Splatter films are those that contain gratuitous violence and depict gore in the most graphic ways possible. Drawing on the aesthetic themes of Grand Guignol theatre, splatter horror has its roots in horror movies from the 1950s and 1960s, but the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis came to embody the imagery associated with what was then a new subgenre. Splatter horror grew in popularity in the 1970s, leading to the creation of the Video Nasties censorship list. Often splatter films are associated with the wave of gore in the 80s, but this subgenre of horror has continued throughout the years, and become a popular way to witness some of the nastiest, gnarliest scenes ever.
To be completely honest, movies that push the absolute limits of brain-bashing and torso tearing aren’t my cup of tea – I am not a marrow maverick, nor a skull-cracking connoisseur. However, despite not falling in the target demographic, it is impossible for me to deny the inventiveness and overall quality of ‘The Furies’, the debut feature of writer/director Tony D’Aquino.
According to D’Aquino: “I believe over 100 litres of fake blood was used in the filming. ‘More blood’ was my regular mantra.” Aside from boasting some hauntingly gruesome gore effects, ‘The Furies’ also has impressive acting from its female leads, a lean 82-minute run-time and a few thoughtful twists that elevate it above the howling masses of low-budget horror flicks.
'THE FURIES' TRAILER
Kayla (Airlie Dodds, ‘Killing Ground’) watches as her friend Maddie (Ebony Vagulans) sprays some “fuck patriarchy” graffiti in a pedestrian tunnel in an anonymous Australian city. Maddie rebukes her epileptic friend for passiveness and timidity. Without warning, the two women are snatched off the streets. Kayla awakens in a box marked “Beauty 6”, frees herself, and emerges in a remote bushland location. Quickly, she realises that she isn’t alone in this monochromatic maze of dust and eucalyptus trees.
Kayla meets Alice (Kaitlyn Boye) and Sally (Harriet Davies), but soon the “Beauties” are being chased by hulking masked men, draped in flayed human skins a la Leatherface in ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and wielding a variety of brutal weapons, like scythes and pitchforks. Arms are ripped off, heads split apart and, worst of all, a woman’s face is peeled like a grape by the blade of an axe. Via some extremely unsettling practical effects, VFX producer Ryan Ware and his team at Scarecrow Studios ensure that every death will make you wince.
‘The Furies’ brings to mind other films that pit hapless victims against armed assailants in a natural setting as part of a lethal game, like ‘The Naked Prey’, ‘Series 7: The Contenders’, ‘The Condemned’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ and, of course, ‘Battle Royale’. Hollywood’s been playing with the idea of humans as prey rather than predators since 1932’s ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, and plenty of directors have taken a crack at the concept.
D’Aquino recognises the inherent spookiness of that landscape and uses the possibility of being lost, the fear of what might befall you and the crisp camerawork of DP Garry Richards to enhance the jump scares.
As her new allies are killed off in a variety of grisly ways, Kayla attempts to escape into the desert but is stopped by a device that emits a painful invisible pulse. Other inexplicable events occur. Cornered, she watches as one of the monster men tackles another to save her. During her epileptic seizures, Kayla is able to see through the eyes of her assailants. After another encounter with a “Beast”, she fights back only for an explosive to detonate within his head.
Eventually finding some cabins and signs indicating that she’s in an old gold mining camp, Kayla encounters more survivors, the child-like Rose (Linda Ngo, TV's ‘Top of the Lake’) and suspicious Sheena (Taylor Ferguson). Together, the trio gather information, try to make sense of the nightmarish scenario and plan an escape. As the plot unspools, an impressive amount of wrinkles and twists emerges in D’Aquino’s screenplay (enough to potentially fill out a sequel).
The Australian bush is a powerful figure, unforgiving and fierce, in our national storytelling, and nowhere more so than on the big screen. Think ‘Walkabout’, ‘Wake in Fright’, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘Wolf Creek’. Many of the scenes in ‘The Furies’ were shot on location at the historic mining village of Bywong, north-east of Lake George in Canberra - D’Aquino recognises the inherent spookiness of that landscape and uses the possibility of being lost, the fear of what might befall you and the crisp camerawork of DP Garry Richards to enhance the jump scares.
Airlie Dodds stands out amongst a cast of female characters who range from helpless fodder for the “beasts” to resourceful scrappers. Dodds manages to convey Kayla’s transformation from meek uni student to merciless bad-arse impressively over a brief running time.
Splatter tends to measure its own value in gallons of blood and baskets of body parts, but D’Aquino should be saluted for adding some impressive style, nuance and imagination to ‘The Furies’.