Crash! screech! Kaboom! These are some of the sounds of ozploitation films: an explosively entertaining category of cinema that offered a very different experience to the heralded ‘Australian New Wave’ (although some films could be categorized as both).
I’ve limited the scope of the following titles to adult genre films (the kind that wouldn’t look out of place in a drive-in theater) produced in the 70’s and 80’s. From sexcapades to car movies to a creature feature, here are the best.
15. Alvin Purple (1973) and The Naked Bunyip (1970)
The sexploitation film is a subgenre of ozploitation that has soiled bed sheets and outraged prudes since the early 1970s. Graeme Blundell stars in the two greatest of all time – he’s a dead heat in this list. In Alvin Purple, Blundell plays a man who tries to avoid sex but whom all women find irresistible; in The Naked Bunyip he is hired by an advertising agency to conduct a survey on sex in Australia.
The latter became the stuff of legend when censorship banned several scenes; In response, director John B. Murray and producer Phillip Adams blacked out the screen and inserted footage of a cartoon bunyip.
14. Mad Dog Morgan (1976)
Few things in human history have been as wild as Dennis Hopper for a bottle of spirits. The anecdotes about the making of Philippe Mora’s bushranger action drama, starring a fake, beard-wearing Hopper as the protagonist out of all guns and guns, are almost as entertaining as the film itself. Starting out as a penal colony-era prison film, Mad Dog Morgan turns into a story of friendship (between Morgan and his accomplice, played by David Gulpilil), then into a tale of proto-celebrity – or maybe “celebrity” is a better way to put it. The film’s raspy, earthy vibe suits its bush setting.
13. Stone (1974)
In celebration of Stone’s 25th anniversary, more than 30,000 bikers gathered in Sydney in 1998 to re-enact the film’s iconic funeral scene – and talked about the enduring legacy and intense, if niche, fan base associated with Sandy Harbutt’s seedy classic . Biker Gang The Gravediggers enlist a detective (Ken Shorter) to go undercover to investigate the murder of gang members. The plot structure is random and the ride is bumpy, so to speak. But the film’s energy prevails and it’s full of small moments of visual innovation.
12. Return of Captain Invincible (1983)
In this fabulously scaly superhero outing, Alan Arkin plays the title character fighting Nazis and arresting smugglers in a proto-Hancock and The Incredibles-esque storyline until the US government takes him to court for wearing underwear in public. Escape to Australia and become a hopeless alcoholic, The Cap eventually takes up arms against Christopher Lee’s nefarious supervillains. The film is a musical (because of course it is) featuring songs by Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, including this compelling musing on the nature of good and evil:
11. Turkey Shoot (1982)
Before Squid Game and The Hunger Games, there was this batshit-crazy tournament film full of splatter and carnage, set in an Orwellian future where the underclass are victims of a sport played by wealthy sadists determined to kill them before sundown hunt and kill. Nothing was too strange for this insanely brain-rattling tale, which features a toe-eating werewolf-like monster and one of cinema’s most breathtakingly evil prison guards – played by shiny-skinned legend Roger Ward.
10. The Hong Kong Man (1975)
Brian Trenchard-Smith’s characteristically energetic martial arts movie plus car movie plus cop movie plus all-around action Explodapalooza follows a Chinese special agent (Jimmy Wang Yu) as he infiltrates a criminal network led by a gangster who is George Lazenby – too known as “the Aussie 007”. There are great stunts, breathtaking pacing and very well directed sequences, including a thrilling eight-and-a-half-minute chase scene that would certainly have inspired George Miller’s Mad Max films.
9. Inn of the Damned (1975)
Terry Bourke’s meat pie western never garnered much street cred, which is a shame because the film is top-notch – opening out in snappy Sergio Leone style and culminating in a delightfully suspenseful finale. The eponymous inn, circa the late 1800s, sees guests being murdered in their sleep by its insane owners (Dame Judith Anderson and Joseph Furst), making the place something of a Bates Motel Down Under. Determined to outwit them, the hero (Alex Cord) must remain awake in a room outfitted with a bed that doubles as a sophisticated death machine.
8. The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
In director Peter Weir’s debut feature film A Young Crash Survivor (Terry Camilleri), he is stranded in a small town where the economy depends on a steady supply of wrecked cars – a premise with satirical and allegorical undertones. There’s an intergenerational tension between the town’s lead-footed young hotheads driving crazy chunks of twisted metal and the older crowd, plus a mayor (John Meillon) who declares that no one is ever allowed to leave. The film’s meaning is cryptic, adding a serious, quirky subtext under the hood.
7. Razorback (1984)
The animatronic pig in Russell Mulcahy’s style-saturated creature film isn’t great – but as in Jaws, this forced the director to sidestep it and innovate elsewhere, resulting in a film that succeeds brilliantly despite its limitations. The plot is thin and involves a grey-haired man (Bill Kerr) devoted to finding the boar who took his grandson while Captain Ahab was trying to pin Moby Dick. But its atmosphere, choking arteries, is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
A new nurse (Susan Penhaligon) at a private Melbourne hospital is warned that “the minimum wage, the hours are abominable”. But nothing could prepare her for Patrick: the title character, who has an intensely… horizontal Presence, lying comatose in bed throughout the experience, with the ability to make all sorts of bad things happen due to his psychokinetic powers. Richard Franklin’s unforgettable midnight film is a great example of making a lot out of a little and losing the suspense through editing around the rogue.
5. Street Games (1981)
Another stroke of genius from Richard Franklin, here in full blown Hitchcock mode, delivering a cleverly calibrated thriller. A lorry driver (Stacey Keach) passes the time on her way from Melbourne to Perth by imagining the stories of strangers on the road. If he thinks another driver could be a murderer, is he imagining it or is he on to something? Quentin Tarantino was on the money when they said, “You could remake the Road Games tomorrow and not change a damn word for it and it would scare everyone to death.”
4. Long Weekend (1978)
It’s not hard to imagine a scary villain: just put a guy in a mask and give him a chainsaw. The tantalizing question at the heart of Colin Eggleston’s brand of horror, type of relationship drama is if there is one at all is primarily a villain. A bickering couple (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets) disregard the environment on their camping trip, throwing a cigarette butt out the window and killing a dugong. So Mother Nature brings together birds, insects and animals to defeat them. Or is it all just coincidence? The threat is everywhere and nowhere: in the trees, in the water, in the sand, and HOLY HELL IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!
3. Dead End Drive In (1986)
A dystopian social allegory in a drive-in cinema that doubles as a microcosm of society? Genius! When a young man (Ned Manning) borrows his brother’s vintage car to impress his girlfriend (Natalie McCurry) at said drive-in, they can’t leave and discover that the drive-in is a company unto itself — with its own economy ( even own currency) and political factions. The protagonist’s determination to escape leads to one of the most iconic images of ozploitation: a moment reminiscent of Great Escape, with bright lights, broken wood and a sensationally flying vehicle.
2. Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981)
The first two of George Miller’s mind-blowing classics have been combined into one hell of a poppin’ entry. After the director introduced his Road Warrior to audiences in 1979, action cinema has never been the same. The original — a savage revenge film and origin story for Mel Gibson’s rampaging antihero — has long been the highest-grossing feature film produced in the world. The sequel upped the production values with more spectacular BDSM-esque outfits and one of the greatest car chases of all time.
1. Awakening in Terror (1971)
Ted Kotchefff’s 1971 masterpiece – thought lost for decades until finally found in a box marked for destruction – is so damn good and so damn stray that it both embodies and transcends the ozploitation genre, and the midnight one offers film audiences something truly brilliant to chew on.
Kotcheff follows an English high school teacher (John Grant) who is driven insane in a small outback town, setting up a terrifying atmosphere filled with dust and sweat. They don’t watch this movie that much feel it; Pressing play is like opening a door and getting hit with a blast of hot air.