The horror genre was alive and well in Australia in the 1970s and '80s, as part of the broad genre of 'Ozploitation' films that received belated respect through Mark Hartley's terrific Not Quite Hollywood. Still, these films adhered to the perception that only Australian audiences would ever get to see them. That all changed when John Jarratt's Mick Taylor preyed on global fears about outback travel in Greg McLean's sinister Wolf Creek. Nowadays, local horror film has taken on a distinctly international flavour, as evidenced in the four shorts selected this week. Filled with local flavour while embracing universal fears, the worldwide recognition these four films have enjoyed posits them as serious works in a genre that hasn't always enjoyed serious consideration.
SOS: Australian Horror Shorts
Watch all films below (first screened on SBS ONE, Saturday November 26)
Ward 13 (2003, 15 mins)
Director: Peter Cornwell
Should Nick Park ever decide to put a spin on Lars Von Trier's haunted hospital series The Kingdom, then it might just look a little something like Peter Cornwell's 2003 festival favourite, Ward 13. Cornwell applies the artistry of claymation to create a darkly hilarious work where a young accident victim wakes to find himself in a nosocomephobic's worst nightmare. Featuring ooze-spraying monsters, orderlies with very unorderly facial features, a push-me-pull-you puppy and a wheelchair escape that plays like a Mad Max-style car chase, Ward 13 is an exhilarating vision from a supremely creative mind. Cornwell's calling-card (he would go on to direct the 2009 feature, A Haunting in Connecticut) won the 2003 IF Award for best animation, and also garnered festival favour in San Sebastian, Valladolid, Ottawa, Hamburg and Krok, among many others.
I Love Sarah Jane (2008, 14 mins)
Director: Spencer Susser
A sweet, scary tale of a teenager's crush that blossoms amidst the remnants of a working-class suburb's undead apocalypse, I Love Sarah Jane is a simple film, conceptually, but one that is realised with exceptional production-design and a surprising degree of compassion (mostly for smitten lad [Brad Ashby] but also for the victimised zombie). Few Australian shorts have foreshadowed success for those involved as much as I Love Sarah Jane: the production was shepherded by co-producer Nash Edgerton (The Square); directed by Spencer Susser (his feature debut, Hesher, premiered at Sundance); co-written by David Michôd (Animal Kingdom); and starred girl-on-the-verge Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), wielding a mean shovel, as the titular object of affection. Susser is reworking his concept into feature length for a 2013 release. Look out for the cameo by SBS newsreader Anton Enus.
Numurkah (2010, 12 mins)
Director: Ryan Coonan
More zombies, but director Ryan Coonan leaves the 'burbs behind and heads out to the bush to capture the very first moments of an undead uprising. Two goofy mates, Jim (Luke Ryan) and Steve (Chris Ryan), are working on a lame-brained insurance scam involving an old dirt road and a big gum tree when their car strikes someone wandering the remote track. How did the remarkably pale woman (Christine Mowinckel) not see the speeding car? Surely she's dead... right? Filmed in the Victorian regional town of the title, Coonan gets his timing just right – both with the laughs and the shocks. Great back-and-forth banter between the two leads and a riotous cutaway shot to the town centre where a third mate, Robbo (Paul Denny, is dealing with his own problems ensures that the dusty outback, though not safe from the zombie hordes, is still full of great Aussie characters. Coonan and producer John L. Simpson (The Jammed) are in post on the feature-length adaptation.
Advantage (2007, 11 mins)
Director: Sean Byrne
Drunken sex on a public tennis court may seem like a good idea at the time, but the randy love-birds in Sean Byrne's supernatural suspenser may regret stumbling into the darkened enclosure. Actually, if you've seen Byrne's feature debut The Loved Ones, you'll know their regret is assured. When the floodlights begin to flash and the shrill whispers of whatever lurks in the darkness beyond the fence start to toy with the couple's sanity, viewers know that Horror Film Rule #1 – people who have sex die – may soon be invoked. Utilising little more than disconcerting camera angles, stellar sound mixing and two fine actors (Shelley Lauman, Mark Leonard Winter) for the bulk of his chillingly macabre exercise in Twilight Zone-like atmospherics, the young director then goes one step further with spine-tingling reveal.