Barbed wire will keep them fenced in.
A serial killer is stalking boys and girls in Coopers Bay, somewhere along the Australian coast. Other than its location – which, aside from accents and steering wheels is indistinguishable from 80s Southern California – this is really just a mostly-routine slasher with all the requisite skin, violence, and loopiness that makes them so beloved by teens and adults who’ve come to appreciate – or deprecate – them for their excesses….
About half of the film is your standard teen film, with romance, school problems, family issues, and so on. In Coopers Bay there are three groups of kids: the local townies, boys of the exclusive Winchester boys boarding school and girls of St. Elizabeth’s Catholic girls school. The townies are all working-class kids who are lucky enough to live in a tropical paradise, they – represented by hero beach boy Kevin Lynch (Ian Williams) – understand that they will never leave this town and that nothing ever changes. Of course, this life is not all bad if the big-titted beach girl Susan (Karen Miers) is what they have to look forward to. The Winchester boys are nothing more than Hitler youth bullies, best exemplified by Scott (Christophe Broadway) – the hateful Aryan – who likes to fight if the odds are in his favor by two-to-one or better. Finally, there are the poor little rich girls of St. Elizabeth’s who maintain the great traditional stereotype of Catholic school girls being less-than-virginal. Michelle (Suzie MacKenzie) is a fairly typical St. Elizabeth’s girl in that she’s willing to steal an exam to protect access to the car her daddy provides for her; her brutal slaying – her head pounded to a pulp against the corner of a desk – seems a bit more than she deserves for breaking the honor code of the school. Honestly, I think the girls of St. Elizabeth’s deserve the boys of Winchester and vice versa. Oh yes.
Weirdly, the film feels like it’s recalling the 1950s rather than being set in the 1990s. Perhaps this time-warp effect is because Australia is a cultural backwater? Seriously, what has Australia contributed to the world aside from “G’day” and Mel Gibson‘s entertaining breakdown? Okay, so I’m being mean, a country that gave us Paul Hogan, Vernon Wells, and Yahoo Serious must be awesome. Still, this film has a real retro feel, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or if that’s just the nature of the region. The horrible end-credits music – the worst I’ve heard in quite a while – is a prime example of the worst that the 80s had to offer, so maybe it’s just that Australia is stuck in the past.
The other half of the film is an odd thriller with slasher motifs. At the beginning of the film we get old nun Sister Mary-Ellen (Hazel Howson) dangled before us as a potential suspect so very obviously that anyone who suspects her would have to be a sub-moron, possibly an imbecile or idiot; did you know that ‘moron’, ‘imbecile’ and ‘idiot’ used to be accepted classifications for the mentally handicapped in the order of smartest to dumbest? From his silhouette during the murders, it’s obvious that the killer is Myles Sheffield (Leon Lissek), the biology teacher and husband of headmistress Virginia Sheffield (Christine Amor). We watch as cop Matt Desmond (Craig Cronin) unravels the mystery, discovering things we already know. Desmond is a perceptive and capable cop who notices some good details and doesn’t tip his hand while investigating, but he still, quite stupidly, charges in without backup.
Cops probably shouldn’t do that.
The female lead of this film is Mary Huston (Helen Thomson). Well, she’s kind of the female lead insomuch as the film really lacks focus. There’s that whole bit about the town boys getting revenge on the Winchester boys for being assholes that leads to Mary meeting Kevin and lots of other stuff, but we’ll pretend the film is about Mary. She’s supposed to be American, but she has an Australian accent just like the rest of the cast. Her mother is someone important, a Hollywood actress with the last name ‘Huston’ … Anjelica Huston? Why the big mystery? In that scene with Kevin at the swimming hole, she seems sure that the only reason he’s interested in her is because of her famous mother, so Mother Huston has to be well-known enough to be meaningful. I really don’t get it. This is one of the many unresolved plot-points of the film – like what happens to Kevin – that makes me think that the script was messed around with a lot to turn it from a sleazy thriller into a pseudo-slasher.
I say ‘pseudo-slasher’ because, despite the murders being quite nasty – barbed-wire garrote anyone? – and motivated by the slasher’s hatred of sex or some other anti-sex psychosis – ironically common among people who are really enamored by censorship, is it that they feel the righteousness of the actions of killers that they object to the films as ‘too much’ for audiences? – and other bits, the film doesn’t follow the slasher formula. There are very few – maybe no – point of view shots, the killer doesn’t wear a mask, he’s hardly invincible and the final girl apparent – Mary – doesn’t actually kill him. So why was this marketed and / or switched around to make it into a pseudo-slasher when the era of the slasher film was over? I don’t know, but I’d like to ask the production team.
Yes, this is more of a psychological thriller with some slasheresque moments, but it’s a piss-poor psychological thriller. We learn that Myles and his wife Virginia are having serious relationship issues, either resulting from or in Virginia’s penchant for having sex with young men, like hateful Aryan Scott. Virginia is not very nice to Myles who, aside from the killing part, seems like a nice guy who likes teaching and even treats animals with kindness. However, it’s established later that the couple fled their previous school in California because Myles killed three young couples there and buried their bodies in the woods – just like he does here – which has some ramifications that are not discussed. Did Myles go nuts because his wife was cheating on him – possibly because he was impotent or she just found him repellant – or is his wife cheating on him because she likes sex and now doesn’t want to have any of it with Myles? She’s clearly nasty to him, but was it always that way or did this happen because she was displeased with having to uproot to avoid dealing with the fallout of his murderous predilections? Hell, why would she take a chance on keeping him around when she clearly doesn’t love him? I suppose it could be so that she’s not caught up in a scandal, but, seeing how she obviously faked her references anyway, the chance to be rid of him would have been worthwhile.
Myles does show most of the symptoms associated with being a serial killer – in addition to killing several people, obviously – by having low-self esteem and taking trophies from his victims. Keeping a jar full of fingers and eyes in your classroom is not really a good way to escape detection as students are nosy and it’s easy to open a cabinet a bit absentmindedly. Luckily for Mary – and maybe for Kevin, if he survives – Myles’ jars come in handy when Sister Mary-Ellen brings a jar of acid to a knife-fight and makes Myles’ face melt in a most unfashionable way. So, just so you know, a biology teacher with a knife can beat a cop with a gun, but a nun with a jar of acid is totally badass. Myles does everyone a favor after his face falls off by stealing a shotgun and killing his wife, then himself, without even an assist by the final girl.
Director Alec Mills was and is a skilled cinematographer, having worked up through the camera department to cinematographer before given a couple of shots at directing. He worked on several Bond films and Return of the Jedi among others, so his skill with a camera is not in dispute. This film, despite being low-budget does look much better than it has any right to – possibly due to the work of John Stokes, the credited cinematographer lensing one of his first films – but that’s not the problem. Part of the issue might be lain at the feet of the writer, Robert Brennan, but it might also have suffered from production problems in terms of the commercial folks making demands that didn’t work in the script. Again, I’d really like to know what everyone was thinking here. It almost feels like the slasher scenes were inserts, like the hardcore scenes one finds in some special cuts of some Jesus Franco films.
Amusingly, this was an early effort by Village Roadshow Pictures, which has since gone on to some measure of success. Interestingly, many of the films they work on turn out to be fairly stupid, stuff like Constantine, Catwoman, Torque, Darkness Falls, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, The Dukes of Hazzard film, the House of Wax remake, Deep Blue Sea, and others. It’s always nice to see that a company sticks to its founding principles. Oh yes.
Trailer on YouTube.