All posts by Beck

Ozploitation: Unknown Australian Horror

Everyone’s favourite contemporary horror director, Quentin Tarantino, is a long-time fan of Australian blood curdling films. However, these movies are often snubbed in favour of a more mainstream film history, an approach that Tarantino has labelled as ‘Aussieploitation’. Australian director Mark Hartley later cleaned up Tarantino’s phrase to the simplified ‘Ozploitation’. So why are Aussies unfamiliar with their Ozploitation past?

While the world’s northern countries revel in the art of horror, Australia’s horror films lay buried in our history and our vast outback landscape. Australia’s absence of a horror tradition can be traced back to our history of film ratings, or lack thereof, as between 1948 – 1968 horror movies were mostly banned for censorship reasons. 1971 became the big year for low-budget horror films as Australia introduced the R rating, allowing more nudity, sex and violence to hit the screen.

But the emergence of horror in Australian film became unique as the fear and anxiety of the unknown outback landscape came to the big screen. Cook’s novel Wake in Fright and its later film adaption by Ted Kotcheff was one of the first horror films to express the apprehension of the land beyond Australia’s cities. After 200 years of settlement there was still trepidation of the unknown land and the inclusion of R rated films allowed this to be captured visually.

Soon horror obscurities like Night of Fear (1973), Patrick (1978), Long Weekend (1978) and The Sabbat of the Black Cat (1973) crept in and passed by, largely unnoticed. Not only did Australia not have a history of the horror genre, we were also affected by a ‘cultural cringe’ and the belief that horror was best done by Americans and Europeans. Of the few films to make an impression on local audiences were 70s art house films such as Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Last Wave (1977), horror-film must-sees!

While our Ozploitation films remain relatively unknown yet influential upon those who do view them, Australia’s recent foray into horror has been met with commercial success and more recognition than its humble beginnings. Films such as Wolf Creek (2005) which scored $16 million at US box offices and $5.6 million in Oz and Saw (2004) (which although financed and developed in the US, was directed by Australian’s Leigh Wannell and James Wan) and killer-croc pic Rogue (2007). Even today Australia’s horror films have something distinctly ‘outback’ about them.

What are your favourite Aussie horror films?

Who’s reaping the rewards of Halloween?

Here in the land down under, Halloween seems like a particularly American indulgence, not to mention a mighty blow to wallets everywhere. While the tradition grows every year in Oz, our Yankee buddies are definitely outspending us on the Halloween front.

In 2013 more than 150,000 million Americans celebrated Halloween and spent $7 billion at cash registers for the event — that’s around $75 a person. It’s the second-most expensive holiday of the year in the United States, beaten only by Christmas. Halloween pet costumes have been continually rising and Zombies are the new big business in the US, raking in $5 billion in 2013.

While the holiday is very commercialised now, Halloween originally started as a Celtic spiritual festival and later became a North American celebration based on rituals as communities passed through Autumn into Winter. Here in Australia we don’t have that ritual to follow and as the celebration seems to get bigger every year, some are saying this is due to American entertainment and commercialism.

A simple walk through a shopping centre during October brings up Halloween everywhere. There’s the emergence of sexy witches hats in fashion stores, not to mention the ready-to-be-carved pumpkins that have been specially flown in for the occasion. But one study showed that Halloween in Australia is felt to be the least important holiday. The older population in particular isn’t keen on Halloween, whether they see it as something entirely irrelevant or a modern sign of American imperialism. Yet the younger crowd is more likely to embrace the Halloween spirit and enjoy the freedom and fun that comes with dressing up and indulging in some candy.

It should be no surprise Halloween is taking hold of Oz — we do love our imported traditions and happily celebrate the idea of a White Christmas in sweltering heat. So while there’s no denying that Halloween is catching on in Australia: is it a harmless holiday fun or another commercial holiday that we should be hallo-weaned off?

Doing the Monster Mash

Monsters have been part of culture since the first humans huddled around their campfire, listening to spooky forest noises. The label originally signified a warning from the gods, an evil omen marked by deformity, yet another example of fear of the other. Altered humans have been labelled monsters, whether the changes were wrought by nature, or self-inflicted. Foot binding, 874px-A_HIGH_CASTE_LADYS_DAINTY_LILY_FEET captionedneck rings, and lip plugs675px-Mursi_woman_and_her_baby captioned have all created monsters in the eyes of cultural outsiders, even when the transformations were desirable for participants.

Outsiders in this culture have 40 others ways to express their preferred inner monster (according to Wikipedia), though not all will be visible except to privileged viewers. Arguably, participants are still adopting monsterhood as a way to gain status in their own particular (sub)culture, and are still only monsters when viewed through another set of norms. From the subcultural perspective, it is the denizens of the mainstream that are the monsters (Gordon Gecko, take a bow).

Follow the logic, and we all have a bit of monster in us, though not everyone chooses to make it visible. The scariest are those that are most invisible — monsters that use the bland and normal to shield their truly grotesque nature. Jeffrey Dahmer springs to mind. So take a good look deep within, embrace that realisation that your own monsterhood is evidence of belonging to the species, and think about letting it out to play. On Halloween, of course.

Are There Ghosts in Space?

You might laugh at the idea of ghosts in space and the world of theories about non-Earthly beings floating around our universe. But this time the conspiracy theorists might be right as a few happy snaps of the universe show some freaky and supernatural things…

If evidence was ever needed of ghosts and strange beings in space, this would be it. At the same time, there’s a pretty good scientific explanation behind the ghost-like orbs. These photos were released last year from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and are actually images of planetary nebulae in infrared light. These are stars at their last stage of life and they’re running out of fuel (this occurs millions to billions of years after the star has formed). After the sun’s supply of hydrogen in the core is gone, the body develops into giant red stars called ‘red giants’. The red giants eject their outer layers which then expand. It is this process that causes the floating material to glow and have a strange, supernatural presence.

C’mon. This totally looks like something right out X-files. But while you might mistake the above photo for being a pink ghost, it is actually the image of the coldest place in the universe. If you like cold weather the nebula is a brisk -272°C (which is even colder than the afterglow of the Big Bang). This nebula is in the constellation Centaurus and is approximately 5,000 light years away. The interstellar cloud of dust and gas is called the Boomerang Nebula (it was originally thought to have a boomerang, rather than ghostly shape) and was taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

And here’s an older pic of the nebula in a false-colour recorded image from 1988:

And check out this scary looking, ghost-like space pumpkin! The picture is an X-Ray photo of the Perseus cluster, which is a cluster of thousands of galaxies, immersed in multimillion degree heat and is one of the most massive objects in the universe. The colours show the heat intensity on the X-rays, with the white area being the hottest.

And this photo from ­­­­NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun is one smiley dude!

Images taken from:

The Sound of Horror

Perhaps the most well-known and gut wrenching sound in horror films belongs to the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho Who can forget the high pitch, piercing violins from composer Bernard Herrmann that cut through with a violent, sickening metallic sound. Visually the scene is brilliant, but what sticks in your head more: the shower scene or the screeching violins behind it?

But why are sounds and music not simply scary, but something that psychologically and emotionally grips us? Science suggests that sound-based information travels faster than visual information, as humans evolved to use hearing, rather than sight, as a first defence against predators.

The aim of the soundtrack in a horror film is to trigger fear, stress, panic and anxiety – and Hitchcock certainly achieves this. Typically speaking, suspense music creates tension through a sustained high tone, a deep drone or an annoying, repetitive motion. Spectators are urged to feel that something bad lurks nearby and be compelled into a state of stress.

But perhaps the most famous suspenseful soundtrack comes from Jaws with a sinister two-note double bass line: it starts with heavy notes that then quicken into a hasty attack. Deeps sounds have a percussive ability and if the sound is loud enough, you can feel it penetrating your body.

In more modern times movie screens have been graced with Slasher films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Slasher films typically avoid orchestra-style music, but rather use sound design and industrial and heavy metal music. Yet the main sound behind Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the Poulan 306A – supposedly the most famous chainsaw in film. The sound of the chainsaw has a sound pressure level only exceeded by a jet engine taking off 30m from an auditor.

Rather than orchestra pieces which are no doubt effective, sometimes it’s the more mundane sounds that induce horror and anxiety. For example, the sound studios of horror movies are littered with fruits and vegetables making body-snapping sound effects. Apparently a lot of watermelons had to be hacked into for the sound for Hellraiser.

So next time you indulge yourself in a bit of horror, take a care for the hours of sound design used to make your experience all the more visceral.

What are your favourite horror sound tracks?

Bloody Brisbane

Brisbane seems like a quaint unsuspecting town but we have a few gruesome stories and a quite bloody history up our sleeves.

Brisbane’s Doctor Street
Former German national Karl Kast blasted his way into Brisbane’s history by killing two doctors and injuring a third before blowing himself up in Wickham Terrace in 1955. Kast was upset as he had injured his back during work and doctors had dismissed his claim for workers’ compensation after they failed to find evidence of a back injury Kast complained of. Kast was seen by a number of doctors along Wickham Terrace and on 1 December 1955, he returned to the terrace bearing a .38 calibre revolver and a satchel containing 12 pipe bombs he had made in his bedroom. The first stop was Dr Michael Gallagher’s practice on the second floor of Wickham House and Kast fired bullets into the doctor’s right forearm, the right side of his chest and his leg — but miraculously Gallagher lived. Kast killed a further two doctors that day before detonating a series of bombs in one of the doctor’s office and finally taking his own life with a revolver.

The Female Vampire
On 20 October 1989 Edward Baldock was walking home from a night of drinking with his friends when he approached by a car carrying Tracey Wigginton, her lover Lisa Ptaschinski and two of their friends. The women lured him into the car and drove him to a park near West End where they gruesomely attacked Baldock to the point of decapitation. Wigginton then drank his blood and his body was found the next morning. In the victims shoes was a cash card of Tracey Wiggington and all four women were soon arrested. During the trial Tracey Wigginton stated that she lived on a diet of animal’s blood and the murder of Baldock was a means to satisfy her hunger for human blood. Wigginton and Ptaschinkski received life-long sentences.

Killer’s Ghost Haunts Brisbane Jail
Ernest Austin was the last of 42 inmates hung at Queensland’s notorious Boggo Rd jail and it is his supernatural presence, rather than his murder of a young Brisbane girl, that people talk about. The 23-year-old was dropped through gallow trap-doors in September 1913 and the inmates of A Wing, the place of Austin’s execution, claimed they were tormented by supernatural experiences as Austin’s ghost would appear through concrete walls and throttle prisoners in their cells. The hauntings have been felt more than 100 years later.

A Short History of Fake Blood

Blood is pretty much essential for a good horror movie — that mixture of chocolate sauce, hot water, corn syrup, red dye and a few secret chemicals to thicken the mixture. While the blood pumping through our veins remains the same, fake blood has undergone somewhat of a transfusion as technology progresses.

‘Kensington Gore’ was the original trademark name for the fake blood on the big screen and was manufactured by British pharmacist, John Tinegate, during the 1960s and 1970s. But fake blood goes back further than this and for black and white films the blood didn’t even have to be red, as long as the texture worked. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the director used Bosco’s chocolate syrup to get his bloody effect. It wasn’t a highly advanced method as the chocolate sauce would be squeezed out from the bottle all over the scene — but it did the job.

The transition to colour film bought a number of challenges as chocolate syrup wouldn’t cut it. Early colour films that use fake blood such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, show the blood looking too-obviously bright. The cartoon-looking blood wasn’t bad for everyone and it suited Jean Luc Godard’s style in Pierrot Le Fou. When someone pointed out there was a lot of blood in Pierrot Godard threw back, “not blood, red”.

Then came along Dick Smith (and no, it’s not the electronics guy). Smith revolutionised fake blood with a potent mixture (including some poisonous components — don’t try this at home!). Smith’s fake blood was used in ground-breaking movies like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It was able to run over skin, seep appropriately through fabric and look bloody well right. In fact the fake blood looked so real in Taxi Driver that the movie received an X rating and Scorsese had to make the blood seem less real in order to get an R rating.

From here the fake blood evolution started, but most contemporary recipes still hark back to Smith’s original. New concoctions were created for fake blood that needed to find its way into an actor’s mouth, recipes often based around peanut butter. Several different types of blood can be used in the one movie depending on the lighting, if the blood should spread out or pool or whether it will be used on a body or sprayed across a scene. And there’s no reprimand to go easy on the stuff as Quentin Tarantino used almost 400 litres of ‘Samurai Blood’ for a fight scene for Kill Bill.

But as all things start going digital, so does fake blood and recent CGI techniques are making fake blood out of pixels. Movies like David Finch’s Zodiac, Zack Snyder’s 300 and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies showcase CGI blood in all of its digital glory.

But if you want to be old school, here’s a non-poisonous and non-CGI fake blood recipe you can try at home:

  • 1 part hot water
  • 2 parts corn syrup (dark)
  • Red food colouring, sparingly
  • Chocolate syrup (for sticky texture)

Spooky Brisbane Stories

Brisbane may not been high on the list when you think about cities with supernatural sides, but there are still plenty of great ghosts stories about our city.

The City Hall ghost
There plenty of rumours about ghosts in Brisbane’s City Hall, but one in particular takes the cake. Since the 1950s council workers have heard strange footsteps and felt a sinister atmosphere in a series of small rooms known as Room 302. The rooms are close to a spot where a caretaker is believed to have committed suicide in the 1940s. In 1982 carpenters demolished the interior walls and the area was added to a kindergarten centre. Thankfully the ghost has not been heard of since and there are no reports of little kiddies feeling the haunting.

Goodna Cemetery’s ghost hands
For a period of Brisbane’s history the Goodna Cemetery was used by the Woogaroo Asylum. The combination of the criminally insane and ghosts has produced a smorgasbord of horrifying stories. The most terrifying aspect is the physical effects of the hauntings with visitors known to have left with bruises and scratches on their bodies.

Spook Hill’s satanic antigravity
There are many, many ghost stories haunting Toowong Cemetery, but one legend sticks out more than most. Twelfth Avenue, more commonly called ‘Spook Hill’, is a sloping road in the cemetery with a spooky element. Many people have reported that if you park your car in the middle of the road, facing uphill, and let it roll, the car will actually roll uphill rather than downhill. The ghost hunter’s explanation? A tombstone near the top of the hill marks the grave of a child who died in a car accident. His spirit draws all cars towards it, with such a powerful attraction that it overcomes even gravity. The scientific explanation? There’s a natural magnetic lodestone at the top of the hill, strong enough to drag even large metal objects (like cars).

Have you ever seen a ghost in Brisbane?

What’s your apocalypse plan?

Don’t we all know someone who has seriously considered a zombie apocalypse plan? (There’s definitely a few in The Edge office!) Clearly the recent throng of zombie films and movies are starting to get to some of us. And while we may laugh, the joke became less funny when it was found The Pentagon has a Zombie Apocalypse Plan. Perhaps The Walking Dead sparked something in Obama, or maybe top Pentagon staff had a good old movie night and someone decided to chuck on 28 Days Later. At any rate, there must be some underlying, realistic threat that saw a need for the plan.

A big kudos to Foreign Policy Magazine which discovered the plan, created “because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population — including traditional adversaries.”

The document is known as CONOP 8888 and while it isn’t simply The Pentagon having a laugh, it isn’t entirely serious either and is actually being used as a training tool. The plan is a way to prepare Pentagon personal for other disasters and warfare situations. The plan involves various levels of threat; including the scenario that zombie-ism is easily transmissible with little human immunity. It also warns of “Chicken Zombies” where aged hens are incompletely euthanised and dig their way out of their graves. (FYI this apparently does happen!)

America isn’t the only country preparing for the zombie apocalypse, with Canada also talking of plans to induce a zombie apocalypse to force disaster and military workers into unprecedented situations and better prepare for natural and military disasters. The scenario has been shelved after criticism that it was, perhaps, a waste of government money. There was a very lively debate in Canadian parliament about whether to go ahead with an emergency plan (watch as the laughter from the House rises).

Interview with Bullhorn

This week Bullhorn joined Blueroom Productions for the next Project24recording. The band spoke with John from Project24 to give a little more info about who they are and what they do.

Introduce your band, tell us how you met and who influences your sound?
That’s a hard question considering we’re a nine piece band. I first put the band together in 2011, just as an instrumental group, and of course, started with players that I knew and had worked with before. However, I had a distinct idea of what line up and what I wanted the group to be, and had gaps to fill. So I asked around, especially at the music universities about any young keen great horn players, and was lucky enough to find some rad guys.

That means the band is sort of made up of two generations, the older boys around 30ish and the young gunz around 20ish. This dynamic actually works really well, with quite different players and people coming together for a common vision. Working as an instrumental band was great, but it did restrict us with what sort of shows we could do. When I saw Roman performing with his group B.O.S.S. I was blown away by his improv skills and massive stage presence. I knew he was the front man. He’s been regular part of the group since the start of 2013, and we’ve never looked back!

How did you get involved in project24?
Word of mouth mostly. Quentin, a sound engineer who works at The Edge told me about the project. He sent me some examples of the work, and I was really impressed.

What’s the best show you have played as a band?
That’s a hard call. I’m gonna have to say it’s down to two shows: Woodford Folk Festival, New Years on the Blues Stage 2012/13. This was an awesome show, we were still a very new band, but had been at the fest all week, and every show just got better and more full of people. By the time we got to our New Years show the Blues Stage was packed with screaming fans!

The second would be the DubMarine album launch at Hi Fi, Brisbane. This was an awesome show! We had the lead support spot, with at least 500 people in the crowd. It was just a great vibe and great gig.

Who would you recommend as a band or artist from the local music scene?
Kerbside Collection, cause they’re supporting us for our So You Think single and they’re rad!

Where else about town can we find you
We’ll be kicking off the ‘So You Think’ single launch tour on Friday 28 February at the @ New Globe Theatre. Full details are on our website. You can also find us on Facebook>/a>.

Watch Bullhorn’s performance as part of Project24. To read more about Project24 check out our interview with John Skillington.