Film Review: WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

WAKE IN FRIGHT is a 70’s Oz-ploitation film set in the unforgiving barren Australian outback. Written by Evan Jones (based on the Kenneth Cook novel) and directed by Ted Kotcheff the film follows the story of John Grant.

John is a young, handsome teacher who works begrudgingly in the small township of Tiboonda.

Quite early on we learn that John’s only motivation to teach in Tiboonda is because of his teaching bond, making all new teachers work in the outback by paying bonds until they can relocate to less rural areas.

As the Christmas break begins, he gets on a train to nearby Bundanyabba (known as the Yabba) to catch a plane back to Sydney in time to enjoy the holiday season and to spend time with his girlfriend.

Stuck in Bundanyabba for one night, before his flight, John joins Jock Crawford (a local policeman) , who also introduces him to the local physician Doc Tydon. They enjoy a meal and soon are putting bets on some games of two up (a traditional game dating back to the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – troops stationed in the war played two up to pass the time) .He goes on a winning streak and becomes greedy, hoping to win enough to pay his bond and leave the outback behind. Unfortunately he loses more than he should’ve and ends up trapped in the Yabba.

John befriends Tim Hyne, a local, and travels to his house. There he meets Tim’s adult daughter Janette (who tries to seduce John later on) and two friends Dick and Joe. They engage in some over the top drinking rituals and John becomes ill and ends up at Doc Tydon’s concealed shack. There Doc nurses him and reveals his own struggles with alcohol is why he ended up practising medicine in the bush.

Next Doc and John become caught up in Dick and Joe’s world of over consuming beer and “Roo” Hunting . Whilst vandalising a local pub, Dick and Joe fight playfully, but it soon turns aggressive.

John is unconscious and when he awakens in Doc’s shack and Doc tries to come onto him.

Disgusted, John tries to leave and ends up hitchhiking on his way to Sydney, before somehow finding himself being returned to the Yabba. Distraught John hurries to visit Doc, intent on killing him but instead shooting himself in the head. His suicide is unsuccessful and he is hospitalized and treated for his wound, before finally resigning himself to his fate.

This film may take some moments to build but when the intensity hits, you feel every minute of it.

Sadly, yes all shots of Kangaroo hunting are real. So expect to see the shootings and the dead and flailing roo’s. I will however explain that the roo’s were not just killed for the purpose of the film and the crew actually tagged along a real hunt to get the shots for the film (when the hunters themselves became rather over intoxicated – due to excessive drinking while hunting- and began shooting haphazardly at the animals, they crew ceased filming out of disgust).

John is played by Gary Bond (known for a role in the 1964 film Zulu and many television roles) and his portrayal of our city boy stuck on the outback, makes his annoyance very evident. He is curt, somewhat sarcastic and at times a tad snobby towards locals.

The locals include the bumbling and seemingly foolish Doc Tydon , played by Donald Pleasance (infamously Doctor Loomis in the Halloween franchise), Jack Thompson as Dick (popular Australian actor known as Har6ris the caretaker in Don’t Be afraid of The Dark), Chips Rafferty (this was his final film) as Jock Crawford, Peter Whittle (from Time Trax) is Joe, Al Thomas as Tim (from The Clairvoyant) and Sylvia Kay as Janette (popular television actress).

Each adds his own necessity to the film, amongst the Aussie culture and outback customs.

The film may seem a tad slow for some by todays standards, but that is the emerging character of Australia’s and relentless sunny outback townships. Personally I have been on the receiving end of an Australian summer and when the mercury hits 48 degrees (approximately 118 degrees in Fahrenheit) where I am (which happened only a few weeks ago) it is an intense and searing sun that you cannot escape, as it lingers over you unwanted.

The cinematography in this film is amazing. From shots of the sweeping desert plains to the dusty buildings in the townships, each moment is shot so beautifully- even the more gruesome.

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Author: Michelle Sayles

Michelle is a long term horror fan, who writes reviews to purge her thoughts. Horror has been her favorite genre since she was 5yrs old- the 1976 film The Omen being her favorite, and Stephen King became her favorite author at the age of 10 when she saw Pet Sematary and begged her parents for the novel. Michelle was raised on Hammer Horror and her specialty is learning more about independent films, especially in the Australian market . Michelle writes the way she thinks, which folks don't always agree with but that is her....she shoots from the hip

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