Updating the archetypal white-explorers-visiting- savage-jungle scenario and using it to express doubts about the success of modern civil society itself, Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains a prescient touchstone for cheap genre filmmakers who, generally, have perhaps half the ideas in their heads that Hooper had during his worst JD hangover. But I’m not sure if its perenniality today is more to the point than the $86 million that Saw II vacuumed up in six weeks this year. I’ll risk a differentiation, in light of the much buzzed Aussie rip-off Wolf Creek: Hooper’s film used psychopathic cruelty as a catalyst for anxiety and deranged social metaphors. Saw II and Wolf Creek are merely cruel. The “thrill” is simply in the sound of human suffering. Screaming.
Which is significantly less interesting to ponder while the bloodied victims fall and the boogeymen chuckle. Wolf Creek is a no-frills TTCM rerun, “based on a true story”: Three party-hearty friends (Cassandra Magrath, Nathan Phillips, and Kestie Morassi) go on an extended backpacking journey through the outback. Half the film passes; sunsets, mountains, twangs of portent on the soundtrack. At the titular crater park, their car battery (and watches) stop working. (A magnetic field? Their flashlight works fine.) Eventually, a crusty old codger in a salvage truck (John Jarratt) stops to help. I’m inspecting my coat pockets—gum! The blubbery bloke tows the kids back to his camp, and the methodical keening and chortling begin.
The ambitions are so paltry that our response should be too: Wolf Creek is unimaginative, light on the grue and heavy on the faux-serious desperation. It’s actually something of a Spanish Inquisition–level trial by overacting—the three leads are low-budget dull, but as the anti–Crocodile Dundee, Jarratt is a leering, jeering, winking, colloquialism-belching horror. It’s a style of acting most often seen on preschoolers’ TV shows—if The Big Comfy Couch were Australian and soaked through with cherry syrup, Jarratt would be at home.
There’re no hidden agendas here—the redneck-filled hinterlands are just that— unless you count the “true story” claptrap, fessed up to in the end titles as “no one knows what happened.” The new generation of teenage exploitationistes may scrounge for something joyous in this shruggable misery—why don’t they just candy-stripe in an ER and get over it?