Australia then, a land down under, where nature is especially red in tooth and claw it seems, at least according to these two films.
I’d never heard of this film, until a few years back when somebody (might have been China Mieville) discussed it as their favourite horror film in the Mark Morris edited Cinema Macabre. Somewhere out there in the Australian outback is a giant razorback pig, preying on human beings. The only person who believes in its existence is an old hunter guy who claims the razorback took away his grandson. And then two years later an investigative journalist campaigning for animal rights disappears in similar circumstances, and her husband comes looking. Suddenly our rare and reclusive porker is popping up all over the shop, with a man vs beast showdown in the unprepossessing environs of the local kangaroo processing plant.
I think it would be fair to classify this as a slasher film with a big pig in lieu of an actual slasher. There is something very slasher(ish) about the way in which the razorback stalks and murders his prey. The razorback is, in fact, the weak link in this production, never clearly seen until the end (one suspects due to the lack of a decent budget rather than any calculated attempt to crank up the tension) and then only its head, which was so lacking in animation as to make me think of one of those nodding dog ornaments you occasionally see on the back ledges of cars. The way in which it managed to elude everybody for so long, simply didn’t ring true to me. And yet, in spite of that there’s a decent film here, one that could have been much better if they’d concentrated on the conservation/animal rights issue, and done something more with the cast of hunters, loners, machismoists (is that even a word – it is now), misanthropes and rapists, instead of just using all that as backdrop to the big pig story. The best aspect was the Australian scenery, caught in lurid red and burnt tones, like some nightmarish and surreal vision of the landscape in Nic Roeg’s Walkabout. Scenes such as when the main protagonist is left alone in the wilderness at night, his hallucinatory visions of animal skeletons springing to life, the processing plant with butchered joeys hanging on hooks, will all linger with me for a time to come. Overall it was like having a steak meal, and finding that while your meat might have been a little overcooked, the vegetables, fries, sauces etc were all rather tasty.
Black Water (2007)
Based on a true story, apparently, though one you’d think the Australian Tourist board would try to suppress. A man, his wife and her sister become stranded up a tree in the middle of the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia when their boat is overturned by a giant saltwater crocodile. With little or no possibility of rescue they have to figure out how to get the boat right side up and then escape without getting eaten.
Like Razorback this film uses the landscape to its full advantage, with the mangrove swamps seen first as a place of great natural beauty and then terra incognita, an alien world in which every sound holds potential menace, somewhere you feel humans are simply not meant to be, despite our mastery of technology (and, in parenthesis, the only evidence of our presence is in the detritus we leave behind, the junk with which we clutter the environment). The crocodile is a brooding presence, almost as if it is the embodiment of the hostility of this landscape, waiting patiently and pouncing as soon as its prey has been lulled into a false sense of security, offered the smidgen of hope. The mood of the film changes, the characters just three holidaymakers, enjoying innocent fun, and then having their sense of self completely overturned, the safety they take for granted removed, and this happens in an instant, underlining the sudden perils and pitfalls of the world. Under pressure the three characters are tested and found wanting. Each one is undermined, their frail mental equilibrium upset by the constant tension, the threat of a terrible death that is always close. Each toys with madness and desperation, and the one who can put herself back together is the one who will survive, though of course she will never be the same. What makes the film is not the moments of frantic action, but the long sequences in which we sit tensely on the edges of our seat and wait for that action to occur, our imaginations as with all the best horror films building something far more awful than what actually takes place.
Black Water was undeniably the better film as far as I’m concerned, but I wonder who would win in a fight between an outsize razorback and a large crocodile? On land the razorback would have the bulk and mobility, and those tusks would probably gut the crocodile, but if the crocodile got a grip with those fearsome jaws then I don’t think the razorback would be able to shake it loose. It could go either way. In the water, no contest – the crocodile would win hands down, though I’m open to counter-arguments.
What other Australian creature feature films can you think of? Points will be deducted from anyone mentioning Dame Edna or Skippy.