Scorpion Releasing and Katarina’s Nightmare Theater bring back two lesser-known later Ozploitation pics to a more informed audience with its double bill of THE DREAMING and INITIATION.
In THE DREAMING, archaeologist Bernard Thornton (Arthur Dignam, THE DUELLISTS) and his team unearth a sealed chamber containing human remains in a cave on an island off the coast of Australia. Concerned about Thornton treading on delicate political, cultural, and ethnic grounds, university administrator Dr. Richard (John Noble, TV’s FRINGE) closes down the dig; but not before a handful of artifacts are collected for the university museum. Months later, a gang of Aboriginal youths break into the museum to recover the items. The alarm goes off and the museum’s security corner and beat a young woman (Kristina Nehm) half to death. She is rushed to the hospital but Dr. Cathy Thornton (TV star Penny Cook) is unable to save her. Soon after, Cathy discovers a bruise on her wrist in a strange pattern and starts suffering from nightmarish visions of the dead girl, aborigines from an earlier time, and vicious whalers. When her mother dies, she overhears her having an argument with one of the youths from the museum robbery (Laurence Clifford) and realizes that her father’s research is somehow related to her haunting. Following him back to the island, her visions escalate to the point where she is physically threatened, as is anyone close to her.
Disrespecting native cultures and the supernatural retribution that results from it is a familiar trope in horror films, so it was only a matter of time before Australian exploitation utilized the country’s own troublesome past with its native peoples; however, the Australians are less historically removed from that past than the Egyptians (even in the earlier half of last century) and their ancient tombs violated by British archaeologists, and less geographically dispersed from it than Americans and Native Americans. Also around this time in Australian academia – particularly in anthropology – the aboriginal Australians were starting to find a voice to “write back”. THE DREAMING is often stunning to look at – thanks to the cinematography of David Foreman (COFFIN ROCK) – and has its share of creepy images most of the time supported by the synth and orchestral score of Frank Strangio (DEAD END DRIVE-IN); however, the plot is somewhat muddled by its desire to tell a supernatural retribution story with possession elements without portraying the aboriginal beliefs as evil.
Rather than relying on the old aboriginal wise man figure that figures into some Australian films with mystical elements, the aborigines here are young people for whom the artifacts are a living part of the culture. Dignam’s arrogant archaeologist, on the other hand, refers to them as dead relics. Early on, one of his assistants dates the cave’s contents to the last century and suggests that it should be considered an anthropological find, but Bernard becomes possessive and maintains that it is an archaeological find. The source of the evil is clear, but it isn’t clear what exactly is unleashed from the cave and what will happen if Cathy doesn’t look into her father’s research. In spite of that, THE DREAMING is wonderfully atmospheric and worth a view. TV actor Gary Sweet (NIGHTMARES) has ample screen time in the rather thankless role of Cathy’s husband; although he does feature prominently in a creepy set-piece involving an encounter with an ancient whaling ship on the way to the island by night.
After the death of his mother, Brooklyn-raised Danny Malloy (Rodney Harvey, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO) hops a plane to Southern Australia where his crop-duster father Nat (Bruno Lawrence, JACK BE NIMBLE) lives on a farm with his girlfriend Sal (Arna-Maria Winchester, ELIZA FRASER) and her daughter Stevie (Miranda Otto, WHAT LIES BENEATH). Right away, Danny discovers that the farm is in trouble and that Nat is planning to smuggle marijuana in from Thailand for an Italian drug dealer (Luciano Catenacci, KILL, BABY KILL) for the $15,000 needed to pay the mortgage. Streetwise Danny doesn’t have the same misgivings about the job as his father, but Aboriginal witch doctor neighbor Kulu (Bobby Smith, WIDE SARGASSO SEA) warns of evil spirits and tells Danny that he needs to become a warrior and fight his problems rather than running from them (he has already fled to Australia by stealing the plane fare from his mother’s boyfriend). When Danny accidentally sets the barn – where the drugs are being stashed – on fire with a cigarette and attracts the attention of the police, Nat demands that Catenacci take the drugs off him and pay up right away. Danny accompanies Nat on the exchange, but one of Catenacci’s men has stashed a poisonous snake in the plane and it bites Nat, forcing Danny to take control of the plane. He keeps it in the air until the plane runs out of fuel and crashes in the middle of the jungle. While Sal and Nat’s business partner Pat (Tony Barry, THE COCA-COLA KID) attempt to trace the plane without getting the police involved, Danny and an injured Nat brave the hazards of the jungle with a little spiritual guidance from afar courtesy of Kulu.
The coming-of-age thriller INITIATION makes for an odd co-feature to THE DREAMING – which might have been better paired with James Bogle's STONES OF DEATH (1988) – and it may not exactly shout “Ozploitation” to casual viewers. Other than the mystical aboriginal angle, the Southern Australia settings, and the link that they were both produced by Anthony Ginnane (PATRICK), the two films are very different; in fact, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s FROG DREAMING (1986) – released here as THE QUEST – in which Henry Thomas (E.T.) goes to Australia to live with his guardian and investigates an aboriginal myth, might have made a better co-feature for INITIATION. Although the film has been released on DVD here before, it probably would have been forgotten if not for this more recent release; and that’s unfortunate since it isn’t a bad movie at all. Lawrence and Harvey (who died of a drug overdose at age 30) are good as father and son, although the life-or-death-struggle-leading-estranged-relatives-to-open-up aspect of the plot is fairly cliché (Winchester and Otto have little to do during the second half of the film). Danny’s exploration of the jungle and search for help is of course his walkabout, and it is peppered with strange visions that are wonderfully realized through budget-belying visual effects including stop-motion photography and animation of aboriginal cave paintings and animals (speaking of animals, there are two brief bits of animal violence some viewers might shy away from). Carried over from Ginnane’s earlier productions are production designer Jon Dowding (ROAD GAMES), costume designer Aphrodite Kondos (THIRST) and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson (who also shot Ann Turner’s CELIA, also available from Scorpion Releasing) who shot second unit on THE SURVIVOR. The atmospheric main title sequence is underscored by the 1982 song “Great Southern Land” by Icehouse – better known stateside for their 1987 hit “Electric Blue” – sets the opening firmly in the 1980s, yet the rest of the film has dated well despite Danny’s torn jeans and bright yellow Walkman headphones. INITIATION was the second and last film of director Michael Pearce, whose film debut was the sexually explicit Irish production JAMES JOYCE’S WOMEN (1985).
Apparently not released on tape stateside, both THE DREAMING and INITATION – also known as ZOOMSTONE – first arrived on DVD here in 2002 by way of bargain bin favorite Platinum Disc Corporation (who also released the Australian productions SNAPSHOT, THE SURVIVOR, and VOYAGE INTO FEAR). According to disc hostess Katarina Leigh Waters, Scorpion’s release presents the first 16:9 transfers of both films. THE DREAMING is interlaced – although not a PAL-NTSC transfer – but otherwise quite attractive. The source materials are not without damage; there are rare vertical green scratches and the reel changes seem to be marked with grease pen rather than hole punches, but is only an intermittent distraction. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is appropriately forceful with the music and exaggerated sound effects during the nightmare sequences. INITIATION is an attractive – presumably HD-mastered – progressive transfer with only the usual reel change hole-punches. The presence of the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is felt from the start with the Icehouse tune over the opening credits as well as the various outback sounds, and it gets more creative and manipulative in the second half of the film (particularly during Danny’s visions).
THE DREAMING is accompanied by an interview with producer Anthony Ginnane (10:51) who reveals that the film was one of nine that he was involved with that year. In earlier years, he worked on a production from its inception to release, but a tax shelter law during the late 1980s allowed him to expand his company and bring in new people. THE DREAMING was originally supposed to be directed by its screenwriter and producer Craig Lahiff who had previously directed Cook – along with INITIATION’s Winchester – in the TV thriller CODA (released on tape stateside as DEADLY POSSESSION). Ginnane says the script reminded him of THE FOG, but a disagreement over whether to take a shock approach or a cerebral one as well as the rushed production start date (to complete it within the tax year) caused Lahiff to step aside and recommended Mario Andreacchio for the job. Ginnane makes mention of an audio commentary for the film, but there is none (presumably the interview was done first and the commentary fell through since this interview was produced by Scorpion and not ported over from an import disc). No trailers for the two features are provided, but the disc does include trailers for BODY MELT, THE MONSTER CLUB, GRIZZLY and DAY OF THE ANIMALS. (Eric Cotenas)
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