Monday, October 12, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Wake in Fright

#4 (tie) - 18 Votes

The 1971 Outback-set thriller Wake in Fright has had a peculiar history. After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and playing theatrically in the U.S. and elsewhere, the movie disappeared from distribution, rarely showed up on TV and only received a home video release a few years ago after a restoration of the film premiered, again, at Cannes. Viewed today, it's an exciting lost gem, even as it's easy to see why it faded into obscurity - it's an unrelentingly tense film about a teacher, played by Gary Bond, who gets stuck in a remote mining town. Between the escalating, alcohol-fueled tension between Bond and the locals - especially Donald Pleasance as a very dubious "doctor" - and a disturbing, protracted sequence depicting a real kangaroo hunt, Wake in Fright is an often off-putting experience, but a powerful one for those who can stomach it. I'd love to see it and Cul-de-sac as a double feature of merciless attacks on conventional notions of masculinity featuring Pleasance.

Viewing the movie a few years ago, what stuck with me most strongly was its perversely unconventional structure. The clash between the "civilized" teacher and the boozing, brawling locals primes one to expect the movie to build towards a violent standoff akin to the same year's Straw Dogs. Without giving anything away, that's not what happens here, and what disturbed me most greatly about the movie is how director Ted Kotcheff (who'd go on to direct higher-profile movies like First Blood and Weekend at Bernie's) keeps the tensions on a constant simmer without letting it boil over, denying us the catharsis we've come to expect. There's truly no escape here, which is largely why the movie lingers uncomfortably in my memory. Wake in Fright isn't a "fun" horror movie, or even a horror movie in the conventional sense, but if you have a taste for the strong stuff, few movies are more deeply unnerving.

U.S. Release Date: October 13, 1971 (Also released that week: MacbethMurmur of the Heart, Shoot Out)

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