Wake in Fright is definitely not a horror movie. But it depicts a relentless descent into the human/animal and more particularly outback inferno. It would really be unfair to cram it together with such classic cannibalistic and inbred hillbilly family shockers as the Texas Chainsaw or Hills have eyes. Why I am quoting them?! Only out of some automatic desperate labeling reflex since Wake in Fright couldn’t be farther away.
I awoke me in fright, not knowing what I really saw and if I would be able to see it again.
To begin with, it has got a great and unforgettable soundtrack. It matches perfectly the long panning opening shots and the spaghetti bleak western (down under) backdrop. The camera work is fabulous. The actors? Well, the actors are not actors at all, they are locals, bloody locals viciously playing themselves with satanic bravado and disgusting realism.
This film has been put in a category of unjustly forgotten greats. Now we are able to cherish its rich golden sand desert colors and terrifying midnight haunts. It is a savage movie. I had great trouble going over the kangaroo hunt scenes, and I can still say they are still some of the most horrific and brutal scenes on screen that I have seen. The violence is double edged, since it always involves humans and non-humans. Those who willingly or unwillingly participate in this theatre of cruelty against animals and against themselves cannot return back to “civilisation” as if nothing happened, they are now marked. Or at least their return ticket is a hard bargain. This is that a binary moral movie about savagery or the easy fall into the inhumanity. It’s is a movie about the end station of industrial colonial civilisation, progress, improvement in Australia. Aboriginal people are ghostly figures in this movie, being conspicuously absent fur the most part. The imperial genocide of aboriginal people using criminal and brutal method of driving them out, left behind the most extreme elements of society.. The heart the continent became a self-destructive arena, always playing in the backyards of mining towns and desert cities.
Still again, it is wrong to call it a demonisation of the working class, the miners or bushwackers.
The locals are fabulous in a very disturbing way, they are not the hillbilly cannibals we know, they are friendly, beer drinking and beer sharing people.
That’s why they are also difficult to get rid of.
They are the dream come true of tourists; open, hospitable, stout, uninhibited and merry.
The hero, a blond, pure and educated country teacher is the easy prey of economic opportunism and arbitrariness.
Wanting to get away from the “educational slave labour” (his words) of bad pay and no future in the outback, dreaming of Sydney girlfriends and British opportunities, he gets stranded in a nondescript miner town – the Yabba. What happens to him there, his adoption by the locals, his transformation and near-death experience is the movies great achievement. We also shouldn’t forget that the true hero of the movie is an alcoholic survivalist doctor played brilliantly by Donald Pleasance. He is the true cicerone of the young Australian Dante. The soaring heat is always an accomplice the unfolding disaster.