Sunday, 1 November 2009

Thirst (1979)

Dame Edna... nooo!

Here is another Australian horror film that I liked. I don't know how much longer this hot streak can last. It starts with a great opening scene: A woman suddenly wakes up in a Gothic crypt straight out of a Hammer movie. As she screams and pounds on the door, begging to be let out, some mysterious voices discuss her "conditioning", one of them stressing that her "sanity is close to breaking point". Flashback to a week ago and we discover her name is Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) a successful ad executive with an awesome 70s pad who spends her time rolling around in front of her big open fireplace with her hairy boyfriend. After discovering a mysterious cartoon of blood in her fridge she is kidnapped by an international secret society and taken to a remote compound called The Farm.

There she is confronted by the sinister Mrs Barker (the great Shirley Cameron) and Mr Hodge (Max Phipps). They tell her that she is a direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory and thus part of a royal vampire bloodline. Naturally they can't kill her, all they can do is try to get her to accept her destiny. Mr Hodge wants to marry her and merge their bloodlines but I don't know how he can hope to compete against the 70s machismo of Kate's boyfriend. He doesn't even have an awesome mustache.

Not only that, The Farm is actually a blood processing plant, like a dairy. The "blood-cows" wander around in a drug-induced stupor, occasionally corralled into a factory where their blood is drained, processed, packaged and shipped around the world. It's a great and really creepy idea. There's even a funny part where a tour guide cheerfully touts the factory's high levels of hygiene and blood purity to some vampire tourists, who snap away with their cameras happily. You know vampires would be pulling this shit if they were around today, the fuckers. Obviously Kate doesn't respond well to this information, so after a failed escape attempt they begin a process of systematically toying with her and breaking her down mentally so she succumbs to her instincts.

They begin by locking her in a crypt and when that doesn't work they drug her into a hallucinogenic state and try to brainwash her. Some really good dream sequences follow. A romantic picnic with her boyfriend is spoiled by a blood-filled chicken drumstick. She tries to have a drink only to find the mug filled with blood. She tries to relax with a hot shower at home and what do you think comes out? Blood, and lots of it. Soon she finds herself locked in a library while an enormous beast (the "thirst") tries to get in from outside, shaking the walls and knocking over furniture. This seems to do the trick and they think their conditioning has taken, but when they release her to the outside world she immediately chows down on a co-worker and tries to bite her boyfriend. Dang, time for some more conditioning.

I'm not sure exactly what powers the vampires in this movie have, except for extreme assholishness. They make some vague references to power and eternal youth but the vampires in this film seem just as susceptible to fatal injury and the ravages of age as normal humans. Blood drinking for them just seems to be, as they put it, "the ultimate aristocratic act". They don't have any of the traditional vampire weaknesses either and sunlight doesn't do shit, they don't even sparkle. They don't have fangs and have to wear falsies, but even then it's only for special ceremonial occasions. I loved this grounded, realistic approach but then they have to ruin it by giving the vampires a cheesy red-eye effect whenever they are about to feed.

The movie runs out of steam a little towards the end and the plot gets a bit muddled but it's a great concept with some really good scenes. Performances are generally good and there's a few notable actors I haven't mentioned such as David Hemmings who is a sympathiser to Kate's predicament and Henry Silva who's spectacular death is a highlight of the film. Even Patrick (Robert Thompson) appears as one of the senior vampires, and like that film this one was produced by Antony Ginnane. He financed quite a few low budget Australian horror films in the 70s and 80s. It's directed by TV veteran Rod Hardy who does a good job here and it's got a soundtrack by Brian May who scored every Australian film ever and is not the guy from Queen.

Thirst mixes Gothic atmosphere with a grounded and scientific approach to the vampire myth, resulting in a solid film that works on multiple levels. Also you get to see Chantal Contouri's boobs in one scene. I thought it was pretty good.

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