Jonathan Melville: All Fright on the night

Donald Pleasence, left, in Wake In Fright. Pic: Comp
Donald Pleasence, left, in Wake In Fright. Pic: Comp
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IT seems like every few months we’re being introduced to a forgotten classic, a film from the dim and distant past that has been rediscovered, remastered and re-released into cinemas.

The term classic in itself is questionable, sometimes suggesting a film must be in the top one per cent of everything ever made, while most of the time it simply means old and perhaps not that good in the first place.

Occasionally you can be surprised, and for me that happened recently with the Australian drama, Wake In Fright, which is back at the Filmhouse from tomorrow and which everyone who loves cinema has to go and see.

In 1970, while living in London, Canadian director Ted Kotcheff headed to the centre of Oz with actors Donald Pleasence and Gary Bond in tow, ready to make a low-budget adaptation of the 1961 novel, Wake In Fright. It’s the story of an educated man, John Grant, whose life spirals out of control when he loses all his money gambling in an outback town dubbed The Yabba.

The result shocked Australian cinema-goers, repelled by the nightmarish vision of beer-guzzling blokes who outnumbered women three to one and resorted to fighting their mates or going on kangaroo hunts. What’s more terrifying is that Grant isn’t forced into his situation by anyone but himself and that he almost revels in it.

Recently restored from decaying master tapes, Wake In Fright is finally getting the recognition it deserves. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a masterpiece, a film which draws you in and pulls you down into the red dirt of the outback. Despite being uncomfortable to watch, Wake In Fright is impossible to forget.

The odd thing is, I want to go back for more, and nobody’s forcing me.