To the 2000s
The horror upsurge of the ‘80s gave way to disappointment in the ’90s when little of interest was produced. The suburban splatter movie Body Melt (1993) had some effective moments but far too often Australian horrors were dull and derivative failures starring overseas actors of dubious appeal. Since the turn of the millennium the picture has improved markedly. Cut (2000) was a clever, Scream-like parody of slasher movies starring Kylie Minogue and ‘80s teen-movie queen Molly Ringwald, and Wolf Creek (2005) scared up $16 million at the US box office and a juicy $5.8 million domestically.
In 2003 the highly entertaining zombie splatter comedy Undead announced the arrival of bright new talents Peter and Michael Spierig. Proving this was no fluke, the brothers followed Undead with Daybreakers (2009), a vigorous fantasy–actioner set in 2019, when most of the world’s population has become vampires.
They've continued to work in the horror genre, writing and directing the Australian–US productions Predestination (2014, starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook) and Winchester (2018, starring Helen Mirren).
Like the Spierigs, Adelaide-based filmmaker Alex Frayne self-funded his debut feature, Modern Love (2006), an atmospheric slice of Australian gothic about a man who gradually assumes the personality of his late uncle.
They Saw, They Conquered
A major horror movie success story that started in Australia is Saw (2004). Arriving in Los Angeles with a short promotional film and a script, young Australian filmmakers Leigh Whannell and James Wan secured financial backing and shot the grisly shocker in the US, where it reaped $55 million and spawned a long-running series. In 2017, the eighth Saw-related movie, Jigsaw, was directed by – The Spierig Brothers.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have had continued Hollywood and worldwide success. Both have become synonymous with the horror film series that originated with Insidious (2010, written by Whannell and directed by Wan). Wan directed the first instalments in The Conjuring (2013) film series and has continued to guide subsequent spin-off and sequel movies as producer and story writer.
Another influential Australian horror film of recent years was Jennifer Kent's debut film, The Babadook (2014). While its local box-office takings were modest, The Babadook was an international critical success and became the first horror film to win Best Picture at the AACTA / AFI Awards.
Since the late 2000s, government funding bodies and the prestigious training facility AFTRS have taken a much closer look at genre material than has sometimes been the case in the past. There has also been a big increase in the number of independently made horror films, and it’s a good bet that these will be followed into cinemas by many more excursions into Australian horror in the years to come.
A slightly edited version of this article originally appeared on australianscreen online.
Watch clips from some of these films and more in our Australian Horror Films curated collection.