Ozploitation. Not The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – we’re talking about Australian genre cinema of the 70s and 80s! In the early 70s, Australia’s government decided to create Australia’s own cinema culture by founding the Australian Film Commision. Emerging from the shadows of the Australian New Wave, ozploitation found itself answering to Australia’s primal, grindhouse needs by making exploitation movies through an outrageous Aussie lens.
Dystopian worlds, crazy stunts, zany gore, touches of Aboriginal mythology, and terrifying portraits of Mother Nature, ozploitation is stuffed chock-full of bloody cult classic morsels that deserve a mainstream resurgence. You’ve probably already watched some great ozploitation films without knowing it, namely George Miller’s “Mad Max” series, but that’s hardly scratching the surface. Here are 10 great ozploitation flicks you’ve never seen.
1. The Plumber (1979)
A quirky plumber continuously torments a dorky, young graduate school couple in their apartment. He barges into their house, fixing toilets and playing mind games by showing off his harmonica skills, remodeling the bathroom, and leaving poopity scoop everywhere. The couple is very confused, clueless on how to get rid of his unneeded services.
Oscar nominated “Truman Show” director Peter Weir began his career with humble roots in the Australian grindhouse, and “The Plumber” is the best of his exploitation bunch! Disorienting , fetishistic shots of pipes, toilets, and bathtubs plumb into your soul as the awesome plumber, Max, played monumentally by Ivar Kants, plunges your heart out. Hot and steamy with gorgeous, dark chocolate curls, he’s a real man, a real god, a real chad, a tubby tool expert man of your dreams, and it’s too bad these nasty, asty college nerds won’t accept his free and unique brand of plumbing. This black comedy thriller made for tv is as great as Weir’s big budget productions, full of off kilter suspense and unbearable laughter.
2. Death Cheaters (1976)
Steve (Josh Hargreaves) and Rod (Grant Page), two ex-vietnam commando best friends are stuntmen for hire that do any and all stunts, no matter how dangerous. They’re hired by the Australian government to sneak behind Phillipino lines to steal classified documents, and the stunt buds have a blast doing it!
Originally made as a television pilot funded by the Australian Film Commission, “Death Cheaters” would have never been made today because of the crazy, fun, unregulated Mad Max level stunt work. The light plot is only an excuse to show off explosive ozploitation pyrotechnics and choreography. “Death Cheaters” is a love letter to action film artists everywhere, as well as an exhilarating display of the heavenly joys a true bromance can bring.
3. Long Weekend (1978)
“Long Weekend” follows Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets), an annoying married couple who treat mother nature very rudely as they argue and squabble all along their retreat to the beach. The two wedded companions litter their cigarette butts, slash into trees, and spray smelly aerosol cans, until Mother Nature decides she’s had enough and exacts her revenge. Every animal, tree, and blade of grass turns against them, and Peter and Marcia find themselves in the biggest fight and fright of their lives during an isolated ecological apocalypse.
A psychological horror thriller with drops of intense, doomed rom-com, “Long Weekend” is perhaps the zenith of Australian horror, and all man vs nature films for that matter. This was Everett De Roche’s (arguably ozploitation’s best screenwriter) first feature film screenplay, inspired by his own vacation to a remote beach. Actors Hargreaves and Behets are wonderfully believable as two pathetic lovers, and the creature effects and mix of real animals deliver wonderful performances as well. A relentless, brutal, amalgamation of “Jaws,” “The Birds,” and “The Blair Witch Project” set in the Australian bush, “Long Weekend” tells an sinister ecological tale that’ll scare anyone away from taking wildlife safaris in Australia. The film’s inspiring message of respecting mother nature also serves as a subtle allegory for Peter and Marcia’s crumbling relationship.
4. Mad Dog Morgan (1976)
Based on the true story of legendary bushranger Dan Morgan, famous for his sporadic and violent behavior in the bush, “Mad Dog Morgan” is essentially Morgan’s exploitation biopic. A surrealistic Sam Peckinpah inspired spaghetti western starring a drug addled Dennis Hopper, who kills, robs, and mutilates his way through the wild world down under as he tortures and gets tortured.
Overall, “Mad Dog Morgan” is a delectable exercise in sadism and sadomasochism, rivaling the likes of “El Topo” in carnage and cruelty. If you want to enjoy “Morgan’s” bleak, Francis Baconesque gore in all its bloody savagery, you’re going to have to dig deep to find the unrated, unedited cut. An insane Dennis Hopper explodes as Morgan, “method acting” on set by indulging in booze and hard drugs between takes. That’s our Mad Dog!
5. The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
Fang Sing Leng (Wang Yu), a kung fu cop from Hong Kong, takes a trip to Sydney, Australia in search of a drug dealer. He and two narcotics cops, Grose (Hugh Keayes-Byrne of Mad Max) and Taylor (Roger Ward, also of Mad Max fame), try to bust down the drug lord Jack Wilton (George Lazenby), and his Hong Kong drug runner Win Chan (Sammo Hung) in a non stop adrenaline action thriller full of motorcycles, kung fu, gun fights, and a brilliant car chase. Nothing will get in the man from Hong Kong’s way.
Directed by prolific ozploitation master Brian Trenchard Smith, “The Man from Hong Kong’ is a berserk Aussie Hong Kong Frankenstein of the 70s kung fu craze and the Australian New Wave, and a must see for lovers of “Mad Max,” Bruce Lee, and Steve McQueen. Sammo Hung delivers great action choreography, and Lazenby (James Bond) is deliciously fun as the film’s villain. Noel Quinlan’s disco-cool soundtrack and Jigsaw’s seductive, “Sky High” theme song rocks the film to a groovy, 70s excess heaven. Master cinematographer Russel Boyd’s (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”) kinetic camera compliments the action.