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?

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