Wake in Fright
Dir: Ted Kotcheff
Wake in Fright (also known as Outback in some countries) is a cracking Australian thriller film directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence and Chips Rafferty. The screenplay, written by Evan Jones, is based on Kenneth Cook's 1961 novel of the same name. It's a thriller bordering on horror, a story of a young schoolteacher from Sydney who descends into personal moral degradation after finding himself stranded in a brutal and menacing town in outback Australia. Gary Bond plays John Grant, a well-spoken teacher who is disgruntled because of the onerous terms of a financial bond which he signed with the government in return for receiving a tertiary education which has forced him to take up a job teaching in a tiny school at Tiboonda, a remote township in the arid Australian Outback. On the last day of term before the Christmas holidays, Grant heads straight for the train station to catch a train to Bundanyabba (known as "the Yabba” by the locals) in order to catch a Sydney-bound flight where he plans on visiting his girlfriend. However, he soon finds himself relaxing in the Yabba, drinking with the locals and engaging in a local gambling circuit. Grant almost succeeds in winning enough money to pay off the bond but he pushes it too far and everything comes tumbling down on top of him. After losing all his money, including his air fare, Grant finds himself on a downward spiral of drinking, excepting the forced charity of the friendly yet aggressive locals and becomes lost in a world he finds hard to escape. This isn't your typical 'city folk lost in the wilderness' horror though, it is far more complex than that. Grant is somewhat arrogant but he also allows himself to get lost, it's as if he, for the first time, has truly let himself be free and he doesn't know quite how to handle it. The locals are always friendly, polite and would do anything for you. Strangers are very much welcome and this is what makes the film so uniquely special. There is no secret society or secret plot, the locals are genuinely kind and generous. They're proper Ozzy blokes but no one is ever ostracized. The only rule is that when someone offers you a drink, you accept, to decline would be a mistake. It's an escape movie without a prison, a horror without a bad guy. It delves right into the darkness of temptation that lies in all of us, shows you the horrors of alcoholism while making you thirsty for a beer at the same time. For many years, Wake in Fright was regarded as Australia's great "lost film" because of its unavailability on VHS or DVD, as well as its absence from television broadcasts. It is now considered a seminal film of the Australian New Wave and has been ranked by critics as one of the greatest Australian films ever made. I've often thought Australian film is largely overlooked and the fact that so few people know of Wake in Fright is a good example. Dirk Bogarde and the director Joseph Losey wanted to make an adaptation seven years previous but I'm glad they didn't. I can't help but think Kotcheff's First Blood wouldn't have been quite the same had he not learned a few tricks with Wake in Fright. Gary Bond is great in it but Donald Pleasence's performance is among his best and most overlooked. The infamous Kangaroo shooting scene is still questionable, the Kangaroos were being culled in order to keep the population down but many of them aren't killed instantly, making for unpleasant viewing. However, this isn't meant for entertainment, what was going to happen anyway was filmed and I think the film benefits from it enough for it to be included. Sometimes we need to see the true horror of our actions to understand ourselves and to prevent future suffering.