Color, 1987, 74m. / Directed by Mark Savage / Starring Colin Savage, Paul Harrington, Megan Napier, Zero Montana
SENSITIVE NEW AGE KILLER
Color, 1999, 84m. / Directed by Mark Savage / Starring Paul Moder, Carolyn Bock, Kevin Hopkins, Helen Hopkikns, Frank Bren
Color, 2006, 98m. / Directed by Mark Savage / Starring Susanne Hausschmid, George Gladstone, Erin Walsh, Anthony Thorne / Subversive (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Despite a handful of standout genre entries in the '70s and early '80s, Australia hasn't really become known for its horror and action in recent years. However, a few stalwart heroes are still carrying the torch -- such as Mark Savage, whose three provocative and very different films have been collected in a box set not for the faint of heart. The first disc in the set (though perhaps not the best introduction to his work) is 1987's Marauders, a shot-on-video study of teen violence revolving around two kill-crazy youths, JD Kruger (Montana) and crazy-haired Emilio East (Savage), whose recent murderous exploits have left them with hair-trigger tempers. When JD is struck by a hit-and-run driver, the duo decide to make the driver, David (Harrington), and his girlfriend Beck (Napier) their next targets. Tracking them to a cabin retreat in the woods, the psycho pair unfortunately start a whole new wave of violence when they decide to pick on one of the locals and instigate a full mob retaliation...
A solid start to an exploitation career, Marauders has a similar feel to some of grittier drive-in films of the late '80s (particularly Deadbeat at Dawn and the output of New World Pictures). Though not quite as extreme as its repuation and premise might suggest, the film offers enough decadent pleasures to carry it over some obvious budget deficits. (Whether the hilariously dated hairstyles and clothing are a plus or a minus will be entirely up to the viewer, however.)
The much glossier and more impressive Sensitive New Age Killer is next in the set, and this berserk comic-horrific-kinky crime film should make a fine starter for newcomers. Though he's a hitman, Paul (Moder) is, as the title implies, a sensitive guy whose childhood experience watching the handiwork of "The Snake" (Bren) inspired his career choice. Unfortunately none of his assignments seem to be going smoothly, as his unscrupulous and wildly unstable partner George (Hopkins) is set on getting Paul killed in the line of duty and living out a weird baby fetish with Paul's wife. On top of that, Paul spends his time after hours with Matty (Bock), a ruthless cop prone to performing dominatrix duties on her unwilling suspects.
Certainly wild and unpredictable, Sensitive New Age Killer (or SNAK as it's called everywhere on the disc) again isn't terribly explicit (a few bloody squibs here and there and lots of softcore grinding are about as hard as it gets), but the dark, sleazy subject matter still gives the film a raw, transgressive edge, leavened with some very funny black humor. It also offers an amusing take on late-20th Century masculine anxiety, with Paul's faulty "gun" and frequent submissive situations at the hands of those around him reflecting the increasingly jittery male egos proliferating around the same time.
Fast forward to 2004 (over two erotic thrillers Savage directed that aren't included here, Fishnet and Trail of Passion) with the creation of Defenseless, a film screened in variant states until its final, completed edit presented on this disc with a 2006 copyright date. Easily the most extreme title here, this grim but beautifully poetic tale (subtitled "A Blood Symphony") features no dialogue as it follows the plight of a married woman (Hausschmid) whose refusal to submit to a group of vicious land developers puts her friends, her family, and her own life in jeopardy. A series of brutal attacks follow, and... well, it's best to stop here if you want to remain spoiler-free, but since the packaging gives away the mid-story twist, let's continue. After perishing during a violent rape attack by the developers, she's reborn in the foamy sea months later and embarks on a silent, relentless, and curiously child-like quest for revenge.
Though the unflinching approach to sexual assault (on both genders) and expict revenge imagery might put some viewers in mind of Last House on the Left, Savage's lyrical technique instead carries this into the more surprising, fantastic terrain of filmmakers like Jean Rollin, whose similar affinity for quiet, beachside meditations on vengeance is carried over nicely here. There isn't a single line of dialogue in the film, leaving the actors' physical performances and the astouding sound mix to carry the narrative weight. Hausschmid is excellent in the difficult lead role, creating a delirious intensity with the force of her eyes and pulling the viewer's sympathy along even for the harrowing final few scenes, with a thankfully peaceful and haunting coda awaiting her and the audience after their trials.
Anything you could possibly want to know about these films is included on Subversive's exhaustive set, which features booklet inserts with Savage's candid production diaries (with a few names thoughtfully obscured to protect the not-so-innocent) for each title offering a taster of what lies in store. Marauders includes a half-hour documentary, "Making Of (Four Friends In Low-Budget Heaven)," with the two Savages, Harrington and Wolstencroft talking about the making of the film (sometimes in really harsh sunlight) including plenty of anecdotes about the other absent performers. An audio commentary track reunites the quartet to offer their observations in a scene-specific forum, with lots of detail offered on how to shoot violent scenes with limited funds and a lack of professional talent. SNAK includes a slightly longer featurette, "SNAK: A Post-Mortem," with the two Savages, Bock, both of the Hopkins, Moder, and others covering the basics of how the film came to be, then embellishing the stories in more detail on the audio commentary track (which, among other subjects, covers the surprisingly ambitious gun battles which had to be executed rather resourcefully). Defenceless gets an even longer featurette, the 43-minute "Inside Defenceless," in which Savage, Hausschmid, and the supporting cast (Anthony Thorne, Erin Walsh, Bethany Fisher, George Gladstone) discuss the making of the film, including some friction and reservations that arose over the contentious brutality of the storyline; Savage and Hausschmid then return for an audio commentary covering the film from a more technical, production-oriented angle. Each disc features bios for the involved talent and stills galleries, as well as trailers for all three films and other Subversive releases.
A limited edition version of the box set also features a fourth bonus disc containing Savage's most recent completed work, a half-hour TV film entitled Stained. Though not provided for review in the set, this reviewer did screen the short, a stark and very grim depiction of the violent consequences unleashed when a man searching for his missing child runs into a nasty pair of brothers involved in an international kiddie snuff online community. (Don't worry, the child stuff is never even remotely depicted on-camera.) Fusing together two real-life Australian crime stories, it features Kevin Hopkins, Grant Mouldez, Helen Hopkins, Steve Hutchison, and Jenny Loncaric, all of whom are excellent. The bonus disc also includes bonus 8mm short films which were not available for screening at this time.