Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Post the Second
In which V. has seen a Good Film, and laments that others will not be able to share in it, as it is Obscure and Out Of Print

A couple of weeks ago I chanced upon an old Mom & Pop video store that had recently been bought out by Movie Gallery and was selling off most of its old video stock for one or two dollars a tape. The vast, vast majority of these films were of either the Lurid Horror or the Badly Dubbed Kung Fu variety - in short, the place was PURE TREASURE.

One of the tapes in my new Collection Of Glory is a mid-80s Australian film called Contagion. The IMDb classifies this as "horror/comedy", which I have to say is completely false. Also, their rather spartan plot summary does the film no justice at all.

Contagion is one of the most effective low-budget horror films I've had the pleasure of seeing. It borrows heavily from both The Hills Have Eyes and Kubrick's masterpiece, The Shining. As both of these are genius films in which I can find no flaws, one must conclude that I mean this as praise. The plot is relatively straightforward (which is unusual, as horror films go): Mark finds himself trapped in the woods late one night, and runs afoul of a band of cannibal weirdos. After fighting his way to freedom, he stumbles across something of an oasis in the forest - a lavish home inhabited by the Hugh Hefner-esque "Roddy" and two beautiful (well, beautiful by 80s standards) blonde women.

They tempt him with money and sex, and tell him that he can return as often as he likes... as long as he follows their warped philosophy of life. They call it The Threefold Path. I was never really clear on what the three aspects of this path were, although they seem to involve (a) ruthlessness, (b) being a total raving nutter, and (c) killing a load of people.

Since this film is woefully obscure and out of print, and it's likely that none of you (assuming anyone is reading this) will ever have the chance to see it, I'll go spoilers-mad here and give away the ending. Turns out the lavish home is really a dilapidated estate, where 20 years ago some fellow went a bit wonky and killed his entire family (Hello, Amityville?). No-one's lived there since. But Crazy Mark sees it as a dream palace. It's kind of ambiguous... is this place haunted? Is Mark seeing ghosts, or possibly Evil Demons? Is it just the hallucination of a total raving nutter? Is he maybe in a coma somewhere and having an elaborate dream?

I don't know. But I'll tell you that it really doesn't matter WHAT is really going on with Mark. It makes for an interesting and rather sinister film either way. It's heavily implied that there is in fact something evil and supernatural and weird going on, though. At the end, Mark's girlfriend (who he tries to kill several times, rather feebly and without success) sees him dancing around in the ruins of the old house (this is when we first see that Mark's reality is not THE reality). After a convoluted series of events, she escapes a plane crash AND the last remaining cannibal person, fights off Mark for the last time, and (I think) ends up being a bit of a nutter herself and finally seeing the dream house. I say "I think" here because it's implied and not made clear.

This film is low budget, very very dated, and Australian. Not exactly top-of-the-line as horror films go. But it's driven by a very strong story and interesting characters. I appreciated that it kept me guessing as to what was actually going on - most horror films that I see tend to beat the viewer over the head with The Obvious. While Contagion did borrow from some well-known films, it didn't resort to cliches. I think that it could possibly even be enjoyed by people who aren't fans of the horror genre, depending on one's tolerance for Weird (for reference: some other films that it reminded me of were Haunted and... crap, I am totally blanking on the name of the film now. It was about a waiter who answered a classified ad to buy a leather jacket and ended up being framed for murder by a strange man and his two androgynous friends... I'll look that up and post the title later on). Update - this film is called A Taste of Hemlock and is also obscure and out of print... and also extremely worthwhile, if you can hunt it down.

I digress. In summary, this film rocked. Pity that nobody else will get to enjoy it.