Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With Mad Max speeding back into theaters, we go Down Under for some Ozploitation classics.
To hear the movies tell it—and the Aussie ones tell it loudest—the Outback is the most brutal, terrifying place on Earth. It’s like if the Old West had motorcycles and crocodiles, and was populated mostly by members of Leatherface’s extended family. Watching Razorback, a flavorful creature feature from the director of Highlander and the country that brought us Mad Max, you really do have to wonder if there’s some kind of Australian anti-tourism board, funneling money into projects that make the bush look inhospitable. In addition to the usual Ozploitation staples—reckless driving, drunken degenerates, unforgiving desert weather—Razorback adds just one more reason not to go Down Under. That reason is a giant man-eating boar.
Pulling a classic Psycho fake-out, the film sends its ostensible heroine, a New York “wildlife reporter” played by future Happy Feet co-writer Judy Morris, on assignment to Australia, where she’s shockingly devoured by a hog the size of a pickup truck. The widower (Gregory Harrison) quickly flies out to investigate, getting mixed up with a couple of lowlife brothers who work at the local slaughterhouse and a grizzled hunter (Bill Kerr) gunning for the big pig that took his grandson. Kerr’s character is clearly the Quint figure of this monster movie, and Razorback feels like a dry-land Jaws in a few other ways, too, especially in how it keeps its title attraction off screen as often as possible. The boar is glimpsed either in extreme close-up—the head seems to be some kind of puppet, albeit a cool-looking one—or in distant silhouette. Director Russell Mulcahy’s attempts to cut around the immobility of his monster are mostly passable, though its habit of sneaking up on victims like some kind of rhino-sized ninja gets pretty silly.
Razorback, in other words, won’t do for pigpens what its aquatic predecessor did for the beach. But it does reinforce the general cinematic impression of the Outback as a gorgeous but unforgiving wasteland. Mulcahy, a music-video director making his first foray into feature filmmaking, lends the barren Aussie landscapes an almost fairy-tale dread—painting the sky an apocalyptic crimson in the striking opening scene, and sending Harrison on a staggering walkabout across barren terrain, where he has waking dreams of a horse skeleton raising from the sand like an “abandon all hope” sign. It’s a hell of a backdrop for a movie, and Mulcahy films the hell out of it. The tusked, squealing beast is just a bonus.
Availability: Razorback is available on DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video store or library. It’s also available to rent digitally through Vudu or to stream for free in its entirety on YouTube.