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  Dark Age The Reptile Mind
Year: 1987
Director: Arch Nicholson
Stars: John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Burnham Burnham, David Gulpilil, Ray Meagher, Jeff Ashby, Paul Bertram, Ron Blanchard, Gerry Duggan, Ken Radley, Janet Kingsbury, James Fitzgerald, Hank Mosby, James Mann, Jock McCullum, Chris Anderson
Genre: Horror, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The place is Australia's Northern Territory, and in the Outback ranger Steve Harris (John Jarratt) is recording the crocodile population on the river, but what he doesn't know is there's a huge example of the species not too far away from him. He has other problems at the moment as there is a clap of thunder and the heavy rain begins, leaving his truck stuck in the water until a local Aborigine he knows, a wise man named Oondabund (Burnham Burnham) appears with a few fellow tribesmen and helps him out of the rut. But not everyone is as friendly as them...

Steven Spielberg's Jaws was a very influential horror movie, but apparently it spawned as many killer crocodile and alligator movies as it did killer shark movies, and Dark Age was one of those. It was an Australian production made with American investment from a time when the U.S.A was very interested in movies from that continent, but due to an odd quirk - the company going bust shortly after it was completed, basically - it wasn't released in its home country for decades. For those who did see it, it was a rarity which they thought deserved a better profile, maybe no classic but well enough done to be worth dragging out of obscurity.

Veteran Ozploitation producer Antony I. Ginnane was the man behind this, but don't go expecting wall to wall croc attacks as there was a social and environmental concern to this as well. Certainly when the reptile started munching on the cast the blood flowed freely, but there was just as much, if not more, interest shown to the tensions between the white population and Aborigine population, with the countryside the setting, and almost another character in itself. Of course, David Gulpilil had to show up this being an Aussie movie with that on its mind, but he played a less important role than the Santa Claus-bearded Oondabund, with Burnham essaying what could have been a tribal holy man cliché.

It was to screenwriter Sonia Borg's credit that any of the more hackneyed aspects were carried through this perspective; yes, Razorback had been there before it, but there was a more spiritual quality to Dark Age which was easy to overlook when it took people getting torn limb from limb by a wild animal as its main subject. Steve and his girlfriend Cathy Pope (Nikki Coghill) are having relationship issues, but nothing brings them together like a crisis, though when she witnesses and fails to stop the crocodile from eating a small child - still an alarming moment - it looks like this will tip her over the edge and she'll leave him, especially when Steve is so dedicated to the preservation angle and seems more worried about saving this beast which is operating on instinct.

This notion of defending the indefensible is surprisingly thoroughly pursued, and the film ends up with a chase across the desert trying to get the croc to a place where it can exist without danger of chomping anyone else. This point of view helps when the people trying to kill the creature are either money-minded bureaucrats (Ray Meagher) or outright racist maniacs (led by Captain Hook-alike Max Phipps) who are more caught up in the macho ideal of bringing down mother nature than they are being useful and practical. That the animal is considered an object of veneration by the Aborigines doesn't help their standing with these "yahoos" as Steve calls them, and if the film doesn't quite buy into their religious devotion, it pleads for acceptance and tolerance when there's a way to get along without unnecessary hassle. Nobody tells the monster that, of course, and if the massive puppet representing it looks more convincing in the water than on land, Dark Age was a decent addition to an overused plot. Music by Danny Beckerman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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