Tuesday, March 11, 2014
THIRST (1979) Blu-ray Review
Thirst (1979) d. Rod Hardy (Australia)
For decades, viewers have thrilled to traditional Gothic settings of the bloodsucking undead, but there is equal pleasure to be had bringing the vampire into a contemporary (or even futuristic) setting. This offbeat Ozzie fright flick possesses equal measures of both. A descendant of Elizabeth Bathory, Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri), is kidnapped from her home and secreted away to a remote location where a blood-drinking cult attempts to indoctrinate her into their fold. Under close observation, she is introduced to “the farm,” observing the human “cattle” being bred and bled for the superior race’s eager appetites. Though initially (and understandably) repulsed, Kate is painstakingly conditioned to reject more plebeian forms of nourishment...in favor of a refined and iron-rich liquid diet.
A lack of supernatural elements and the sterile industrial setting make this a vampire film like no other, and even though things play out in a rather, shall we say, deliberate manner, the unusual and unpredictable narrative manages to hold our attentions even as it plays with expectations.
A sense of overwhelming dread hangs over the proceedings; similar to Polanski’s atmospheric and paranoid Rosemary’s Baby, our heroine is outnumbered, overpowered, and out of her league almost from the get-go, surrounded by venerable foes portrayed by A-class performers.
David Hemmings’ benevolent doctor butts heads with his contemporaries, the icy matron Ms. Barker (Shirley Cameron) and her hatchet-faced companion Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva), but these debates are merely about tactics – everyone is unified in convincing Kate to take up the family mantle, the bloody goblet, and the silver-tipped fangs used for ceremonial bloodletting.
As impressive as her co-stars might be, this is Contouri’s show, and the radiant brunette astounds with a fearless, vanity-free descent into madness, contorting her lovely features into masks of revulsion and horror as Kate’s will and soul are relentlessly assaulted.
“Drink!” cry her abductors, clad in pristine white lab coats (another perversion of our trusted authority figures). “Drink! It is your destiny.” Gradually losing her sanity under the strain, our heroine experiences visions of running through dusty castles and crumbling mansions, where blood runs freely from cracking walls.
These vivid, well-realized hallucinations are extremely effective, especially when juxtaposed with scenes set within the gleaming, all-too-real white-and-silver factory where corpuscles and plasma are gathered in great glass drums for packaging into milk cartons to be distributed to members throughout the unsuspecting “ordinary” world.
Produced by Antony I. Giannane, one of Australia’s most prolific producers of populace-pleasing popcorn, screenwriter John Pinkey’s vision was brought to life by skilled television journeyman Rod Hardy, making his feature film debut. (Hardy went on to earn the peculiar distinction of directing a spate of ’90s TV versions of well-known classics, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, High Noon, Robinson Crusoe, and The Yearling.)
The robust and sweeping musical score, with dark choral chants and mournful minor-key piano riffs trading measures with stinging strings and galloping brass, comes courtesy of Brian May (Patrick, Mad Max, ahem, Dr. Giggles) who does an amazing job of maintaining atmosphere for what is an occasionally slow-moving thriller.
Notable, visually stunning set-pieces such as Contouri’s blood shower or helpless donors shuddering during their final “exsanguination” deliver the exploitation goods, as do a third-act murder sequence and a doctor’s tragic plummet from a helicopter to sparking power lines below.
On the other hand, the red glowing-eyes effect – intended to show subjects in thrall of “the thirst” – was clumsily achieved by reflecting red vellum dots onto the actors’ sockets from an opposing mirror; however well-intentioned, the results feel unnecessary and ill-advised.
Thirst gets the Blu-ray treatment courtesy of Severin Films (a standard DVD is also included, for those who haven’t yet taken the 1080 leap), with supplemental features that include a chatty commentary track from Giannane and Hardy – ported over from Synapse’s 2008 DVD release – who seem genuinely mournful that so many of their onscreen and behind-the-scenes comrades have passed on, but pleased at how well the film continues to hold up.
There is also an isolated audio track of May’s score, which makes for hypnotic and stirring background music. Three TV spots and the original theatrical trailer round out the package.
Thirst is available now from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine