|Reviewer: Jeremy |
Review Date: May 6, 2010
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 10/28/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Every once in awhile a movie will come pretty much out of nowhere and catch you completely by surprise. It will usually be either a movie that you didn't know existed, or which you knew almost nothing about and expected little from. For me, Thirst
was one of those films. Allowed to sit neglected on my shelf for far too long when the recession turned my life upside down, I have only just recently discovered this minor classic. Its arrival in a package of screeners from Synapse found me knowing nothing about the movie, except that it was Australian. I had never heard of it, even though it had been previously released on DVD by Elite Entertainment and before that on VHS by Media Home Entertainment. With Synapse’s superior distribution network, I imagine that there are a number of younger fans like me who only caught up with this movie recently, and hopefully many more people will discover Thirst
. It is my small hope that this review will help that process.
Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri
) is a beautiful, successful advertising executive in Australia. Kate has been working very hard lately and is about to embark on a month’s vacation to Los Angeles. But, unfortunately for her, others have made plans for her time away. A group of mysterious people – including scientists Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings
) and Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva
), and the sinister Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron
) and the overeager Mr. Hodge (Max Phipps
) - have been having her watched. They have made note of the fact that she has no living family left and the only person she’s close with is handsome architect Derek (Rod Mullinar
), with whom she is having an affair. They know that now is their time to strike, since neither Derek nor her company will miss her for the next four weeks. And so, on the morning she is supposed to fly to America, Kate finds herself kidnapped from her home and taken into the countryside.
Understandably upset at her abduction, Kate demands to know why she was taken by her captors. Mrs. Barker and Dr. Gauss explain that they have been researching her family lineage, and that she is a direct descendent of Elizabeth Bathory, the infamous European noblewoman who bathed in blood. It turns out that her captors are part of a group of modern-day vampires who wish to initiate her into their order so that she may marry Mr. Hodge, the descendent of another prominent vampire family. These vampires are not supernatural; they can walk around in daylight, have normal teeth and are not afraid of crosses. They are simply a breed of humans that gains healthful benefits from the consumption of human blood. The rural campus where they are keeping Kate prisoner is a farm, where unwilling subjects are kept imprisoned and periodically harvested for blood, which is made safe for vampire consumption using the most modern scientific methods.
Soon a conflict erupts over the best way to convert the unwilling Kate into a true, believing and eager bloodsucker. When Dr. Fraser leaves the facility on business for a few days, he is shocked to discover on his return that Mrs. Barker and Dr. Gauss have locked Kate in a dungeon and made her sleep in a coffin as a way to condition her to the vampire lifestyle. Fraser immediately orders that the “treatment” be stopped, but in doing so he opens a rift between the members of the group over how best to proceed. Gauss and Barker believe that hardcore conditioning will be necessary, while Mr. Hodge worries the methods will drive Kate insane and Fraser believes that her eventual vampirism will be much more sincere if she is allowed time to come to terms with it on her own. But with Gauss and Barker putting unrelenting pressure on him, Fraser only has a matter of time to awaken Kate’s thirst before the decision is taken out of his hands...
was shot entirely in the small state of Victoria in the southeastern corner of Australia. Made at a time when Aussie films were just starting to become big sellers on the international markets, the movie was clearly made for export overseas. Like its sister picture Dark Forces
(which also starred David Hemmings, and was also made by producer Antony I. Ginnane), it evidently sold much better outside its home country than it did natively. But while designed for overseas consumption, it still has a uniquely Australian sensibility to it that is common in other exploitation pictures from down under.
For me, the most interesting thing about Thirst
is its script, which provides the necessary exploitation elements one would expect from a horror film while remaining classy and full of ideas. The most interesting of these is the juxtaposition of vampire society to modern day in a way that has rarely been done, even in newer, popular movies like Twilight
that are set in the present. Usually vampire movies that are set in modern times feature a bloodsucker who is ancient, who may live in the modern era but who is hundreds of years old. The vampires of Thirst
may be older than their appearances suggest (it is mentioned that the drinking of blood confers youthful benefits on the drinker), but they are not ancient and are certainly not immortal. They do have the strange ability to make their eyes glow red when they are about to feed, an aspect which I suspect was added to the script because the filmmakers knew it would look good in the trailers.
Even more interesting is the way that screenwriter John Pinkney imagines an evolution of vampire society in accordance with advancements in social norms. As the tagline for the film suggests, the ancient evil of vampirism has become a modern industry, and that is certainly true here. Much like ordinary humans, vampires retain a spiritual and religious link to the practices of their past. The drinking of blood straight from the human neck, done with metal fangs inserted into the mouth, is no longer something that is in wide use, but still remains for ceremonial purposes. But for everyday blood consumption the industrial methods of the farm are better, preventing the transmission of blood borne illnesses that had previously affected vampires (one wonders if their purification methods would have had any impact on AIDS transmission to vampires; the disease had made it to Australia by the early 1980’s). The management of the farm is done in a purely businesslike manner, with committee meetings and internal political struggles.
Of course, “ancient” is a little bit of a misnomer, since these vampires have added a more modern evil to it as well. There is a term called the “banality of evil” that was coined after the Holocaust, which describes how tremendous acts of evil are perpetrated by ordinary people who accepted the premises that justified their given cause and thus, with the belief that their actions were normal, felt no moral qualms. In the world of the film, vampirism as it was practiced for hundreds of years implied an individual act between the vampire and the victim, an act which was surely gruesome enough that it required a certain level of commitment from the vampire. But in the modern world of vampirism, where the farm does most of the dirty work and the blood is discreetly delivered to vampires in generic-looking milk cartons, one gets the feeling that the new generation of bloodsuckers is much more removed from having to consider the moral implications of their habit. Even though tour groups of vampires occasionally visit the farm, tour guides are there to move them along and presumably limit exactly what they see. Like the meat that we buy at the supermarket, most of which is farmed in conditions that are highly inhumane, the distance between the vampire and the food source allows the consumer of blood to put any thoughts of human suffering even further out of their mind.
It is intelligent script ideas such as this that make Thirst
such a compelling film, one that I have enjoyed watching several times now. Without them the film would still be a handsomely shot, well-acted and entertaining production. But with them it becomes an intelligent and thought-provoking horror film that fans are well advised to seek out.
is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with enhancement for 16x9 displays, and this progressive scan transfer is quite good in certain respects. Print damage is kept at a bare minimum, with only a small numbers of specks and scratches showing up on an infrequent basis. Colors are strong, while still maintaining a distinctly 70’s style. The big stumbling block of this release is that the transfer has an overall soft look to it, with mediocre contrast.
In the commentary track, the director and producer mention that Thirst
was for a long while not thought to exist in a widescreen version any longer due to an ownership dispute, but that the eventual settlement of that dispute resulted in the recent discovery of an almost pristine low contrast print being discovered. The fact that this transfer was presumably taken from that print – as opposed to the original negative or an intermediate element – could explain the slight softness in the image. It’s certainly a good looking transfer, but not Synapse’s best by any means.
The only audio option for English speakers is the film’s original mix in Dolby 2.0 Mono, and it doesn’t sound any better or worse than you would expect from a thirty year-old film. Fidelity is a little limited and some of the music and sound effects have a slightly tinny quality to them, but dialogue is usually understandable (just as long as you don’t mind occasionally rewinding to try and decipher a few of the Australian accents) and there is practically no background noise or distortion to get in the way.
Also included is a Spanish language track in 2.0 Mono.
The principal extra here is a running commentary with producer Antony I. Ginnane and director Rod Hardy, who reunite to watch the movie for the first time in many years. The two men are amiable, talkative and remember considerable amounts about the making of the production. Topics covered by the commentary include the budget for the film (about $750,000 Australian dollars, quite a decent sum for the period they were working in), the distribution of the project and their memories of shooting on the locations and working with the various performers, especially Chantel Contouri and David Hemmings, and the difficulties of working in the Australian film business at the time. They mention that twenty-three years have passed since the making of the movie, which would put the date of the commentary’s recording as 2002, so this is clearly the same commentary track that appeared on the out-of-print Elite Entertainment release.
The disc closes out with a number of smaller extras, including an isolated music track of Brian May’s wonderful score, an American theatrical trailer, three American TV spots, a still gallery and filmographies for all the principals, both behind and in front of the camera.
is a horror film with both intelligence and a strong bite, and it deserves a place on your DVD shelf. The transfer on this release is clean looking, but not nearly as sharp or detailed as I would prefer, and it seems like we will probably have to wait for a Blu-Ray release before we can hope for anything better. Fortunately this release has the great commentary track to sweeten the deal, and the disc is highly recommended. Kudos to Synapse Films for keeping this movie in print.
Movie – B+
Image Quality – B
Sound – B
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 35 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- Spanish 2.0 Mono
- Audio commentary with director Rod Hardy and producer Antony I. Ginnane
- Isolated music track
- TV spots
- Still gallery
- Talent bios