Friday, May 7, 2010

The Friday Night Late Movie: There's Only One Way to Quench Your "Thirst"

Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) awakens suddenly, shocked to find herself lying in a coffin and locked inside a tomb-like dungeon. Just a few days before, she was living an ordinary life. A working woman by day, she spent quiet evenings with her boyfriend, Derek (Rod Mullinar), seemingly oblivious to the men spying on her and holding private meetings about her. One morning, Kate is kidnapped and taken to the "Farm," where she is served warm blood and told that she is a descendant of Countess Elizabeth Báthory. "Welcome to the Brotherhood," she is told, but Kate refuses to drink. The Farm acquires its blood from "donors," young men and women dressed in white, most of whom seem more than anxious when it comes time to donate (for good reason, when we finally see the way in which the bodies are exsanguinated). After a failed escape attempt, the Brotherhood tries to subdue Kate with drugs, and soon the woman (and the audience) cannot distinguish between reality and hallucination. Someone tells Kate that "the thirst is in all of us," but Kate can only hope that such is not the case with her.

The Australia-made Thirst (1979), directed by Rod Hardy, was part of the Australian New Wave in the early '70s to late '80s. It was an increased interest in the cinema of said country, sometimes called "Ozploitation." Many of the movies during this time were the result of a change in Australian censorship. In lieu of banning potentially offensive films, a classification system was established by politician Don Chipp, so that films could be labeled with an R rating to restrict the audiences to ones of appropriate age. The most popular of these films was likely George Miller's 1979 Mad Max (as well as his outstanding sequel, 1981's The Road Warrior, aka Mad Max 2), but there were other notable movies, including Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Richard Franklin's Patrick (1978) and Roadgames (1981), Russell Mulcahy's Razorback (1984), and Brian Trenchard-Smith's Dead End Drive-In (1986). In some cases, the directors were able to make an effective transition to Hollywood films. Weir directed numerous commercially and critically successful movies, including his U.S. debut Witness (1985) and Dead Poets Society (1989), Franklin surprised audiences with the enjoyable Psycho II (1983), a sequel to the 1960 Hitchcock classic, and Mulcahy helmed Highlander (1986), which would go on to achieve a cult status, as well as various sequels and a TV series (with a remake reportedly in the works). Hardy did not have as much success, but he stayed mostly in TV, directing episodes of series such as The X-Files, JAG, and the updated Battlestar Galactica.

Hardy's Thirst is a remarkably subtle horror film. It's clearly about vampires, but the vampire mythology is kept to a minimum. One of the men responsible for the Farm, Mr. Hodge (Max Phipps, who also appeared The Road Warrior as the Toadie), tells Kate that they don't like being referred to as vampires. They simply consider themselves an elite group, superior to others since they are thoroughly aware of the power and vitality that comes with the consumption of blood. While on occasion Thirst slips into more customary territory, with a few fangs and red eyes making appearances, the more placid moments prevail, such as Kate's cat knocking over a carton of milk, which, in lieu of milk, contains a suspiciously familiar red substance.

Contouri provides a stellar performance as a woman who resists what she finds initially revolting, only to question her own desires. Kate is told that the Farm is trying to move her towards her destiny. So is she doubting herself because of her supposed lineage, or is it merely because she is being conditioned to respond a particular way? This dilemma is the essence of Thirst, as a person can thirst for many things: answers, freedom, or even blood. Answers for the audience remain unreciprocated, even as we see the people behind the curtain. They consistently debate which actions to take with their newest guest, often opposed by Dr. Fraser, portrayed by David Hemmings. Hemmings brings his typical air of sophistication to his role, as Fraser comes across as the nice one, despite freeing Kate from the dungeon, only to then suggest that she not leave the Farm. Actor Hemmings also starred in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 Blow-Up, Dario Argento's 1975 Deep Red (aka The Hatchet Murders), and was the designer of the titular helicopter in the TV series, Airwolf (as well as directing an episode). Henry Silva and Shirley Cameron, who play the rest of the Farm personnel, contrast wonderfully with the pleasant-looking Hemmings. Silva, with his perpetual scowl, specialized in portraying villains, such as The Hills Run Red (1967), Sharky's Machine (1981), and Steven Seagal's debut, Above the Law (1988).

The vampire film is more than a subgenre of horror; it's a genre all its own. There are countless vampire films released each year, and there is an abundance of such movies that play with convention and twist audience's expectations. Regardless, Thirst stands out from the crowd. It does have its gory bits, and the film is saturated with blood, but it thrives on suspense. The most memorable parts involve Kate's attempts to leave the Farm, her all-too-real dream sequences, and the Farm's announcements, calling for donors, who walk slowly toward potential doom. It all leads to a rather curious ending, which is intriguing, if not altogether satisfying. Thirst is a vampire film for movie fans who have seen one too many stakes.


  1. Sark, an outstanding review and very informative. THIRST looks like a movie I would like. I have never seen it, but will definitely check it out. I have seen DEEP RED and that is a cleverly made movie. I am a fan of Seagal's earlier movies and have seen ABOVE THE LAW. THIRST is described as a unique vampire movie. Enjoyed reading your review!!

  2. Sark, I have read about THIRST but have never seen it! It definitely sounds intriguing and thought-provoking. I've seen some of the other Australian "New Wave" films mentioned, including the satirical cult fave DEAD END DRIVE-IN and Peter Weir's disturbing PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. While it's fun read about film favorites, I love learning about a promising movies I've never seen. This was an awesome choice for the Cafe's Friday Night Late Movie. By the way, there are elements of THIRST that remind me a little of Kathryn Bigelow's NEAR DARK.

  3. Sark, I've not seen this Thirst, but I have seen the 2009 Korean film Bakjwi (Thirst). Another very unqiue take on the vampire's need for the taste of blood...but with some very (and I mean VERY) erotic scenes. Thanks for bringing my attention to this film. Nice review.

  4. Sark, I dont know if I would watch the movie, Thirst. But, I have to say... I really enjoyed reading your review.

  5. Thanks for the compliments, all. Rick, I enjoy many of the "Ozploitation" films, especially Richard Franklin's ROADGAMES. And I still think the -- as you described it, and I can't think of a more fitting word -- disturbing PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK may be Weir's best film (although I really liked THE LAST WAVE).

    Kim, I've also seen the recent Korean film, which I thought was great. It was slow but had outstanding performances from the two leads and some very creepy (and, as you said, erotic) moments.

    Aki, THIRST is at Netflix. I think. Well, I know for sure it's availabe on Netflix Instant Watch because I saw it there!

    Dawn, you don't seem to like watching horror films. I'll try to find one that you wouldn't mind watching!

  6. Sark, this was an excellent review of a movie that I will probably not see. But I appreciate your passion for the horror genre and your expertise in writing about it.