Published by McFarland & Company
(Order Line: 800-253-2187)
When horror film fans think of Australian horror, titles such as Wolf Creek, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Loved Ones usually spring to mind immediately. Thankfully there is now a reference book which details Aussie horror movies from the time period of 1973 to 2010 (hopefully there will be an update in the near future to cover such films as Snowtown [a must-see] and Bad Behaviour [both released after this book went to press]). Author Peter Shelley, who has written several books on film history and is an Aussie himself, has assembled an interesting lineup of titles for film buffs who want to try something different from the done-to-death Asian horror or European horror films.
However, there is what I consider a flaw to the book’s content: the author’s criteria for which films to include. Shelley states in his preface that his definition of a horror film is one which:
…[F]eatures either the theme of horror of personality, which can be
demonstrated by an aggressive human or an animal behaving in a
natural manner, or the malevolent supernatural being which can also
be extended to an animal that has been mutated and hence behaves
in a non-naturalistic manner.
Shelley does acknowledge that “some may find fault with the criteria…” and on this point I have to agree as films most horror fans consider to be horror films (i.e., Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Lake Mungo (2008) are not covered in this book. But films which were either only shot in Australia, using the landscape to double for somewhere else, or the production made used of Aussie film facilities ARE included, such as Ghost Ship (2002), The Ruins (2008), Queen of the Damned (2002) and Darkness Falls (2003). This really makes no sense and does detract from an otherwise fascinating book.
In his Introduction, Shelley delves into the history of Australian film in general, starting with early short theatrical releases, dating as far back as 1896, to the first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), as well as the history of Aussie horror films. He credits the 1973 release Night of Fear as the first Aussie sound title, and it is with this title that Australian Horror Films begins. Chronologically, Shelley examines the best (and pseudo best) of Australian horror cinema, starting with a list of cast and crew on each film followed by a brief synopsis of the film, Shelley’s comments, information on the film’s release and DVD information, if any.
Among the films examined are Razorback (1984), The Cars that Ate Paris (1974), The Last Wave (1977), Road Games (1981) and, of course, 2005’s Wolf Creek. Some of the more obscure but intriguing titles are Prey (2009), Coffin Rock (2009), Next of Kin (1982), Houseboat Horror (1988), Outback Vampires (1987) and Patrick (1987). Makes one want to invest in an all-region DVD player and check some of these films out.
Australian Horror Films, 1973-2010 is an interesting book and one that hardcore horror fans may want to add to their reference library (although it IS a tad pricey for a paperback – $49.95 for a 320-page book). But the author’s strange, in my opinion, criteria for inclusion in the book keep it from being the, to date, definitive book on the subject.