Here is the transcript of Fright Club Historian Darrel Buxton’s introduction to the new Aussie shocker Hounds Of Love playing until Thursday 3rd August at QUAD.
Hello and welcome to QUAD for tonight’s film, HOUNDS OF LOVE. The movie opens today and plays all week here, but this first screening goes out under our regular Fright Club banner – at least once a month, sometimes more, we play a horror film here as part of Fright Club, where we attempt to bring you a mix of the best new releases, classic horror films from the past, and hidden gems that we think have been overlooked.
Australian horror is one of our passions – in the past we’ve shown titles such as ROAD GAMES, CELIA, and RAZORBACK here (ed. Not to mention the rather wonderful Housebound), and it’s good to know that the Aussie movie industry is still hitting a peak in the 21st century with THE BABADOOK being one of our favourites of the past few years.
One of the trends in Australian shock-and-suspense cinema has been those films in which characters are kidnapped, imprisoned or otherwise restrained against their will – think of schoolteacher Gary Bond finding himself trapped in the alcoholic mining community of The Yabba in WAKE IN FRIGHT, for example, or the strung-up victims of cheery psycho Mick Taylor, played by the jovial John Jarratt in the two WOLF CREEK pictures. Even Tom Hardy in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD spent most of that open-road chase epic chained up, stuck on a vehicle bonnet without liberty. And earlier this year, one of 2017’s most terrifying films played here at QUAD – the stunning BERLIN SYNDROME, with Aussie backpacker Teresa Palmer locked in a Berlin apartment and psychologically abused by her abductor.
HOUNDS OF LOVE continues the trend, putting its central female character Vicki, played by Ashleigh Cummings, through a truly gruelling ordeal. And ok, the ‘psycho ties up and tortures young females’ plot might be a bit ten-a-penny, but is refreshed and rebooted here in two artful ways. One of these is by casting Stephen Curry as the monstrous, unfeeling villain, rather anonymously named ‘John White’ – Curry is so, so disturbing here that it may come as a surprise to hear that Australian audiences recognise Stephen mostly as a comedian, star of several hit television shows and commercials. He’s done a few movies too, and can be spotted in the killer crocodile yarn ROGUE, directed by Greg McLean of THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, but Stephen’s never played anyone quite like John White.
The second method of spinning the old psycho routine is to give John a female partner in crime, and the excellent Emma Booth steals the movie as wife Evelyn. Her presence, the lack of explanation as to how she came to hook up with this vicious bastard, and her rather murky and unclear personal history, coupled with her gender giving the couple a more trustworthy and kindly air as they prowl the suburban neighbourhood after dark for prey, adds so many levels to this story, and Booth’s performance lends even more weight and detail. It’s all loosely-based on the real-life true crime case of serial killers David and Catherine Birnie, a married couple convicted of murdering four women at their Perth home in 1986. There’s no isolated cabin-in-the-woods, no underground dungeon, no barred cell – just a normal house, in a normal street, in a normal district, with mail being delivered, neighbours knocking on the door, trips to the local store. The ordinariness of it all only adds to the mounting terror.
QUAD’s Fright Club programming team, comprising Adam Crowther and myself, had a meeting earlier this week to discuss ideas for future horror offerings here over the coming months. With December in mind, we talked briefly about Christmas horror films, and focused not so much on KRAMPUS and GREMLINS but on those movies that are set during the festive season but where you’d barely realise. The Italian ‘killers on a train’ sleaze fest NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, for instance; the 70s haunted house classic THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE; and MUM & DAD, the Fred and Rose West-like tale directed by our old pal from Nottingham’s ‘Mayhem’ festival, Steven Sheil. I mention all of this because HOUNDS OF LOVE plays rather like an Aussie answer to MUM & DAD, with a similar setup, location, characters, and yes, in the background, a Yuletide setting. This being sweltering Perth in the late 1980s, there’s no evidence of snowmen or blizzards, but a rather tatty decorated tree and a handful of seasonal tunes keep reminding us that Santa may soon be on his way. Though if he has any sense, Father Christmas would tell Rudolph and the gang to fly right past this particular charnel house.
Any film entitled HOUNDS OF LOVE almost cries out to be judged on its soundtrack, but surprisingly there’s no sight nor sound of Kate Bush anywhere. Fear not, however, because we do get a handful of other top tunes. The glacial ‘Atmosphere’ by Joy Division for one, used to spectacular effect late on in the proceedings; plus Cat Stevens’ downbeat ‘Lady D’Arbanville’; and I promise that you’ll never experience the Moody Blues classic ‘Nights In White Satin’ in quite the same way again after its employment here.
The opening shot of HOUNDS OF LOVE is tremendous, a creeping slow-motion pan across a schoolyard where girls play netball. Presumably witnessed from a killer’s eye view, the camera focuses on gymslips, swelling breasts, exposed thighs, etc – and reduces all of this exuberance and sporty fun activity to a crawl so agonising that the young females almost appear like statues. To cap it all, the shot catches them all behind netted fencing, immediately kicking off the movie with a sense of entrapment. Similar images of fences, mesh, and other means of keeping everything hidden and barred, pop up throughout. Even in the bright, sunlit suburbs of a major Australian city, HOUNDS OF LOVE emphasises the stifling of the lively, and the power of enclosure and imprisonment. At face value this is a very basic psycho movie of a kind you’ve seen hundreds of times before – but, just as with the plain exterior of the Whites’ home at number 15 Malcolm Street itself, there’s a hell of a lot happening within. Be warned – the film has caused frequent walkouts at festival screenings. But we know that a Derby audience is made of tough stuff – you can take it!