gagged again, and audiences ate it up. Pretty much more of the same, the film is shot in glorious scope this time out and more stylistically extreme; once again it's targeted mostly at homeland viewers, but cult film fans should find Pleasence's daffy performance alone worth the effort of hunting it down. The Region 4 special edition packs in a very goofy audio commentary by Crocker, a new Barry Humphries video interview, backstage footage, a vintage making-of featurette called "Barry McKenzie - Ogre or Ocker," and a batch of trailers and TV spots.
THE GREAT McCARTHY
Color, 1975, 106m. / Directed by David Baker / Starring John Jarratt, Judy Morris, Kate Fitzpatrick, Barry Humphries / Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Australians were among the first to pioneer the slob comedy as we know it today, and one of the strangest is this salute to Australian Rules Football (basically, soccer). Today it's primarily of interest for its breaking down of Aussie cinematic taboos (including some eye-opening frontal nudity) and for offering the screen debut of John Jarratt, one of the country's most underrated actors who went on to appear in Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Odd Angry Shot, Baz Luhrmann's Australia, and most memorably, the psychopathic lead in Wolf Creek. He certainly radiates star power here in this uneven romp about a small-time footballer who's ambitiously kidnapped by a big-time sporting club in a helicopter and initiated into the life of sports stardom. Along the way he has a pair of romances along with some really bizarre detours including a bit at a neo-Nazi rally. Needless to say, viewers in other countries had little use for this comedy upon its release, but today it's a fascinating and often raunchy time capsule of a country in transition. Extras include an audio commentary with exec producer Richard Brennan, composer Bruce Smeaton, and moderator Paul Harris, a grim short film by the same director entitled "Squeakers Mate," the trailer, and a nifty 20-minute featurette with Jarratt and first assistant director Hal McElroy.
Color, 1975, 114m. / Directed by Tim Burstall / Starring George Mallaby, John Waters, Ken Goodlet, Delvene Delaney / Hexagon (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A big change of pace for the folks at Hexagon, this suspense thriller feels like sort of a cross between the drawing room mystery Sleuth and a '70s giallo film. Yes, that's a good combination. Future Aussie film star John Waters (no relation to the director) made his leading debut here as Mark Gifford, who's on a country trip to visit his wheelchair-bound brother, Robbie (late TV regular Mallaby). Meanwhile someone's disposing of pretty hitchhikers in the neighborhood, and a snooping police inspector tries to figure out which of the brothers is the serial killer... and which one is trying to cover up the other one's bloody tracks.
Though it won't go down as a major suspense classic, End Play is an entertaining, tightly-wound chiller in the vein of later Hammer films like Fear in the Night and features some excellent lead performance, as well as a strikingly grisly pre-credits sequence. The American VHS edition might still be lingering around a few dusty shelves somewhere, but the remastered Region 4 disc is a far more satisfying viewing option and looks terrific, with both the original mono and remixed 5.1 (why?) audio options for good measure. Extras include a new interview featurette, mainly with the still-busy Waters but featuring contributions from co-star Robin Copping and the director's son Dan (as well as some nifty backstage footage), as well as filmographies, stills, and a bonus Australian Film Television & Radio short film, a quick 1997 suspenser called "Nightride" directed by Martin Murphy.
Here's the teaser trailer:
THE TRUE STORY OF ESKIMO NELL
Color, 1975, 103m. / Directed by Richard Franklin / Starring Max Gillies, Serge Lazareff, Paul Lachon, Abigail, Christine McClure / Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The Aussie sex comedy industry hit rock bottom with this inexplicably popular piece of dirty joke nonsense, also released under the title Dick Down Under. It's the handiwork of the late Richard Franklin, who had done the relatively steamy Fantasm and became a Hitchcock disciple with some beloved '80s cable classics in his future like Psycho II, Cloak & Dagger and Link. You won't find much of his talent in evidence here, though, despite some stunning location shooting and a hefty helping of bare flesh. The tone is similar to some of the softcore American comedies at the time coming from Dave Friedman and Harry Novak (especially Trader Hornee), but the scattershot pacing and long running time will have most viewers exhausted by the halfway point. The film is more or less based on a dirty old poem about the promiscuous title character, who becomes a holy grail of sorts for a pair of adventurers, Deadeye Dick and Mexico Pete. Hottie down under sex symbol Abigail did her only full nude scene here, which might account for the healthy box office receipts, but the whole thing done earlier and a whole lot better by the Brits as Eskimo Nell (directed by future 007 helmer Martin Campbell). The DVD from Umbrella is part of the "Sexy Oz Retro Collection" and certainly features a great-looking transfer, for what that's worth.
Believe me, the trailer's a lot more fun than the actual movie:
Color, 1976, 112m. / Directed by Tim Burstall / Starring Susannah York, Trevor Howard, John Waters, Noel Ferrier, Abigail / Roadshow (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The most ambitious of the Hexagon sex-and-comedy romps, this lavish period yarn imported two notable star players (York and Howard) to lend some extra class. The bawdy tale in the Fanny Hill mode is rather convoluted, but basically the major players are the randy and adulterous Eliza (York), her distracted but dutiful captain husband (Ferrier), a penal ship captain (Howard), and the very nervous convict David (Waters) he tries to get into the sack. When Eliza helps David escape, the misadventures kick in and the quartet must contend with Aborigines, ship mishaps, and cannibalism. It's all rather silly, of course, but the expensive production values and committed performances keep it all afloat; for extra commercial spice, both York and Waters spend a huge amount of the running time in little to no clothing, and the bed-hopping is impossible to keep track of past the half hour mark.
New World succesfully imported the film for U.S. consumption on home video (including a laserdisc) as The Adventures of Eliza Fraser, but the handsome Region 4 DVD is a revelation with its superior widescreen framing and enhanced detail. Much of the nighttime scenes are surprisingly dull looking, but this appears to be a flaw of the original cinematography. The disc comes with a spry making-of featurette (Waters gets most of the good anecdotes, though bit player Bruce Spence also pops up), a bonus 1996 comic short film called "The Drip," and the usual text-based extras. For some reason the DVD is still only available as part of the great Hexagon Tribute set.
Watch Eliza in action:
Color, 1977, 95m. / Directed by Ken Hannam / Starring Nick Tate, John Waters, Elizabeth Alexander / Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
My personal favorite undiscovered gem out of this entire list, this fascinating thriller bears a certain atmospheric resemblance to The Wicker Man as it treads between eerie provincial mystery and flat-out horror. The twisty story follows new schoolteacher Simon Robinson (TV actor Tate) as he becomes suspicious when he learns that his predecessor, who stayed in the same boarding house, vanished without a trace. Police don't seem interested, and at work he forms a bond with young student Sally, whom he accidentally knocks from her bike with his car after school. Simon seeks aid and returns Sally to her remote home at a fenced-off community where she lives with her reclusive mother (Alexander) and uncle (Waters); later he discovers that Sally suffers from a strange, hereditary blood disease, and she and her family figure prominently in the missing prior schoolteacher's belongings. What Simon eventually discovers is not pretty, to say the least.
Since it features the same screenwriter (Cliff Green), producer (Patricia Lovell), and composer (Bruce Smeaton) from the very successful Picnic at Hanging Rock, this film had some awfully big shoes to fill. For reasons extrapolated upon in the DVD, its immediate critical and financial reception was quite grim (and virtually nonexistent outside Australia), but it finally built up a following among younger viewers who were haunted by it on television. No wonder, as it's really a terrific genre film with some absolutely stunning imagery and one of the finest, eeriest music scores ever written. The last 20 minutes is where the film really shines, offering a highly unusual double-twist ending whose final moments quietly but brutally undercut one of the most sacred rules of thriller plotting. Umbrella's DVD looks outstanding (with a gorgeous transfer that's ironically superior to any version of Picnic out there today), and the extras go a long way to explaining how this odd but fascinating film came about. The 48-minute "Secrets of Summerfield" features Waters, Tate, Alexander, and the crew covering its entire history from conception to troubled release, while a vintage featurette, "A Shattered Silence," is a more traditional EPK-style piece featuring the director, who mostly went on to TV work. Also included is a still gallery and the usual batch of vintage trailers.
Take a quick trip to Summerfield:
Color, 1978, 92m. / Directed by Bruce Beresford / Starring Terence Donovan, Tony Bonner, Bryan Brown, Ed Devereaux / Shock (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Though it's one of the best films from Beresford's golden Aussie period, this taut and clever heist film received little attention from critics but developed a small cult following. No wonder, as it's one of the greats and worthy of rediscovery alongside other comparable titles like The Silent Partner. The gist of the story revolves around a counting house whose armored car shipments become targeted for a string of heists. The head of the company decides to clamp down when he finds out an inside job is being planned, but finger pointing just gets him into trouble as the big job comes closer. Future star Bryan Brown offers a great rugged supporting role, while character actor Terence Donovan (Breaker Morant) carries the film ably on his shoulders. Of course, anyone who's seen it will never forget the brutal toe-snipping scene, which influenced many future titles including Bound and The Bank Job.
Here's the fast-movin' trailer :
THE CHAIN REACTION
Color, 1980, 92m. / Directed by Ian Barry / Starring Steve Bisley, Arna-Marie Winchester, Ross Thompson, Hugh Keays-Byrne / Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Shortly after the success of the nuclear scare film The China Syndrome, a few other socio-political imitations popped up -- but none as drive-in friendly as The Chain Reaction, which throws in car chases and stuntwork from the guys behind Mad Max (including associate producer George Miller) and even an uncredited cameo from Mel Gibson himself. The race-against-time story follows Larry (Bisley, best known as "Goose" from Mad Max) and Carmel (Winchester), a vacationing couple who rescue an injured nuclear waste storage worker, Heinrich (Thompson), who's trying to warn the public about a deadly leak about to contaminte everything within miles. His boss is trying to cover the whole thing up by sending his goons out to silence the whistle blower, and the race is on.
Featuring some eye-popping collision scenes, snappy cinematography by Peter Weir lenser Russell Boyd, and some very queasy bits of radioactive terror, this film probably should've been a bigger hit than it was, though it did earn something of a following on tape and has a similar vibe to contemporary thrillers like Scanners. The Region 4 special edition features the usual top-notch transfer along with some nifty extras like "Thrills and Spills"(a very revealing half-hour retrospective with the actors and director Ian Barry), one of the director's earlier shorts entitled "The Sparks Obituary," some dupey-looking deleted footage, a TV spot and trailer, and photo gallery. Your social consciousness won't be raised much in the end, but as a Down Under chase flick, this is about as fun as it gets.
Color, 1981, 80m. / Directed by John D. Lamond / Starring Graeme Blundell, Robin Stewart, Deborah Gray, Alyson Best / Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The only film ever made about sneeze-induced erectile dysfunction, Pacific Banana is quite possibly the stupidest sex comedy ever made. Tthis T&A-fest from the director the lackluster early Aussie slasher film Stage Fright became something of a Skinemax staple in the mid-'80s but never had much of a home video life before its unlikely special edition DVD courtesy of the lovably deranged folks at Umbrella. Blundell is surrounded by naked women again, this time as a pilot named Martin who's having erectile problems after being accosted by his boss' horny wife. See, every time he gets excited, he sneezes, and, uh, goes limp. Meanwhile his randy co-pilot, Paul (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires' Stewart), beds everything in sight, and they spend most of the movie tangling with a bevy of beautiful women in various Polynesian locales, including Playboy Playmate Deborah Gray. Blundell spends a lot of time addressing the camera, particularly after his genital mishaps (which are accompanied by shots of drooping windsails), and there's even a pompous narrator thrown in for good measure. Yes, it's the usual sniggering sex-com nonsense, but there's something weirdly endearing about this one, particularly its insidiously catchy theme song ("It wants to go up, up, up; it always goes down, down, down...") and the aforementioned wall-to-wall nudity, making this one of the few of its genre to completely deliver on its promises.
Incredibly, the Australian DVD contains not only an immaculate widescreen transfer but a host of extras as well, including "Pacific Banana Unpeeled," a very, very piggy half-hour documentary with Lamond and writer Alan Hopgood reminiscing about the film (not always positively), an additional Lamond featurette entitled "Confessions of an R-Rated Movie Maker," a Gray gallery, the original trailer, and a rare pop single by Gray and her co-star Luan Peters called "Trouble." Sorry, the trailer's way too dirty to post online.
Color, 1981, 87m. / Directed by Bruce Beresford / Starring Nell Schofield, Jad Capelja, Geoff Rhoe, Tony Hughes / Shock (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Now we reach the last real exploitation-relevant film by Beresford, and of course it's a teen sex comedy. The entire film revolves around the Greenhill beach culture outside of Sydney, where young Debbie and Sue go through coming-of-age pains trying to fit in with the shallow cool kids and dabble around in drugs and sex. Most of the dialogue and fashions are very dated, of course, but it's all engaging and surprisingly somber at times; only The Last American Virgin can compete with its sudden shifts between silly teen laughs and emotional violence. Critics loved it, and the film became a cable staple for years. The only real drawback is the obnoxious theme song, which is almost as irritating as "Puberty Love" from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The sunny scope photography was massacred on TV screenings and VHS, but the Aussie DVD features a far superior widescreen transfer as well as new interviews with Beresford and actress Schofield.
Hit the beach!
Color, 1984, 95m. / Directed by Russell Mulcahey / Starring Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley, Bill Kerr, Judy Morris / Shock (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Who would've guessed that the biggest Aussie horror hit of the '80s would be about a killer pig? Future Highlander director Russell Mulcahey got his start with this unlikely outback fright film, which was also the first leading man vehicle for TV star Gregory Harrison. Something big, hairy and tusky is ripping apart homes and residents in the outback, particularly a small child whose grandfather is blamed in the death. An American TV reporter (Morris) arrives on the scene, and when she also runs afoul of the oversized terror, her husband (Harrison) takes up arms to hunt down the menace.
The smart script features some amusing one-liners, and the film offers plenty of juicy gore scenes while playing around with the template established by Jaws. The film got a hefty international release by Warner Brothers and found plenty of admirers on TV (even with its evocative scope compositions lopped in half). So far the Australian DVD is best way to go; the film was slightly trimmed of some spewing blood shots in its native country, and while the extra footage slipped into some of the Warner prints, it's missing on the remastered anamorphic version used for the R4 issue as well as the less decked-out Region 2 Anchor Bay UK release. The cheaper Region 4 wins by including the extra shots as bonus material and for also including a new documentary, "Jaws on Trotters," which features pretty much everyone from the film except for Harrison talking about its creation and the elaborate special effects. However, Harrison does pop up along with cinematographer Dean Semler for a few audio recollections about the film, probably recorded via telephone. You also get the trailer and a still and poster gallery.
Want to explore more? Check out more Aussie cult titles:
Attack Force Z
Bad Boy Bubby
The Cars That Ate Paris / The Plumber
Dead End Drive-In
Fantasm / Fantasm Comes Again
Harlequin (Dark Forces)
The Last Wave
The Long Weekend
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Man of Flowers
Marauders / Defenceless / Sensitive New Age Killer
Next of Kin
Night of Fear / Inn of the Damned
The Night, The Prowler
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Quiet Earth
The Road Warrior
Unfortunately, some key films briefly available on Region 4 DVD are now virtually impossible to find, but if you get the chance, also keep an eye out for Alvin Purple, Alvin Rides Again, Last of the Knucklemen, High Rolling, and Petersen.