A still image from Wake in Fright shows a silhouetted man surrounded by trees
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/collection/hero_image12-2016/hero_horror2.jpg

Australian Horror Films

Australian Horror Movies: from the 1970s to The Babadook

From eerie to grisly and plain disturbing

Australian filmmakers have produced their fair share of movies featuring zombies, vampires and ghosts – as well as marsupial werewolves, mutant pigs and murderous crocodiles.

But some of our most iconic horror films don’t feature any supernatural creatures at all. Rather, the horror stems from the perceived threat of the Australian landscape or being at the mercy of the people that inhabit it.

Also, in true Aussie fashion, local filmmakers often don't take themselves too seriously. Our particular blend of homegrown humour can creep into some of the most disturbing scenes.

This curated collection contains clips from horror, suspense and thriller films from the rebirth of Australian film in the 1970s to the cult and horror festival hits of the 21st century.

The Babadook
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1193696
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Year

The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent, is a psychological horror film about Amelia, a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband and her son Samuel's fear of a monster lurking in the house.

In this clip, Amelia (Essie Davis) is horrified to see that the children's book she tried to destroy has returned with all the torn pages pasted back together. The words, images and pop-up cutouts contain threats from the Babadook. Sam (Noah Wiseman) watches as she sets the book alight.

It's a good example of the use of jump cuts to build dramatic tension. What could have appeared unbelievable, is presented with genuine menace thanks in part to the intensity of Essie Davis' performance and the sinister music by Jed Kurzel.

The Babadook is one of the most acclaimed of Australian films released internationally in recent years, garnering prizes and nominees from a wide variety of American and English critics' groups and horror festivals. It is also the first Australian horror film to win the top prizes at the AFI / AACTA awards – notably Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay in 2014.

Patrick: Patrick’s fury
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NFSA ID
42718
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Year

Dr Roget (Robert Helpmann) attempts to kill Patrick (Robert Thompson) with a lethal injection. Patrick responds by unleashing his psychokinetic powers.

Summary by Richard Kuipers

WARNING: This clip contains violence
Razorback: Razorback rampage
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
8258
Year:
Year

Carl Winters (Gregory Harrison) is attacked by the razorback at the Pet Pak factory. He tells Sarah Cameron (Arkie Whiteley) to run for her life.

Summary by Richard Kuipers

Undead
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NFSA ID
677542
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Year

This is a clip from Undead, a 2003 Australian zombie-science fiction-comedy-horror film and the debut of filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig.

In the film, a small town is hit by meteorites that turn its residents into ravenous zombies. Only a small group of people remain unharmed and must find a way out. 

This clip shows a common filmmaking technique, with the subversion of the climax by a moment of anticlimax, only then to switch again to climax. It is an old movie trick, often employed for comic effect, and it is used effectively here.

Apart from the obvious humour of the unexpected, this short clip is tightly edited (by the Spierig Brothers) and the use of suspenseful music (by Cliff Bradley) helps to build tension.

Undead starred Felicity Mason and the innovative, self-financed and wildly entertaining debut became a calling card for the Spierig Brothers. Their follow-up film, Daybreakers (2009), starred Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill and received a wide release in US cinemas, launching their Hollywood career.

WARNING: This clip contains violence
Picnic at Hanging Rock: 'The right time and place'
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NFSA ID
3
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Year

Marion (Jane Vallis) tries to make sense of her changed perspective, as she looks down on the sleeping picnickers. Miranda (Anne Lambert) leads the girls higher, to the foot of a series of strange monoliths, where all four girls lie down to sleep. Far below, Miss McCaw (Vivean Gray) senses that something is happening. When the girls awake, something has changed – the three friends walk through a crack in the rocks, as Edith (Christine Schuler) tries to stop them.

Summary by Paul Byrnes

The Loved Ones
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NFSA ID
786276
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Year

This is a clip from the horror film The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2009).

While still grieving for his father, Brent (Xavier Samuel) has declined an invitation to the school leavers' dance from Lola 'Princess' Stone (Robin McLeavy).

Seeking revenge, Lola and her father Eric (John Brumpton) have kidnapped Brent and proceed to torture him during a demented and macabre party at their home.

In this clip, Brent wakes up tied to a chair. Lola and Eric have decorated their house in imitation of the school leavers' dance. Also in the room is a lobotomised woman they call Bright Eyes, Lola's mother (Anne Scott-Pendlebury).

Eric restrains Brent in a headlock so Lola can inject his voice box with bleach, and destroy his vocal cords.

This is a powerful and grisly scene from a movie that sometimes goes to extreme and disturbing lengths. While we see the syringe in Brent's neck, a lot of the scene's effect comes from suggestion rather than graphic violence.

The Loved Ones also contains elements of black comedy which are evident in this clip through the sad faux-party setting (with well-placed balloons), colourful costumes and the loving interaction between father and daughter (he tells her to 'press a little harder [with the syringe], princess!').

It intentionally and effectively places the viewer in a moral dilemma. Do we squirm or laugh?

WARNING: This clip contains violence
Lake Mungo
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NFSA ID
745598
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Year

After 16-year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns while swimming in the local dam, there is a verdict of accidental death and her family buries her. What follows is a series of strange events in and around the Palmers' home as the mystery of their daughter's life and death deepens.

Lake Mungo uses a documentary style of filmmaking with actors in the place of interviewees telling the story. This clip is a good example, with the actor David Pledger giving a convincing performance as Alice's father Russell, relating an unsettling incident in the home as if it had actually happened.

We then see Russell's wife June (played by Rosie Traynor) and a family friend giving their opinion about Russell's behaviour and response to what he saw.

The dialogue seems ad libbed, giving it an effective, naturalistic feeling. The direction (of Joel Anderson) is very straightforward so we can concentrate on the storytelling and the result is compelling.

Cargo
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1520292
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Year

This is a scene from the horror movie Cargo (Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, 2017).

In this post-apocalyptic movie a family – mother Kay (Susie Porter), father Andy (Martin Freeman) and baby Rosie (Marlee Jane McPherson-Dobbins and Lily Anne McPherson-Dobbins) – is stranded in rural Australia while the world has been overtaken by a violent pandemic that turns people into zombies within 48 hours.

In this clip the family are living on a houseboat and running out of food. Kay investigates an abandoned sailboat to see what supplies she can find and is attacked by a zombie who transmits the virus.

This clip has all the hallmarks of classic cinematic build-up. We know immediately that it's going to end badly when we first see her looking at the sailboat, even if we can't guess what will happen.

The interior filming feels claustrophobic, adding to the sense of danger, with the visuals of dirty water and the sound of flies buzzing on the soundtrack creating a sense of unease.

There is a slight reprieve when Kay happily finds a disposable razor and we think she may get away unharmed. But this is a common filmmaking technique, with a moment of climax subverted by an anticlimax, only to then switch again to climax.

Ultimately this is a tense and well-directed scene that helps set up the rest of the movie and the father's quest to protect their child.

Thirst: Dream sequence
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
233338
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Year

Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) is enjoying a picnic with boyfriend Derek Whitelaw (Rod Mullinar). Horrified to discover her food has been spiked with human blood, Kate turns to Derek, who now appears to be Hyma Brotherhood member Hodge (Max Phipps).

Summary by Richard Kuipers

100 Bloody Acres
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1063395
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Year

This is a clip from the Australian horror-comedy 100 Bloody Acres (Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes, 2013). 

Brothers Reg (Damon Herriman) and Lindsay Morgan (Angus Sampson) run a unique organic fertiliser business. An important customer is waiting for a delivery and the small business operators need a fresh supply of their 'secret ingredient' to process the order.

Complications arise when Reg picks up three young people (Anna McGahan, Oliver Ackland and Jamie Kristian) on their way to a music festival, stranded by their broken-down vehicle.

In this clip, the three young people have been tied up while older brother Lindsay tries to work out what to do. 'It's a very stressful time for all of us', he says, which is hilarious given the circumstances.

The all-pervading sense of menace is well conceived and wonderfully shot by cinematographer John Brawley in the darkness of the barn.

The twisted brotherly affection and fear between Lindsay and Reg bubbles under the surface and is effectively conveyed through good direction and slick editing, as well as the performances.

The offbeat humour balances the film's dark premise – the brothers see themselves as small business operators facing a supply problem when they run out of dead car crash victims to add to their 'organic' fertiliser and start to look for alternatives sources.

100 Bloody Acres is the feature debut of writer-directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes who, like fellow Australian directors Michael and Peter Spierig, are brothers with a love of the horror genre.

Next of Kin: A shape at the window
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
2935
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Year

Dr Barton (Alex Scott) tells Linda (Jacki Kerin) to forget the past. Returning to Montclare, Linda sees a figure at her bedroom window wearing her mother’s red dress. Housekeeper Connie (Gerda Nicolson) says only she and Lance (Charles McCallum) are in the house.

Summary by Richard Kuipers

Wolf Creek: 'You must love the freedom'
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NFSA ID
818302
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Year

Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) has rescued the stranded travellers, after their car has broken down at a meteorite crater. He tows them back to his desert camp, promising to fix their car. They talk about his life as a shooter on the huge outback stations. Mick jokes with them about shooting tourists.

Summary by Paul Byrnes

Dead Calm: Two men, two boats, one woman
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
143083
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Year

Australian naval officer John Ingram (Sam Neill) leaves his wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) in charge on their yacht Saracen, while he investigates the stricken schooner Orpheus. To his horror, the ship is full of body parts. As he rushes back, Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane) escapes from a locked cabin and takes control of the Saracen.

Summary by Paul Byrnes.

WARNING: This clip contains violence
Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare
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NFSA ID
1514876
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Year

This documentary follows the journey of filmmaker Craig Anderson trying to fulfil his ambition of making a (low-budget) horror film, Red Christmas (2016) – about an aborted foetus that seeks revenge on its family.

Anderson quit his job in television and invested all his money into his project. His parents also decided to take out a loan to support their son’s dream. But it seems from this clip that the deal was that Anderson's father be given an acting role. 

Behind-the-scenes docos are often intriguing, even when they're on a small scale, and this one doesn't fail to engage us. There is a charm in this segment as Anderson interacts with his father, hilariously attempting to emulate a famous scene from Dirty Harry (1971).

The fly-on-the-wall footage is punctuated by interviews that are effective in giving context to the challenges facing Anderson – and add to the comedy of the situation.

This clip is so delightful it makes you want to see the full documentary (directed by Gary Doust). And Craig Anderson did manage to complete Red Christmas, starring Geoff Morrell and US import Dee Wallace (ET: The Extra Terrestrial, Cujo, The Howling).

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
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NFSA ID
1371973
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This is a clip from the action-comedy-horror zombie film Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.

The film is about a mechanic and father, Barry (Jay Gallagher), who has to fight his way through hordes of zombies in the bush after his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is kidnapped on the eve of an apocalypse. He teams up with Benny (Leon Burchill), a fellow survivor.

In this clip, Benny describes how he was on a hunting trip with his two brothers when they saw some unusual shooting stars. After a disturbed night, Benny awakes to find his brothers gone – at least until he discovers their fate.

This clip is constructed very effectively. The slow motion and sound design possess a genuinely eerie quality and the first-person narrative draws you in. Benny recounts his experiences almost as if he is being interviewed for a documentary, which lends it a degree of authenticity.

Wyrmwood was the debut feature of director Kiah Roache-Turner, who wrote the film with his brother Tristan Roache-Turner. Their action-comedy-horror-sci-fi follow-up, Nekrotronic (2018) starring Monica Bellucci, received a US release in 2019.

The Roache-Turners join Michael and Peter Spierig and Cameron and Colin Cairnes as another set of brothers who got their start making horror films in Australia.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Turkey Shoot: Arrival at Camp 47
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NFSA ID
8240
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Year

Camp Master Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig) welcomes new arrivals Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) and Paul Landers (Steve Railsback) to Re-education Camp 47.

Summary by Richard Kuipers

BeDevil: The flip side
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NFSA ID
239068
Courtesy:
Tracey Moffatt and Roslyn Oxley Gallery
Year:
Year

A young boy is suddenly awoken from his sleep. Before him stand two spirits, a man and a woman. They clasp hands, and disappear through the wall of the boy’s bedroom. The boy follows them. They are the spirit of the couple who died in the warehouse when it caught fire. The boy enters the condemned warehouse where, bathed in red, the spirits of the dead couple dance. The boy, wearing rollerskates, begins to dance with them. He turns and flips, circling the spirit couple who dance as though oblivious to his presence. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Long Weekend: The dugong that won’t die
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NFSA ID
13951
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Year

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) drive down the beach to check out the other campers; they are missing, but their van is visible in the breakers. Peter swims out to investigate and sees the body of a girl inside. Rushing back to camp, they pass the dead dugong Peter shot earlier – except that Marcia believes it is still alive. Cricket the dog has gone missing. In a furious panic, Marcia tells Peter the dog died and she buried it. When he refuses to leave without it, she kicks him between the legs and locks herself in the car, which he has immobilised by switching off the battery.

Summary by Paul Byrnes

The Cars That Ate Paris: 'Let's hand it over to the young people'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
147
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Year

The Pioneers' ball is disrupted when the town’s young people show their anger in retaliation for an earlier incident where the mayor torched one of their cars. In revenge they unleash a storm of demolition.

Rogue: A rogue crocodile
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NFSA ID
792129
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Year

Allen (Geoff Morrell) is crawling from the river, apologising for his role in an escape attempt that ended in debacle, when the crocodile sneaks up behind him at lightning speed. 

Summary by Lynden Barber.

WARNING: This clip contains violence
Wake in Fright: Breaking the rules
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
782560
Courtesy:
Wake in Fright Trust
Year:
Year

Grant (Gary Bond) is full of remorse, nursing a bad hangover. Somehow, he has ended up staying with 'Doc’ Tydon (Donald Pleasence), who lives in a shack on the outskirts of town. The doctor taunts him about his failure the previous night with Janette Hynes. The doctor explains that he and Janette have an understanding – a sexual relationship based on mutual need, nothing more. Grant’s discomfort is relieved when Dick (Jack Thompson) and Joe (Peter Whittle) arrive to go hunting kangaroos. 

Summary by Paul Byrnes.

Dead End Drive-In: Trapped
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
49431
Year:
Year

Jimmy (Ned Manning) and Carmen (Natalie McCurry) are told by drive-in manager Thompson (Peter Whitford) they must stay overnight. 

Summary by Richard Kuipers

Howling III: The Marsupials – Before and after restoration
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NFSA ID
1484569
Year:
Year

Jerboa (Imogen Annesley) escapes her tribe to seek refuge in Sydney. She meets and falls in love with Donny Martin (Leigh Biolos), who refuses to believe her when she confides she’s a werewolf.

Their union results in the birth of a marsupial werewolf baby that Jerboa and Donny will have to protect from those who seek to capture the child.

This before and after clip shows the work of the NFSA in restoring 35mm prints. The NFSA has the original camera negative for Howling III: The Marsupials, which was used to create a digital master.

Director Philippe Mora explains: ‘As I recall, the negative did not need much fiddling with at all – exposed right down the middle’. When cinematographer Louis Irving sat in on a screening he was extremely pleased with the final result.

The NFSA restoration of Howling III premiered at the 2015 Adelaide International Film Festival. You can rent or purchase the full film from Umbrella Entertainment.

Black Water: Night storm hits
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NFSA ID
744859
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Year

Grace (Diana Glenn) and Lee (Maeve Dermody) can see Adam’s (Andy Rodoreda) body floating in the water and tearfully say goodbye to him. The day of terror then turns into night, and a tropical storm sweeps in. The sisters complain of thirst and comfort each other with tales of their childhood. The crocodile prowls around below them. They hear noises and, with horror, discover it is the crocodile eating Adam.

Summary by Sandy George

WARNING: This clip contains violence
The Plumber: 'I'm the bloody plumber around here'
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NFSA ID
34374
Year:
Year

Max (Ivor Kants), the plumber who claims he’s really a folk-singer, demonstrates his musical ability with an angry song about Jill (Judy Morris). She tries to complain to the maintenance supervisor, but gets nowhere. Max follows and gets angry that she has tried to cause him trouble.

Harlequin: 'I've come to help Alex'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
45379
Year:
Year

Sandra Rast (Carmen Duncan) is at the bedside of terminally ill son Alex (Mark Spain). Out of nowhere, Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) appears. Sandra and husband Nick (David Hemmings) watch as Gregory appears to cure Alex.

Summary by Richard Kuipers

The Last wave: 'I take you now'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
2
Year:
Year

Burton (Richard Chamberlain) rushes home in a panic. He has sent his wife and children away because he fears the coming flood. A violent storm damages the house as he calls to Charlie (Nandjiwarra Amagula) to show himself. The owl outside the window is Charlie’s totem. Chris (David Gulpilil) arrives to take Burton to a secret place.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Cans
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1493039
Year:
Year

A comedy-horror short film where film cans get their revenge on the Film Laboratory workers in Colorfilm.

Filmmaker Roger Cowland handled the optical effects for 265 Australian feature films, including the Mad Max series, Babe  and Strictly Ballroom and also worked on many commercials, documentaries and short fiction films.

In 1985 Roger made the horror-comedy Cans (1985). Roger recalls: 'Cans evolved one night over a few beers with my partner, Barry McKnight, who wrote the intro. [It] contained a lot of stop-motion animation so it was very time consuming. [It was] shot after hours in the Colorfilm Optical Department, unknown to management. I was lucky that the guys in the department were keen to help. We had zero budget and the 16mm film we used was old short ends, and I made the hinged cans and bloody props at home. I remember the Karo syrup blood got a bit messy at times! Cans was going to be a longer movie with other scenes planned, but [that didn't eventuate] due to the loss of some key stop-motion shots due to fogged film stock.'

Movie poster for 'Out of the Body' showing an extreme close up cut-out of a man's eyes. He seems to have a menacing look in his eyes. Above the cut out is a tagline 'The Ultimate in Dream Screams' and below is the movie title and credits.
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/06-2018/out-of-the-body_poster_753841.jpg
Out of the Body: Movie Poster
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
753841
Year:
Year

In Sydney, Australia there is a killer on the loose, removing the eyes of his female victims. There is hope however, with an astral traveller named David Gaze – who also happens to be the prime suspect.

This is the plot summary for the 1988 supernatural thriller film Out of the Body starring Mark Hembrow and Tessa Humphries. This poster is for the Australian release with the tagline 'The Ultimate in Dream Screams'.

A powerful poster, effectively projecting a sense of evil with the central and dominating image of menacing, non-human eyes. The film's title is wonderfully rendered in a red 'fright' font, emphasising the tagline.