25 Great Australian Cult Films That Are Worth Your Time
There was an excellent documentary a few years ago about Australian cinema called “Not Quite Hollywood”. Directed by Mark Hartley, what made this doco unique is that it didn’t address the ‘new wave’ of Australian cinema that included films such as “Picnic At Hanging Rock” and “My Brilliant Career”. It did something wildly different.
“Not Quite Hollywood” looked at what could be best described as the class below the New Wave material. We’re talking films that, for better or worse, appealed to the more base instincts of viewers and, therefore, were the ones that made real money at the box office, particularly on the drive-in circuit in Australia in the Seventies and the early part of the Eighties.
These cult films, featuring an insane amount of gratuitous sex and violence, also highlighted the changing face of censorship in Australia. Pre-1971, Australia had a severe and Draconian approach to censorship, where films were either cut to shreds or banned outright.
This ultra-conservative approach all changed in 1971 when then Minister For Customs And Excise, the late Don Chipp, introduced the “R” rating. This meant that films like “Dirty Harry”, “A Clockwork Orange” and others that really pushed the limits of cinema could be seen by adults over the age of eighteen in all their uncut glory.
On a local front, this opened the floodgates for local filmmakers. Two further modifications were made to censorship laws in relation to cinema over the next twenty years. “NRC” (Not Recommended For Children) became “PG”, similar to the American model.
In 1992, the “MA15+” (Restricted to persons over the age of fifteen”) was introduced, primarily inspired by Martin Scorsese’s remake of “Cape Fear” and Jonathan Demme’s “Silence Of The Lambs”, two films that were too strong for the “M” (Mature Audiences) rating, but not strong enough for the “R” rating.
It was also a question of economics. Basically, the cinema audience had changed significantly over twenty years. By rating a film “R”, you cut out a third of your audience.
In an interesting side note, the Queensland government in the Eighties, led by Joh Bijelkie-Peterson, had their own censorship board and really seemed to have it in for horror films.
If you were anywhere else in the country, loved your horror movies and saw the “Banned In Queensland” sticker on the cover of a movie at your local video store, it was a ‘must hire’! This particularly conservative censorship body was disbanded in 1990.
Here are twenty-five films, in order of decade, that have more than likely slipped under the radar if you love your cult movies from all around the world.
25. Bloodmoon (1990) Directed by Alec Mills
Let’s not beat around the bush here. “Bloodmoon” is one of the worst films ever made! It is a totally inept take on the ‘serial killer’ genre, set in a boarding school.
Why is it on the list? The marketing when the film came out is why. In the best William Castle tradition, it featured a “Fright Break” halfway through. Basically, the film stopped for ten seconds, with a countdown on screen.
During that time, those that were ‘too scared’ to watch the rest of the film could go to the “Chicken’s Corner” in the foyer and get a full refund on their ticket. Back in 1990, that could buy you a six pack of beer. That option proved to be infinitely more enjoyable than actually watching “Bloodmoon”! Funnier still, the “Fright Break” (without the Chicken Corner) was included on the video release of the film.
24. Felicity (1978) Directed by John Lamond
Ridiculously popular in cinemas in Australia in the late Seventies, “Felicity” is a soft porn extravaganza about a young Australian girl experiencing her sexual awakening while studying in Bangkok.
For a mainstream film, it has a strong erotic charge and energy to it. Star Glory Anen is, how shall we say, not an attractive girl. “Felicity” wasn’t just for the raincoat brigade.
Beautifully shot and edited, a great deal of care was taken with the making of the film, making it several cuts above your usual smut. It was probably for this reason that it proved wildly popular with couples.
23. BMX Bandits (1983) Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
A low key, unassuming but rather charming action film for kids, this was a very early appearance from Nicole Kidman. Pre-Tom Cruise, Pre-Botox, this was when she was in her late teens, still had freckles and frizzy red hair.
She’s part of a group of rabid BMX riders who want to create their own track. Her and her mates get mixed up with some criminals and dodgy walkie talkies. Let’s be honest, you could write the plot on the back of a postage stamp.
Incredibly timely, cashing in on the worldwide BMX craze that was taking off back then, it features some great stunt work, such as when someone takes a BMX down a waterslide.
Very slight but not without charm, this is a great rainy Saturday afternoon film.
22. Alvin Purple (1973) Directed by Tim Bustall
Totally pushing what you could do with the recently installed “R” rating, Tim Burstall’s “Alvin Purple” depicts the misadventures of a rather average looking man (beautifully played by Grahame Blundell) who, for some inexplicable reason, girls find completely irresistible on a sexual level.
Where “Alvin Purple” really excels is the way that it shows this young man struggling to find his identity and being. In amongst the nudity and antics, played for laughs, there is a really affecting poignancy and intelligence.
“Alvin Purple” spawned a sequel two years later, “Alvin Rides Again”, a TV series and a belated sequel in 1983, “Melvin, Son Of Alvin”. It proved to have a lasting popularity and be something of a benchmark in Australian cult cinema.
21. Backroads (1977) Directed by Philip Noyce
This was an early work from director Philip Noyce, who would go on to Hollywood acclaim, making films such as “Patriot Games” and “The Bone Collector”.
“Backroads” is like an Antipodean take on “Easy Rider”, without all the counterculture stuff. An male odd couple, one white man and one Aboriginal, travel across Australia, trying to find semblance and meaning in their respective lives.
An even handed and objective look at racism in Australia, this is a very accomplished and emotionally warm film that hinted at Noyce’s potential which, over the subsequent decades, he would go on to fully realise.
20. The Last Of The Knucklemen (1979) Directed by Tim Bustall
This one’s something of a lost gem. A drama about men working in an mining town in the middle of nowhere, it shows the hard work they do and also how they cope with a highly isolated and lonely life, whether it be booze, prostitutes or fighting.
This is a punchy (no pun intended!), no holds barred look at masculinity and what makes the male of the species tick. Unflinching and unsparing, this is truly a cut above.
19. Roadgames (1981) Directed by Richard Franklin
Tight as a drum, “Roadgames” is about an American hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) who inadvertently becomes bait for a truck driving serial killer in outback Australia. There is another driver (Stacey Keach) hunting down said killer.
With a white knuckle intensity to it, “Roadgames” is a classic example of how less can be more in cinema. Stripped back to the bones, there isn’t an ounce of flab on this one. Imagine Alfred Hitchcock in the boondocks of Australia and you’re about there.