Friday, October 12, 2007

The October Ordeal Day 11: Thirst

October 11th: Thirst (1979)

Rod Hardy’s Thirst, while shot in Australia, has a lot in common with English and Italian thrillers. Short on logic, the film communicates its style first and foremost: brooding, brutal, cold and claustrophobic. The pulp acting and lyrical dialog remind of Italy’s genre films; what’s substantial in most narrative films is merely ornamental here.

So I wasn’t alarmed when ten minutes into the film I had no fucking clue what was going on. Half the scenes in Thirst are revealed to be dream, hallucination, or drug trip. The diegesis of the film is splintered and notional; Thirst could be chopped up and rearranged in any way.

Thankfully, Thirst isn’t overloaded with characters, as films of this nature often are. Chantal Contouri is totally game as Elizabeth Bathory’s direct descendent Kate Davis. Shirley Cameron (credited as “Ms. Cameron”) plays an ice-queen cult-leader who’s definitely been reading Ayn Rand. David Hemmings, at the beginning of his fat-phase, is Cameron’s mad doctor Fraser. Henry Silva hangs out--as far as I can tell that's his only purpose here. Cameron and co. kidnap Davis and take her to their Jonestown-esque compound for conditioning (complete with machine gunning guards). Turns out she’s genetically predestined to love the taste of blood, which our villains claim is the source of ultimate power. This isn’t a vampire film, although the standard vamp imagery and symbolism are evoked with glee. The film is actually about a gang of neo-fascists systematizing the Big N’s “will to power.”

This isn’t my own observation, as the film’s characters take every opportunity to proclaim as much. Cameron gets the best lines (“[Drinking blood] is the ultimate aristocratic act.”), including a monologue theorizing the revulsion people feel when witness to violence is actually veiled attraction. Our natural state, she claims, is to crave power, here represented by sweet, sweet blood. The blood’s not for everyone though. The cultists keep stores of “Bloodcows,” on-hand. These willing young WASPS hang out by the pool all day, happy to donate the occasional pint. I guess all you need to attract a slave-class is a bitchin' pad. These dozy kids look like they wandered off the set of Logan’s Run.

Kate isn’t down with this scenario. So she’s drugged, and spends most of the film running through her own mind. Hemmings as Fraser dopes her with some mystery serum to induce “90-minute” composite memory hallucinations grown from favored past-events. Once this motif begins, it becomes impossible to tell dream and reality apart. Often scenes will telescope out via false awakenings until not even the script is sure which is which.

The film’s endless pile-ons do becomes tiresome eventually. As the conditioning sequence drummed on I began to suspect that the film’s running time was merely being padded out. That, or the producers wanted a reason, any reason, to place nudity in the film (via Kate’s occasional sex-dreams). Its an over-long excursion for such a short film (about 90 minutes, actually… Hmmm). The ending is just as confusing as everything else here, and whether Kate feeds or not is a mystery. The twist of all twists at the very end is less a denouement than simply another head-scratcher.

I must mention Bryan May’s excellent score. May is something of an unheralded genius. His versatile scores have enlivened many Australian films, including Mad Max and the films of Brian Trenchard-Smith. Here, May’s score morphs from Sci-Fi treble pulses to buzzing white-noise to Debussian string-swells. The key word is sustain. I dig the score so much I’m considering purchasing the OST album from Movie-Grooves.

Is this a great film? Not really. It is however, a solid genre entry. If you dig this sort of thing, go for it. You could do worse. If for no other reason, watch this to see Silva make a strong impression merely by standing in the background and smirking.

Tomorrow I begin one of two cycles. I’ve got some Gialli coming in the mail from Netflix. If the post is late I’ll start a gross-out circuit including Slime City, The Incredible Melting Man and Street Trash. I’ll be taking in some heavy audio-horror tomorrow, as I head to Hampshire College to catch Wolf Eyes. I’ve gone to see a lot of bands these past few months, but this is the most amped-up I’ve been for a show in ages.

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