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Deeper into Ozploitation: Next of Kin and Fair Game

  With the release of Mark Hartley's documentary Not Quite Hollywood in 2008, there was a twenty-first century resurgence of interest in the genre movies coming out of Australia, specifically those of the nineteen-seventies and eighties. Some enjoyed more attention than others, but the message was that even the tawdriest of these efforts contained at least one scene, one concept, that nowhere else in the world would have considered, be that tied to the national, no-nonsense personality, or thanks to the unique landscape Down Under that informed so many of these horrors and action flicks that could go from eerie to ultraviolent at the drop of a hat.

Not necessarily a hat with corks on strings hanging from it, either, as while there was much there proud to be Aussie, these weren't always Barry Humphries-inspired broad comedies, though you could glean a lot about the country's sense of humour from even the more serious entries in their output. Yet once you had seen your Mad Max, your Long Weekend, your Patrick, your Road Games, your The Last Wave, where did you go from there? Luckily, thanks to increased investment in their film industry from the seventies onwards in an attempt to establish a solid basis to contend with mostly Hollywood product, there was plenty to choose from.

One film that gathered interest after being largely ignored everywhere except Europe in its release year of 1982, was Next of Kin. Not the most distinctive of titles, and now eclipsed by the not very good eighties action downer starring Patrick Swayze, but this earlier piece was the better film, taking the elements that would be exploited by many of its contemporaries and putting them to good use. That landscape, for instance, was pressed into service to render some of the loneliest shots in the whole of Ozploitation, exacerbating the fears of its heroine, Linda (Jacki Kerin), who has arrived in this part of the country to inherit her late mother's retirement home.

The cinematography was one of the film's strongest points, a wise move by director Tony Williams who wished to echo his favourite French cinema, specifically in this case Roger Vadim's richly-crafted vampire yarn Blood and Roses from 1960. The colours here matched that ambition, so that no matter how slowly and deliberately the plot was progressing, there was always something to catch the eye and see to it that you were drawn into what was, frankly, a ridiculous storyline that purely managed to conceal its absurdity by taking it as seriously as a sleeper would by the vivid nightmare that just woke them up with a start in the wee small hours of the morning.

The old folks' home location offered a morbid mood to the proceedings, a place where death was a part of life, not everyday but the staff and residents expected it, but someone is making great play of that fact by messing with Linda's mind. When an elderly man is found drowned in the bath (by a different elderly man stepping into it and standing on his head!) it is the cue for the sinister to take effect as she starts to wonder if there might be a murderer wandering the spooky halls of the building. Her flashbacks to a childhood - a little girl with a red ball apparently alone - seem to be important of something, but it will take her discovery of her mother's diary to work it out.

The most recognisable face here belonged to John Jarratt, who in the decades to come would go on to star in the Wolf Creek franchise of horror films and television series, benefitting from the renewed focus on Australian horror that Hartley's international hit provided. Back here in Next of Kin, he was merely the suspect, the ex-boyfriend, now reigniting the affair, for Linda to enjoy and then question. If the dreamlike technique was too much for you, stick with it, as all Hell broke loose for the finale, one of the most striking endings in all Ozploitation, near apocalyptic (on a personal scale) and just as quirky and idiosyncratic as the rest of the picture.

As with many an Australian genre effort, a vehicle makes an important appearance in Next of Kin, call it the Mad Max effect, though here it is a van belonging to the villain, as it is in another, under the radar Ozploitation item, Fair Game. This had the misfortune of using a title like the other movie, was used elsewhere, most notably on a Sean Penn/Naomi Watts thriller, though also on Cindy Crawford's mildly notorious (and failed) attempt to become a film star. But this 1986 Aussie Fair Game was probably the best to be so-named, as with many an action flick from that part of the globe it was packed with stunts and had a sleazy overtone.

This was thanks to its most celebrated (and lambasted) sequence, where the heroine, played by country singer John Denver's ex Cassandra Delaney, was tied topless to the front of a truck by the trio of villains and driven through the wilderness until she passed out unconscious. Now, that does not sound like the most right on premise for an entertainment, but in a revenge movie, as Fair Game was, there had to be justification for getting your own back on the bullies, and though the baddies want to terrorise her, eventually they graduate to trying to murder her. That's when she snaps, and bear in mind they have been merrily slaughtering her beloved animals.

Williams freely admitted Next of Kin was basically shot from a first draft, and that did offer it an unformed quality, but the vengeance effort was more polished. It was set on a nature reserve, and the three thugs have been helping themselves to the creatures to sell for meat and pelts, entirely without permission, needless to say. That vehicle was a customised truck nicknamed The Beast, and an imposing bit of design it was too, the extension of their macho, obnoxious personalities, leaving any right-minded viewer hankering for the gang to be taken down a peg or two. Perhaps their comeuppance was over the top, but nobody said revenge stories had to be subtle, and Fair Game could be favourably compared to Revenge, the French film of that style from three decades later. These were merely two Australian genre pics that deserved more attention, and there are plenty more where those came from.

[Despite its relative obscurity, Next of Kin has been given the Blu-ray treatment by Second Sight with many a whistle and bell. Those features in full:

Audio commentary with Director Tony Willams and Producer Tim White
Audio commentary with cast members John Jarratt, Jackie Kerrin, Robert Ratti and Not Quite Hollywood Director, Mark Hartley.
Return to Montclare: Next of Kin Shooting locations revisited
Extended interviews from Not Quite Hollywood
Deleted Scenes
Original Theatrical Trailer
VHS Trailer
German Trailer
German Opening Credits
Before the Night is Out - Complete ballroom dancing footage from 1978
Image Gallery
Tony Williams shorts from 1971: Getting Together + The Day We Landed on the Most Perfect Planet in the Universe.]
Author: Graeme Clark.


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