Australian Culture / Cinema / Visual Media

“Night of Fear, The Film They Didn’t Want You to See…”

In the words of Robin Wood, “the true subject of the horror genre is all that our civilization represses or oppresses” (Wood, 1986: 75). The independent experimental movie by Terry Bourke became the very object of restriction when it came out in March 1973 instead of November 1972, as it was immediately censored by the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). In-between a scary tale and a psychotic journey, you would be surprised to see how resounding this visual work can be. 

“Night of Fear” original credits

From Television to The Theatre

Fifty-two minutes is quite an unusual format for an on-screen movie but its former censorship explains it all. As a matter of fact, Night of Fear was made for the television market – it was the first episode of a series called Fright. However, as the Australian Broadcasting Commission found it too shocking for a small screen audience, the show was cancelled and the pilot was not released in Australian theatres until 1973, when the movie was given a proper classification.

Back in the seventies, the censorship legislation was experiencing changes in terms of local programs targets. Indeed, just before Night of Fear was shot, a “Refused Classification” was made effective. In this light, it is important to remember that “material that is classified RC contains content that is very high in impact and falls outside generally accepted community standards.” In other words, the movie proved offensive by blurring the limits between horror and decency.  After making an appeal of the decision, the movie could finally be released under the “R classification,” that is “restricted to an adult audience.”

Night of Fear was probably the first modern silent horror movie of its time. After its first quarter though, the movie successfully uses scattered and twitchy sounds. Mark Ryan, in the article entitled “Australian cinema’s dark sun: the boom in Australian horror movie production,” explains how until the late 1990s the horror genre was not part of the official cinema industry. Progressively breaking with former norms of the dark genre, the music at work in Night of Fear  goes wild in order to serve a noxious delirious purpose. In the end, the settings of such a movie would take advantage of the Australian landscape and conditions like the outback as a mystical narrative space.

Unknown Characters for Well-known Stereotypes

The unknown blond woman’s (Carla Hoogeveen) misadventures begin with a car accident. As she is driving towards Sydney, a truck nearly collides with her vehicle and it is immediately ejected from the main road. Fortunately safe and sound, she can drive again but nothing is left to chance in the movie. Indeed, there are many meaningful clues along the way, such as wooden signs. In the article entitled “Australian eco-horror and Gaia’s revenge,” Catherine Simpson claims that most horror movies “depict a failure to read the signs, and pay attention to them, leading to eventual death, ‘out there’ in the land” (Simpson, 2010). In other words, the recurrent fictional unawareness conveys an ideological warning towards the viewers.

dead_wooden sign

The remainings of a wooden gate after the accident. Screenshot from “Night of Fear.”
©Terryrod Productions.

Those signs happen to be essential as none of the characters have names, an absence that paves the way for generic representations and the strong resilience of given stereotypes. Actually, it seems like outfits and props have their own relevance – such as the red dress the young woman is wearing. Therefore, there would be a whole mythology building around the “Little Red Riding Hood” thus recalling the presence of a threatening “big bad wolf.” If the little girl from the tale has received a warning against the woods, here the feminine character stands for the unwilling explorer of a forbidden territory – the Australian outback. In this way, a European influence gives way to a representation of local suspicion. The doomed woman shows the circularity of her environment since “hunted and trapped, her nightmare is just beginning.” As a matter of fact, Catherine Simpson has already stated the way “these films extend postcolonial anxieties over settler Australian notions of belonging [while signifying] a cultural shift.”  In this light, the author tries to depict fictional tourists or explorers as human offerings to a ‘furious’ environment while asserting an Australian sense of belonging (Simpson, 2010).

little red riding hood

The “Damsel in Distress” stands for a trapped “Little Red Riding Hood.” Screenshot from “Night of Fear.”
©Terryrod Productions.

A Typical Psycho in The Australian Backwoods

It seems like Night of Fear tends to demonize a kind of secluded lifestyle by highlighting the dangerous dimension of the woods. In order to achieve this goal, the use of a fast pace is essential not only for music but also for individual shots. All these elements create an atmosphere of panic at the service of an ultimate psychotic figure (Norman Yemm) with rats as faithful companions. In this respect, the status of humans and animals merges so that the usual predator turns into the prey and conversely (Simpson, 2010). As a consequence, according to Catherine Simpson’s pattern, the blond woman entering a forbidden area could be seen as a predator that needs to be punished. Thus the newly established relationship between humans and animals would display a revengeful reversal in horror narratives. Likewise, the characters’ staring as much as their pace proves essential in establishing power struggles in the movie. Moreover, the introduction of props in-between human and animal form, and in-between living and dead nature tends to blur the frontier between life and death.

The depiction of taxidermy and chopped heads adds to the gloomy atmosphere already established through music and rhythm. Interestingly, the portrayal of a psychopath character is made possible thanks to newspaper extracts visible on the walls of the cabin. This sense of toxic inquiry reveals the ubiquity of media in all geographic locations – whether it is urban or rural.

On Psychological Horror Movies

Beyond terror, there is definitely something gory and disturbing about this movie. Actually, wilderness turns into a dreadful savageness that eventually borders on pornography. In any case, an article on “Australian psycho” well explains how the Australian portrayal of violence and madness is both unexpected and temporary. Then such a surprise effect is what makes Australian cinema so realistically shocking. Caught in-between autism (see this interesting article on the subject, extended to post-2000 movies) and hysteria, Night of Fear might as well reveal a far more psychological kind of threat. Indeed, Mark Ryan explains how “the horror movie holds up a mirror to dark or unpleasant aspects of any given culture, cultural fears and anxieties, and issues of cultural and social taboo, and delivers moral parables in the guise of our worst nightmares.” As depicted in his article “Putting Australian and New Zealand horror movies on the map of cinema studies,” the acknowledgement of horror movies social and cultural stakes is still very recent. Then if many see only the trash bloody dimension of horror movies, the truth is they offer another door to the exploration of complex inner selves within a specific culture.

Have a glance at Night of Fear, if you dare…

Works cited

Ellis, Katie. “Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema Post 2000.” Disability Studies Quarterly. Vol 30, No 1 (2010). Web. http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1076/1252

Harris, Mark. “Australian Horror Movies : Terror From Down Under.” About Horror and Suspense Movies. Web.  http://horror.about.com/od/foreignhorrormovies/a/australia.htm

Ryan, Mark. “Australian cinema’s dark sun: the boom in Australian horror film production.” Studies in Australasian Cinema, Volume 4, Number 1, 2010.

Ryan, Mark. “Putting Australian and New Zealand horror movies on the map of cinema studies.” Studies in Australasian Cinema, Volume 4, Number 1, 2010.

Simpson, Catherine. “Australian eco-horror and Gaia’s revenge: animals, eco-nationalism and the ‘new nature’.” Studies in Australasian Cinema, Volume 4, Number 1, 2010.

Windsor, Harry. “Australian Psycho.” The Australian. July 13, 2013. Web. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/australian-psycho/story-fn9n8gph-1226678399185

Australian Classificationhttp://www.classification.gov.au/Guidelines/Pages/RC.aspx

Australian Classification. “Night of Fear. “ http://www.classification.gov.au/Pages/View.aspx?sid=LvXHmYsGHQt7%252fRhUXViA7w%253d%253d&ncdctx=wsrBdPNqPvrKW6jZ2HJbq%2bcmrqG3ugRPrN6pisnRb6%2beLr09D6O0TYgsBXg0%2baN4

Libertus. “Australian Censorship History .” http://libertus.net/censor/hist1901on.html

Parliament of Australia. « Censorship and Classification in Australia .» October 19, 2001. Web. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/archive/censorshipebrief

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