Thursday, 30 October 2008

Thirst (1979)

Thirst is a rather interesting 1970s Australian horror film. It may well be the only Australian vampire movie. And it’s actually quite an interesting vampire movie.

The Brotherhood is a centuries-old world-wide organisation of vampires. It’s an ancient society, but these vampires believe in moving with the times. They’ve embraced modern management techniques and now run a network of high-tech factory farms raising blood cows. Blood cows being of course humans raised as vampire food. This means the modern vampire can be guaranteed of blood free from impurities and disease, neatly packaged in cartons that look just like milk cartons. They combine this modern approach with a respect for their own history, so when they discover that a woman named Kate Davis living in Melbourne is a descendant of Countess Elizabeth Bathory they’re keen to recruit her into their ranks. In fact they’re very keen indeed. She is, after all, vampire aristocracy. Trouble is Kate doesn’t know about her blood-drinking heritage, and when she finds out she’s not exactly over the moon about it. She’s a successful businesswoman, she’s in a relationship, and she’s not enthusiastic about a lifestyle change that includes the drinking of human blood. That’s where Dr Fraser and his team come in. They’re a kind of vampire therapy team, experts in reprogramming reluctant vampires.

At the time this movie was made the Australian film industry was stuck in a particularly tedious rut, churning out turgid historical dramas that took themselves much too seriously. In this environment producer Antony I. Ginnane was a bit of a maverick. He modelled himself on Roger Corman, and started turning out contemporary genre movies – thrillers, sexploitation movies, and horror movies – that were aimed very much at international markets. In fact his movies at this time were commercial flops in Australia but enjoyed considerable success elsewhere. He was a firm believer in including at least one reasonably well-known overseas actor in each movie to give it added appeal internationally. The imported star in Thirst is David Hemmings, and in this case it works well. He’s perfectly cast as the charming and rather ambiguous Dr Fraser. The real star of the movie though is Australian actress Chantal Contouri, who plays Kate. She gives a fine performance.

Horror in movies can be achieved in various ways, most crudely by means of gore and violence, and in a more sophisticated manner by use of atmosphere. Thirst on the other hand relies to a large extent on the sheer creepiness of the idea of factory farms for humans, and it works pretty well. That’s not to say the film lacks atmosphere. Much of it was shot at Montsalvat, a very gothic-looking artists’ retreat in Victoria, and the combination of this rather gothic setting with the high-tech factory farming approach and the sophisticated (by 1979 standards) scientific equipment employed by the Brotherhood is interesting and effective. There are some good set-pieces (especially the one involving the helicopter and the power lines) and some moments of rather black humour, as in the scene with the vampire tourists on a guided tour of the farm. Thirst offers enough original ideas and entertainment value to be very much worth checking out. And it’s available on DVD in all regions. I was pleasantly surprised by it.

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