Sunday, 8 November 2009

Next of Kin (1982)

Next of Kin is a 1982 Australian horror movie so obscure that I’d never even heard of it until someone mentioned it to me quite recently. It combines elements of the Australian gothic and giallo sub-genres, and combines them pretty effectively.

It was actually an Australian-New Zealand co-production, directed by a New Zealander, Tony Williams. Sadly it was one of only two movies he directed, and both apparently sank without trace at the time.

Linda (Jacki Kerin) arrives back in her home town after spending several years away teaching. She has returned to take possession of Montclare, a large rambling and run-down and rather gothic mansion which seems totally out of place in the unnamed fly-blown one-horse town. Montclare has been converted into a nursing home. It turns out that Linda’s decision to leave several years earlier had been an extremely wise one and coming back proves to be a major mistake. She discovers her mother’s diary, and it becomes apparent that there are some very big secrets in her family history. Connie, the manageress of the nursing home, and the family doctor, Dr Barton, know quite a bit about this history but they refuse to tell her anything.

As you’d expect, this makes Linda more determined to uncover whatever skeletons may lurk in the family closet. Her only ally is her good-natured but not overly bright boyfriend Barney (played by well-known Australian actor John Jarratt).

Not only are there secrets hidden in the past, but those secrets seem to be intruding into the present. Linda sees a mysterious figure watching her. Someone has been in her room. She has odd memories coming back to her from her childhood. Her mother’s diary mentions a series of deaths, of people found dead in the bathtub. And then one of the present-day residents of the nursing home turns up dead in the bathtub. The past is not going to stay in the past, and Linda will need to find out exactly what that past is.

While it has definite affinities with the giallo genre, this is a movie that relies almost entirely on mood rather than on continuous violence and gore. At least until the final ten minutes when the movie suddenly kicks into overdrive. Until that stage what you get is a very deliberately paced film, with the atmosphere being built up very slowly and very patiently. If you’re accustomed to modern horror movies you may find the pacing to be too sedate, although personally I think it works rather well.

The plot isn’t overly clever, but again it’s the atmosphere that counts, and while the plot twists may not be entirely unexpected they’re executed with style. The final set-piece, or rather linked series of set-pieces, is fairly spectacular and very effective. And Montclare provides a suitably creepy setting.

The acting is generally considerably better than you expect in a low-budget horror film, and Jacki Kerin is exceptionally good. The music is a bit of a weakness, being just a bit too 80s in places.

It’s available on DVD in Region 4, but I have no idea about its availability elsewhere. The Region 4 DVD is disappointing in its complete lack of extras, but that’s par for the course in Region 4. If you favour atmosphere over mayhem in your horror then this one is certainly worth seeking out, if you can find it. It's apparently one of Quentin Tarantino's favourite ozploitation movies, and whatever his weaknesses as a film-maker himself Tarantino has fairly good taste.

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