Digging up the History of Australian Horror Cinema: Delineating the interwoven strands of horror, transnational-horror, Ozploitation and Australian Gothic movies from the 1970s to now

Since the early 1970s, Australian cinema has produced a distinct and enduring tradition of horror cinema. Over the decades, local horror films have constructed cinematic monsters – from man-eating razorbacks to crazed ‘outback’ slashers – that invert iconic representations of the national character, transgress the boundaries of propriety, and exploit cultural anxieties and fears. The generic configuration and style of Australian horror movies has been heavily influenced by international film cycles and aesthetic trends and Australia has produced a large number of movies such as Turkey Shoot (1982) and Harlequin (1980) and more recently Daybreakers (2009) and The Babadook (2014), that are produced for international markets and adopt a transnational textual identity that largely eschew cultural identity and national textual identifiers. Yet, the vast majority of Australian horror movies with a distinct cultural accent have revolved around stories of terror in outback or rural settings, and the aesthetics of realism. Most importantly, a leitmotif at the core of Australian horror cinema has been the struggle for survival in a dangerous and primordial landscape.

However to date, despite growing scholarly interest in the subject, Australian horror cinema is poorly understood as a genre in Australian cinema, and in Australian film studies, it remains unclear what delineates Australian horror as a substantive film genre from horror films categorised and debated under broad aesthetic groupings such as ‘Australian Gothic’ cinema and ‘Ozploitation film’. Most importantly in the context of this proposal, while the overarching historical trajectory of the Australian horror movie is generally understood, and has been addressed in broad-brush scholarly histories of the horror film or Ozploitation,[1] what is less understood is the impurity of this history, and scholarship is yet to reconcile how culturally-relevant generic tropes, themes and conventions at the core of a nationally-defined tradition have developed in relation to more transnational aesthetic strands and the intersections with Australian Gothic and Ozploitation cinema. The term Ozploitation is to an extent a critical construction,[2] and while there are periods in Australian film history when more excessive Ozploitation horror has been more prevalent than Australian Gothic horror movies, this research will also interrogate how prevalent so-called Ozploitation films have been in terms of the historical development of the Australian horror film in terms of tropes and conventions.

The primary aims of the research are to:

  • Construct a history of the development of dominant thematic concerns, generic conventions, and stylistic motifs that characterise, and are now at the core of, an Australian horror cinema tradition between 1970 and 1999.
  • Delineate and account for the impurity, nuances, and cultural relevance of the genre’s development during this period.
  • Collect data on how the core historical precedents established during this period have been revised, subverted or advanced in key Australian horror films released between 2000 and 2016.

In so doing, the research will provide a richer history of how the horror film’s history and the impurity of the genre’s development.

Funding / Grants

  • AFIRC Research Fellowship (RMIT)

Chief Investigators