Savage Sinema From Down Under (DVD)
Directed by Mark Savage
Released by Subversive Cinema
I know, a collection of bizarre, never-heard-of indie films from Australia may not seem like the kind of box set the world is demanding, but give Savage Sinema From Down Under a chance. Or at least read this whole review before you write it off; you might be surprised.
The three films in this box set (the final product also includes a fourth disc, a TV show Savage created, but mine was a review copy and didn’t include it) represent years of underground filmmaking in the wilds of Australia, documenting a career that is both varied and thematic; Savage’s plots are never repeated, but there is a common theme of excessive violence in all of them which, if nothing else, makes his name very appropriate. Though I’m sure he’s been called many things throughout his career, from sicko to genius, one thing you can never say about that man is that he’s afraid to take chances. From ultra-violence at a young age to a completely silent revenge film, this is a box set unlike any you’ll find from anyone here in the States.
To make it easy on you guys, I’ll give you a quick rundown of each film, in chronological order, then an overview of the extras included; please keep in mind this box set has a lot of stuff; to review it all in detail would bore the both of us.
First up is Marauders, Mark’s first full-length film from 1986… and my God can you ever tell when it was made; the clothes, the hair, the attitudes; all of it is about as 80’s as you could ask for. The attitude especially, which overwhelmingly is that this film is more badass than you, so you’d better watch your mouth.
The film is basically about two sociopaths on a killing spree, mowing down anyone who gets in their way. The violence gets going on a great note when one of them shoots his “old lady” in the head because she won’t tell him where the keys to his car are, only to find them in his shirt pocket after her brains have repainted the side of the house, and off he goes with an “aw shucks” grin, while the other kills his mom because she wants to call the cops on him.
While this conscious-less psycho and his friend cut a swath of destruction across the Outback, hot on the trail of another duo of wannabe badasses who accidentally ran over one of our heroes, another story unfolds about a guy trying to get a girl to do whatever he wants just because they’re alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, the same cabin our group of miscreants are on their way to, as well as an entire crew of those they’ve done damage to during their trek.
Though it’s hard to get past the horrible acting and clothing, Marauders is actually a pretty damn fun film, filled with tons and tons of violence, the level of which is rarely seen by today’s indies. It actually reminded me a lot of Leif Jonker’s Darkness in terms of bloodshed, just minus the vampires.
Chronologically, the next film in the series is the best looking one of the group: 2000’s Sensitive New Age Killer. What a difference 14 years makes! SNAK, as it was referred to during its highly successful festival run, is the story of a family man named Paul (Morris) who's made a good living for himself as a contract killer. He’s got a loving wife and a beautiful daughter, but behind the scenes everything is supremely fucked-up. A female cop insists on regular sex or she will send him to jail, his best friend and partner (Hopkins) is a truly disturbed individual who obsessed Paul’s wife, and his lifelong killing hero, The Snake, turns out to be the worst kind of scum.
Though there are some ridiculously long gunfights that take place with what are obviously six-shooters, though they never run out of bullets, and at incredibly close range with zero damage to either combatant, the twists and turns of SNAK’s plots harken to works of directors like Guy Ritchie, though with a more linear storyline sensibility and not as much flair. For me the standout performance of the group was by Kevin Hopkins as George; he is a genuinely messed up human being who somehow manages to come across as normal to Paul for the large part of his life, and Hopkins pulls off the part beautifully. He’s very, very disturbing and deserves more attention.
Finally, we have Defenceless from 2004, a major step down in terms of cinematic quality (filmed, seemingly, on nothing but DV as opposed to 35mm) as well as a very ballsy chance taken with a story. The entire film is silent, featuring only an orchestrated score, without even the benefit of title cards to explain the action. Though to be fair it’s all pretty cut and dry.
A woman refuses to sign a contract that will allow for a new hotel to be developed on an untouched region of Australia’s coast, and the three men she pisses of by her refusal decide to force her to sign by making her life hell. They kill everyone she loves, but she still won’t sign the damn contract. Seriously, there’s a time when you just have to accept that someone’s not going to sign something, but these three idiots have no concept of when to move on. When they finally kill her, they think their troubles are over, but boy are they wrong; she comes back with an all new hunger for revenge, literally.
Shot on the cheap and with an incredibly small crew, Defenceless is enjoyable as a piece of ultra-violent cinema that’s made even more interesting because it’s silent, but I’m not sure if those quirks are enough to carry the entire film; the plot is a bit contrived and barely strong enough to carry the entire film. Despite some interesting themes of rebirth and retribution, it ultimately got a bit dull for me. Still, gotta respect the testicular fortitude of a director who's willing to make a modern-day I Spit on Your Grave without including a single line of dialogue. It makes the subtitle for the film, A Blood Symphony, wildly appropriate.
As far as features go, each DVD in the set comes with a commentary with Mark Savage and cast members, making-of featurettes, which in the case of Marauders is especially poignant because you get to see what all those bad-haired kids look like nowadays, and production booklets that detail the making of the films as they were being created. Seems Savage is a pro when it comes to keeping track of how his productions were going, leading to some great stories of exactly what happened during filming that he’d likely have forgotten had he needed to recall it all during the commentary tracks.
The full set will also feature Savage’s Aussie cable feature, Stained, as well as a collection of some of his early Super 8 films, which I’m sure you’re going to want to check out after you hear Mark and crew mention them so many times during the featurettes and commentaries on here. Seems like he’s been working with the same group for many years now, which is never a bad thing for indie directors.
Subversive has put together a tight little package here to celebrate one of Australia’s true maverick filmmakers, and likely U.S. fans will dig the sheer variety of the director’s oeuvre. Though none of the features really stand out as anything must-see, it’s nice to have some background information on a particular film if it sticks with you like, I’m sure, all three will on one level or another.
Audio commentary tracks with cast and crew
Featurettes with cast and crew
Production diary booklets
3 out of 5
Sensitive New Age Killer
3 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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