Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme


Mindful that cinematic audiences were tiring of the clichéd, cloaked and fanged creature-of-the-night image, screenwriters of 70s horror sought to update the vampire mythology with a number of innovative scenarios. The Brits proved dire in this sphere, with wasted performances from Peter Cushing, Edward Woodward and Patrick Macnee in INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED (1971) in which vampirism is depicted as a perverse side-effect of male orgasm, and the pathetic attempts by Hammer Films to update their Dracula series to a contemporary setting.

Equally disastrous, if somewhat more entertaining, were the USA’s blaxploitation efforts BLACULA (1971), and SCREAM, BLACULA SCREAM (1972) in which a Negro prince (William Marshall) is vampirized and resurrected in 70s NYC, and GANJA AND HESS (1973), an obscure independent that failed to capitalize on the casting of Duane Jones (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) with its confused social messages pertaining to addiction, guilt and salvation, standing uneasily alongside the bloodlust. None of these were quite so bad as DEAFULA (1975), an extremely low-budget independent, made for the hard of hearing, in which a vampire and hunchback assistant terrorised the audience with sign language. Bob Clark’s DEATHDREAM (1972), fared somewhat better; a reworking of THE MONKEY’S PAW that tells of a reanimated soldier who returns from Vietnam armed with a syringe in order to extract blood from his victims. Another fascinating US effort, LEMORA – A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL achieved cult status for its thinly disguised attack upon hypocritical Christian values and feminist slant.

European markets were also quick to cash in on the blood-craze sweeping the West; German audiences were offered the controversial pairing of Dracula and Hitler in JONATHAN (1970) that, despite its wild initiative, proved a subtle and unnerving allegory for fascism. The ever-amorous French presented us with SPERMULA (1976) a tedious exercise in softcore porn in which a sect of immortal aliens garbed in hippy robes, and gifted with eternal life, attempt to “spermulise” humans. Shamelessly parodying Tolkien with its curse relating to interracial love Spermula (played by Playboy cover girl Dayle Haddon) loses the gift of athanasia when she falls for Udo Kier.

Canada’s David Cronenberg brought us the unforgettable sight of a retractable needle-like appendage sprouting from ex-porn star Marilyn Chambers’ armpit in RABID (1976), whilst the Dutch director Wim Linder gave us BLOOD RELATIONS aka Les Vampires en Ont Ras le Bol (1977), the plot of which centred on a hospital doctor who was supping on the supplies of blood plasma.

Stylistically, THIRST (1979), resembles BLOOD RELATIONS: both films borrow from the films of Roman Polanski with their heavy air of paranoia and plots concerning 20th C. cultists, and abduction. THIRST, an Australian film directed by Rod Hardy (more commonly known for his Western contributions TWO FOR TEXAS (1997), and HIGH NOON (2000)), centres around Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri), a supposed descendent of original Hungarian, 16th century, ‘Blood Countess’ Elizabeth Bathory, who would drain young girl’s blood in an attempt to stay eternally young. Kate is abducted by the Hyma Brotherhood, who take her to “the Farm”, a high security complex that looks like a health farm but which serves as a scientific research facility in which humans are kept like cattle, wandering aimlessly around the Farm like zombies straight out of a Romero film, and “milked” for their blood in the belief of bringing eternal life to vampiric elders. The Brotherhood have members throughout the world and brainwash Kate in an attempt to get her to acknowledge her vampire roots, in order to eventually become their leader.

With it’s sustained sense of paranoia and hallucinatory images that include a bloody shower scene, milk cartoons that contain body fluids, a dreamy satanic-like initiation ceremony, and a drugged Kate being raped by a sinister member of the cult whilst fantasizing of her boyfriend, THIRST, (unlike several more recent films that also fused vampire lore with scientific research such as Joe Ahearne’s ULTRAVIOLET (1998), Stephen Norrington’s BLADE (1998), and Charly Cantor’s BLOOD (2000)), dispenses with plot and suspense, and instead utilizes mood and ambiguity in an attempt to unnerve the audience. We are not entirely sure whether the Brotherhood are “true” vampires; they wander around in sunlight, cast shadows and reflections, and can be destroyed by normal means. When the bloodlust takes hold of them we temporarily see their eyes turn red, and their mouths open to reveal fangs but these are revealed as removable steel dentures worn for the sole purpose of penetrating the skin of their victims. The ability to shape-shift is also hinted at, but this could simply be a hallucinatory experience brought on by the mind-altering chemicals that Kate is administered.

A fairly good supporting cast consisting of David Hemmings, Henry Silva, and Shirley Cameron as the sinister cult’s leaders play it straight, though Cantouri (star of Australian TV series THE SULLIVANS and GENERAL HOSPITAL) appears to have been cast purely for her Mediterranean looks in order to play Bathory’s descendent, and stumbles through the role unconvincingly. Nevertheless, THIRST remains an interesting if flawed example of an attempt to drag the vampire genre into new directions, with original visuals that play out as a sustained fevre dream without ever threatening to emerge as out and out horror.

Carl T. Ford

 
Directed by Rod Hardy

English language
Australia / 1979 / 98 mins

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THIRST

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