Wake in Fright (1971)

A Primus album title leaps to mind when I ponder this flick:

They Can’t All Be Zingers

And that is for damn sure, where Wake in Fright is concerned.

In the last while, I’ve had a number of ‘Ozploitation’ flicks in mind to check out, as movies from Australia are often of a very watchable and entertaining quality, while also retaining that undeniably ‘Aussie’ flavour.

Such is the case for the last one I checked out, and reviewed, 1986’s Fair Game, which, aside from the atrocious ‘action’ music / noise, was a surprisingly well-crafted flick that kept me dialed in for the entire run-time.

Combine that with my recent acquisition of a Blu ray copy of one of the coolest ‘Oz’ flicks I’ve ever seen, 1984’s Razorback, my batting average for cinematic gems from Down Under was looking pretty ok.

In my research, I kept seeing the title Wake in Fright pop up, with the accompanying write-ups seemingly making it out to be a film of some note, from what could arguably be seen as the early days of the ‘Ozploitation’ genre, in this case 1971.

Since I love being pleasantly surprised by films I know very little about, going in, I kept my background checks for Wake in Fright to a minimum, anticipating another groovy corker of a flick.

That’ll teach me.

Wake in Fright opens in a small Outback town where we meet ‘John’ (Gary Bond) who may have been the only teacher for miles around, for the handful of kids that live there. School lets out for the holidays and ‘John’ sets out to spend his time off with his girlfriend in Sidney, travelling across the Outback by train. Along the way, he disembarks in a strange little town and finds himself caught up in the sordid dramas of the local townsfolk.

I didn’t know what the hell to expect when I parked my ass and grabbed my trusty pad and pen…before hitting PLAY.

Let the scribbles begin…

Cool opening shot. 360 degree Outback desolation. There was nothing super extraordinary about this opening, aside from it doing a full, leisurely pan in a complete circle, showing just how empty and desolate the area is. Simple but effective.

Ok, quirky score so far. I kinda like it. After Fair Game, I’m a wee bit trigger shy on new film scores from Down Under, but luckily there was a quirky charm to the first few pieces of music.

Donald Pleasance?! Yes, “Dr. Loomis’ himself turns up in the opening credits. Incidentally, to complete my Halloween reference, the next flick I’m probably going to seek out is a thriller from 1981 called Road Games starring…drum roll, please…Jamie Lee Curtis! Odd for these two accomplished actors, Pleasance especially, to turn up in these barely exported Aussie offerings.

Some awesome, wide Outback shots. The inland wilds of Australia are a terrifically photogenic place (not that I’d want to actually go there) and most of the Australian flicks I’ve seen have made ample use of the scenery. Wake in Fright was no different.

Hilarious disregard for rules. Bar hours. Shortly after ‘John’ arrives in the ‘Yabba (as the enclave is nicknamed), he finds his way to the local watering hole. Before he walks in, we’re treated to a look at the Hours of Operation sign, which informs the reader that the bar, by official order, closes at 6:30 pm. The clock reads 10-something-pm…and the place is just a bump’n with folks, the local lawman included. Struck me as amusing.

Damn peer pressure. Boozing cop, total simpleton. Not knowing anyone and only planning on being in town overnight, he strikes up a conversation with the local cop in the crowd, who is an absolute dumbass who drinks hard and insists the same on ‘John’, beer after beer.

Riiigghht. Odd, sudden cult-like behaviour. Ok, this was an example of my own cultural ignorance. Apparently, the scene where the entire bar freezes in place around ‘John’, the lights dim and they all creepily recite some piece about the lost something-or-other is not what I thought it was. Turns out this is a real tradition in Australia (and probably elsewhere) where a moment is taken to collectively reflect on the sacrifices of the fallen in times of war. Remember that by this point I still didn’t know what this movie was ultimately going to be about, so I started wondering if this was going to be come weird Outback cult shit.

Could be cool.

Donald?! There you are. A heavily bearded and trashed Donald Pleasance has arrived on the scene as one of the plastered patrons.

So, movie…WTF are you?! Things just seemed to be happening around ‘John’ and it wasn’t lending to a specific, focussed narrative yet.

Flutey, jazzy soundtrack. Oddly whimsical. I’m suspicious. Like the tunes in the beginning, occasionally the score injected an undeserved shot of charm.

Uh oh. Shoulda quit while ahead, I reckon. So, our protagonist ‘John’, all beer drunk and devil-may-care, gets into some of the towns ‘underground’ gambling, which focuses on a coin toss in which certain guesses on the ‘heads or tails’ outcome can yield good cash. After winning a solid chunk of dough, Dumbass thinks that with just one more win, he can double his winnings and retire from teaching (not sure of just how much he thought he would end up with). He even makes this decision AFTER he’s already managed to get away from the den of ill repute with his ample winnings, voluntarily leaving his tiny hotel room to rush back to bet all he’s got. Doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Told ya. And he’s fucked. Totally broke and stuck in the ‘Yabba.

Agh! Swingin dick! For some damn reason, we cut to the next morning and there’s ‘John’, buck naked and sprawled out on his bed. He then wakes up and we’re treated to a swinging dick shot. This entire scene serves absolutely no purpose.

Holy shit! Forced hospitality. More booze related peer pressure.

Definitely a Twin Peaks vibe. Odd people. Virtually every character we meet would fit right into to a David Lynch project.

Lotta beer drinkin. Does this also maybe describe Australia itself? No offence, Australia.

Um…ok, then. Guess she doesn’t get much fresh meat. Straight to it. While boozing it up with Pleasance and a pair of Aussie good ole boys, ‘John’ strikes up a conversation with a female acquaintance of Pleasance’s, which goes better than he planned as she quickly leads him outside and presents herself for the taking. She’s not even coy about it. She just wants to fuck.

Way to kill the mood, dipshit. Puker. This is how you stop yourself from drunkenly boning the town pump on the side of a forest trail at night in Australia. You suddenly puke your guts up.

Do ya think Aussie’s like to drink? Well…do ya?! No offence, Australia.

Pleasance is a bloody slob. Seemingly nothing but sweat and slobber. Dr. Loomis he is NOT.

Another Mad Max vehicle! More kangaroo hunters. Car / truck culture simply isn’t a ‘thing’ for me but I have to wonder about how vehicles are viewed Down Under. Virtually every Australian flick I’ve come across seems to feature odd, retro-fitted, rough-and-tumble vehicles and this one was no different.

This roo hunt seems kinda cruel. They better not’ve actually run that one down!! This is where shit really started to slide for me. This wayward ‘John’ idiot has by now inexplicably taken up with ‘Dr. Loomis’ and two of his dipshit Aussie-stereotype Kangaroo Hunter buddies. While out on an annoyingly edited bender they embark on a high-speed rip through the Outback, at night, where they tear after what looked like genuinely frightened and fleeing kangaroos. One of which, I swear, is unceremoniously run down with the Mad Max truck.

I swear.

Macho assholes. Nailing the stereotypes. Just picture your ‘typical’ Aussie male stereotype…and you’ve got it.

Ah, fuck this movie! Actually killing kangaroos! Some hypocritical food preferences aside, I’m a through-n-through animal lover…especially dogs. My wife and I have two female dogs, and we love them to the ends of the earth, so its especially uncool when dog-like creatures, like kangaroos, are being clearly murdered on screen, blinded by spotlights and cold-bloodedly gunned down. The fact that footage of actual violent animal death is being dramatized and orchestrated to fit an already weak narrative DEFINITELY doesn’t sit well.

Why is this fucked up murder scene SO long?! Yeah, they hang on this uncomfortable bullshit for a while, intercutting shots of the drunken stereotypes and Moron John popping off with rifles, with footage of roos being shot to death. Sure, there’s a Producer’s Note in the Final Credits that says that the hunt scenes where shot during an approved cull of the roo population…but that doesn’t excuse the cheap exploitation of those innocent animals being killed.

*and by now… there is no saving this movie.

Then an asshole fist fights a wounded roo before cutting its throat. Charming. I sure as hell hope that they at least faked this scene, because if it legitimately played out like its shown, with one of the ‘actors’ literally punching a wounded kangaroo, before giving it a Colombia Neck-tie, then that is just fucked up. Just awful shit!

What is the message this flick is going for?! Yeah! Exactly! A faux-artsy and unfocused meandering of a ‘story’ with seemingly no message or or theme…aside from cliche’d drunken Aussie bullshit.

No offence, Australia.

This movie makes Australian dudes out to be brutish, drunken simpletons. Need I say more? In this case, I think the movie owes Australians an apology.

Pleasance moaning and trashing the place is funny though. It is.

Definitely getting too weird for its own good. At one point, the flick goes all Fear and Loathing and degenerates into a choppy, ‘artsy’ montage of drunken, violent debauchery and it was highly annoying to sit through.

And yes, I can understand the argument that, for artistic reasons reflecting the drunken state of the characters onscreen, the clumsy and haphazard rapid-fire edits were ALWAYS meant to play out like they did. Still annoyed the hell out of me.

The Outback = so photogenic. Gorgeous looking place…never need to go there.

No offence, Australia.

Is there an anti-booze theme here? Maybe a little Reefer Madness-level preaching or messaging through the so-called narrative, only done with a little more finesse and ‘window dressing’?

More abrasive trippy shit for the sake of trippy shit. When this kind of ‘mind-bending’ shit works, as in the case of many David Lynch films, it works well. When it doesn’t…you get this crap.

Gunshot wound – time jump – just fine. This narrative…just clumsy as all get out. As you can see, there is a gunshot wound…then there’s an out-of-character time jump…and the victim, our dopey ‘hero’ ‘John’, is just peachy. Just fine. No evidence of having been shot. So…how long are we supposed to assume ‘John’ was convalescing? *shrugs*

What was the point?!! By now the end credits are rolling and I’m coming to terms with never getting that 2 hours of my life back. A little miffed, I will admit.

 Wake in Fright nearly put me to sleep. This was NOT a good ‘Ozploitation’ flick. Full stop. I don’t care if the book its based on is some literary classic, this movie has VERY little in the way of redeeming features. Really, when I ponder, as Positives go, I can only conjure up a couple examples of cool cinematography and some of the livelier parts of the score. Aside from that, I found this movie to be a slog to get through. I alternated between boredom, annoyance and anger watching this garbage. Just the main character alone, with all the facial expression of C3-PO, had me nearly snoring. Just a plank of wood reciting lines when he isn’t drinking his face off, possibly being gay with Donald Pleasance, or murdering stricken animals in the darkness of the night. There is no character arc for this ‘John’ douchebag and he gives us nothing to root for. You’d also think that the presence of a renowned actor like Donald Pleasance would sweeten the deal but nope…he was equally annoying, just for totally different reasons. I don’t feel like wasting too much more thought on this lame-ass movie so I’ll just say to any of you who may want to deep dive into some of the cinematic offerings from Down Under, there are some great Australian movies out there waiting to be discovered…this just isn’t one of them.

Don’t waste your time.

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