Marketed as an exploitation double-bill, the new release from Umbrella entertainment sports two less-seen thrillers of the Ozploitation era: James Bogle's Kadaicha and Colin Eggleston's Innocent Prey. Though neither have the emotional wallop of more famous genre entries like Wake in Fright or Walkabout, they definitely have their own charms.
As with any good double-bill there's a significant quality jump between the two films. Kadaicha is the more amateurish of the two, but then that's the point. It’s a soapy teen drama penned by long-term Neighbours scribe Ian Coughlan and populated with a cast of fresh-faced kids. Kids who pay for the sins of their parents via a murderous Aboriginal curse summoned by a mysterious crystal. Coughlan is riffing on Poltergeist and A Nightmare on Elm Street but the budget doesn't permit those big budget thrills. It has its moments though; disturbing nightmare sequences see the kids terrorised by a zombie shaman, and there's a sincere dialogue about the nature of Australia's relationship with the natives.
The real star of this double bill though, is Innocent Prey.
Only Eggleston's second film (third if you count his soft core porno debut) Innocent Prey is a savvy and surprisingly brutal serial killer thriller starring scream queen P.J. Soles as the distraught wife of a vicious escaped murderer. Brian May's soundtrack is hardly a Hermann or Carpenter, but it's definitely its own thing whilst Ozploitation cinematographer Vincent Morton helps lend some serious atmosphere to these dingy proceedings. Eggleston and Ron McLean's script is sharper than many of their contemporaries, avoiding the pitfalls of the slasher genre. Characters are smart and quick thinking, kills are brutal and quick, and there's actually a surprising amount going on.
Eggleston starts with a bathroom murder scene, shot to perfection, in honour of Hitchcock and continues on a path, which feels indebted to the psycho-thrillers of Robert Bloch. Hell, even Martin Balsam (Psycho's doomed detective Arbogast) shows up as a kindly sheriff out to capture Kit Taylor's terrifying psychopath. P.J. Soles' (Halloween, Carrie) involvement, along with the film's death count, reveals slasher influences, but Eggleton never gives in to the typical beats of that most lucrative sub-genre. Instead, he lets the film play out like a commentary on the nature of horror victims, complete with its own dingy ‘80s look at voyeurism, men, and victimisation.
Innocent Prey dodges exploiting its many kills and horrible ideas, instead going for a brutal immediacy that we saw in those early ‘70s slashers. The result is a film full of surprises and impressively void of stupid lingering shots of gore or dumbass victims. It still feels sleazy due to the directness of it all, especially when the film shifts to the dark muggy environment of the Australian manor and its pallid weirdo of a landlord. At a time when horror movies made the most money based off of the lurid and gory, Innocent Prey is a refreshing film with an impressive amount of wallop, easily recommendable for slasher, thriller, and Ozploitation enthusiasts.
If you've not experienced Ozploitation, there are better examples than Kadaicha, but you could do a lot worse than Innocent Prey. What's on offer here is an inconsistent, but lovable pairing of a supernatural TV movie and a superbly sleazy serial killer thriller.
KADAICHA & INNOCENT PREY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTORS: JAMES BOGLE, COLIN EGGLESTON / SCREENPLAY: IAN COUGHLAN, COLIN EGGLESTON AND RON MCLEAN / STARRING: ZOE KARIDES, TOM JENNINGS, P.J. SOLES, KIT TAYLOR, MARTIN BALSAM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW