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Review: 'Wake in Fright' is classic psychological horror

Ted Kotcheff's 1971 Australian film 'Wake in Fright,' starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence and Jack Thompson, is restored and worth watching.

October 18, 2012|By Robert Abele
  • Gary Bond is on his way to a drunken stupor in a scene from the 1971 movie "Wake in Fright."
Gary Bond is on his way to a drunken stupor in a scene from the 1971 movie "Wake… (Drafthouse Films )

Raw, unsettling and mesmerizing, the once-thought-lost Australian classic from 1971 "Wake in Fright" has been restored, and this grimly propulsive work, often cited as auguring the continent's arrival as a cinema powerhouse, merits attention.

As charged as a nightmare, the adaptation of Kenneth Cook's novel chronicles the lost weekend of a young, soft-featured British schoolteacher named John Grant (Gary Bond) stuck — willfully or not, it could be argued — in "The Yabba," an Outback mining town of hard men who take seriously their entreaties for you to join them in drink after drink.

Heat and barrenness are he backdrop, beer is the fuel, vicious kangaroo slaughter (captured by director Ted Kotcheff on a real hunt) is the sport, and the laughter of brutal men taunts and lures as Grant's psyche devolves spectacularly.

Kotcheff depicts an animalistic landscape, one that at the time angered Aussies for showing the flip side of its cherished myth of rugged white male individualism, stark geographical beauty and "mateness."

But as a strictly psychological portrait of destructive masculinity it's a gut-sock, vividly photographed, thrillingly edited and marked by performances (Donald Pleasence and Jack Thompson, most notably) that heave with strange complexity and dark camaraderie.

"Wake in Fright" is true horror.

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'Wake in Fright'

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Playing: At the Nuart, West Los Angeles

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