Wolf Creek: Fear and Slaughter in the Australian Outback

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At the Sundance festival of 2005, the Australian chiller Wolf Creek started some commotion and the hype was beginning. Is this a new Blair Witch Project?

Well, maybe – with that distinct difference that Wolf Creekis good, unlike the piece of crap movie about the witch in the woods. Wolf Creek, which was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes, is based on real events and explains what might happen to all those people who  disappear in the Australian outback.

“In the outback, you can walk around for days without meeting one single living soul,” the young director Greg McLean says when I meet him. “You can literally vanish out there, and the sun might actually kill you.” However, in Wolf Creek, it isn’t the sun that kills the characters, but a crazed madman.

The main characters’ watches stop after visiting the Wolf Creek crater in the outback, and then their car won’t start. A typical, clichéd Crocodile Dundee type of Australian shows up, helps them and tows their car to his weird place. The kids are drugged, and when they wake up, they are tied up. The man is torturing and teasing them, and then he begins killing them off.

“In your average slasher, the killer is masked,” McLean says. “We skipped the mask in our movie, instead, the mask is an old man’s face. I kind of look at Wolf Creek like it’s a werewolf movie. You don’t know who the werewolf is, in this case the killer. It could be anybody, maybe one of the guys in the bar or the gas station attendant. This makes it all so much scarier.”

The Crocodile Dundee reference is there on purpose.

“I wanted to use as many clichés as possible. In Australia, they try to avoid clichés like kangaroos and such, but I find clichés amazing! And I think this is what a foreign audience want to see, when they go to see an Australian movie. I don’t want to make a movie that looks American. But the clichés in our movie are reversed. The usually nice Crocodile Dundee kind of guy is evil.”

The first part of Wolf Creek is very long. It takes about fifty minutes before the main characters get into trouble, but Greg McLean thinks this long start is very useful, and in one way, he’s right. Personally, I think the movie would have gotten a tad better and tighter if they had trimmed the first half a little (and it has already been shortened). It’s a little too long and draggy. But on the good side, you really get to know the characters, and unlike the annoying idiots this kind of movies usually are populated with, the kids in Wolf Creek are likable, at least the girls.

When the killer starts showing his handywork, the movie switches to harcore horror. During the first press screening at Cannes, forty journalist fled the theatre when the killer pulled out his big knife. It’s gory and sadistic. The mood makes me think of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I really like the fact that everything is dark and hopeless, there’s no way out, and when somebody manages to escape, it’s soon back to Hell once again.

“Yeah, I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I watch it over and over again because it always scares the shit out of me,” McLean says. “So I thought, okay, let’s fucking do this and turn it up a notch!”

As mentioned above, Wolf Creek is based on real events, the characters have the names of real persons – and Greg McLean didn’t bother to ask for the families’ permission! This gives the movie a pretty nasty feel. But the movie is far from a documentary.

The incredibly pretty actress Cassandra Magrath, who plays one of the three characters that get into trouble, joins us. Parts of what she says reveals the story’s twists and surprises, so I better skip these parts, but she agrees when I compare her character to Janet Leigh’s in Psycho. Her part was inspired by Leigh’s character.

Cassandra says that the mood was pretty lighthearted when they shot the violent scenes in Wolf Creek, and that she loved being covered in blood, she even wanted more blood on her.

“But when I was watching when they shot the scene in which Kestie Morassi wakes up, bloody and tied to a pole, and is tortured by the killer, I wondered what the hell we were doing. What the hell is this? Snuff?” Magrath laughs, while I’m having problems concentrating because of her enchanting smile.

Cassandra Magrath goes on telling that she actually doesn’t like horror movies and that she even finds horror fans a bit suspicious. Hmm…

In the movie, she plays an English girl, and because of this, she speaks with a British accent. Her family thought this was funny: “They were, like, ‘Cassandra doing a British accent? Ha ha! We gotta see this and see her fuck up!’” According to Magrath, this behavior is common in Australian families.

Her family came to Wolf Creek’s opening and Magrath realised she had forgotten to warn her mother that some scenes are hard and nasty. After the screening, she asked her mom what she thought, and she said she it’s a good movie – but she doesn’t want to see it again.

Wolf Creek was shot on High Def, which is really hard to tell, it looks like 35mm. The movie is good looking, well acted and well directed. It’s an unusually good chiller with surprisingly tough scenes of violence.

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