As three friends travel across the outback, they’re about to meet a terrifying force of nature that has no fear and shows no mercy in Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek. The 2005 chiller comes home with a new Limited Edtion Lenticular 2-Disc Blu-ray release from Via Vision. With an overall solidA/V presentation and a terrific selection of extras, you get both cuts of the film with stylish packaging. Now sold out - if you can find it at a good price or want to pick up Via Vision swag-free Special Edition - Highly Recommended.
Horror films love to work in phases. The late 90s saw the successful resurgence of the Slasher with Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Halloween: H20 among others. Then came the early aughts and horror was taken back to the gritty and tough-to-watch terror films of the 1970s. These are films that are so unrelenting in their horrific imagery, they’re often dubbed “torture porn” as they seem to relish the pain inflicted upon the hapless protagonists. I like to call them “Terror Films” or “Survival Films” because by the end of it, you’re left feeling that you’re glad to be alive and not those poor sons of bitches you just watched butchered on screen. Notable entries in this little early 2000’s sub-genre were flicks like High Tension, Hostel, and Saw with varying mileage of success. But one particular low-budget film imported from the land down under would withstand the test of time (and a mediocre sequel) as one of the scariest and most disturbing films of the decade - Wolf Creek.
British gal-pals Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are traveling across Australia with their friend Ben (Nathan Phillips). The next leg of their journey will see them traveling cross country through the outback from Broome to Cairns in a cheap barely-running car. Camping out along the way, the trio stop off at Wolf Creek National Park to view the large crater, but when they return to their car they discover their watches have stopped and the vehicle is dead as a stone. As darkness settles in, the seemingly kindly outback hunter Mick comes upon them and offers to tow them to his camp where he can fix their vehicle. But they soon discover this random act of kindness was in fact just the beginning of a living nightmare.
It’d been some years since I last sat down to Wolf Creek and I was amazed to see how affecting it still is nearly 20 years later. I remember sitting in the theater long after the credits rolled just stunned by what I saw but also so unnerved I needed to “cleanse” myself with whatever stupid comedy was also playing at the time. I don’t remember that comedy, but I still remember coming home and still feeling the need to process what I saw. Not that it was so horrifying that I couldn’t handle it, but its sheer intensity was so unsettling and realistic I needed time to digest it and come around to the fact that it was (and still is) one of the best horror films of the 2000s.
Shot digitally, the film has a pseudo-documentary quality making it look almost like one of your average vacation home videos (albeit with a lot better production values and cameras). With the HD video styling, it gave the film a modern edge of grime and girt akin to what 16mm was able to do for Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And like Texas Chain Saw, the film wisely takes its time to set up the characters and let you get to like them before the unrelenting terror begins. The film also subverts your expectations with Mick, an unsettling combination of Steve Irwin/Crocodile Dundee charm and earnest friendliness with the unrelenting savagery of the worst serial killer imaginable. You can hope for the best for these characters as they struggle to outwit their captor and survive, but you know deep down things aren’t going to end well.
Watching Wolf Creek again after many years away I was amazed and glad to see that it was still such an unnerving and intense experience. Writer/Director Greg McLean crafted a tightly wound and tense script and brilliantly executed it, never wasting a second of footage. Casting choices were perfect with Nathan Phillips delivering the devilish charm, Kestie Morassi’s Kristy is that smart friend everyone should listen to (but no one does), and Cassandra Magrath stepping in as the quintessential horror tough-girl survivor Liz who thinks fast on her feet. The real star of the film is John Jarratt as our man Mick. Seemingly friendly and affable, he can become terrifying on a turn of a dime as he relishes every ounce of terror he inflicts. It’s one hell of a villainous performance, to say the least! And like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I had forgotten that Wolf Creek actually has very little on-camera gore with the most savage moments saved for the shocking ending.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Wolf Creek comes home to terrorize your Blu-ray collection with a new 2-Disc set from Via Vision. Limited to 1000 units, this edition offers up both the Theatrical Cut and Unrated Cuts with individual Blu-rays in a clear two-disc case. Each disc is Region Free (tested on multiple setups without issue). Also included is a packet of six art cards. The cards and the Blu-ray case are bundled together with a hard cardboard stock lenticular slipcase. The discs load to animated main menus with traditional navigation options.
Shot using the Sony HDW-F900 camera system, Wolf Creek scores an often impressive 1080p transfer. Between both cuts, there are some hallmarks of early digital cinematography that can hold the show back, but most of the time the image can be quite stunning. Details are usually very sharp and clear with clean lines and facial features - especially if the camera isn’t moving too much. There are a few sequences that felt notably softer than others and looked much more “Digital Video” than film where fine details don’t quite emerge, but that’s also to be expected somewhat with that generation of camera. Also, there are a few sequences here and there throughout where that digital motion blur, similar to what you'd see in Apocalypto for example, would appear. Black levels are generally strong with a noteworthy sense of depth and dimension to the image. For the Unrated Cut, there’s an extra sequence that sees those black levels get a little extra thick, but nothing too distracting to completely pull you out of the show. With only a few extra minutes of material, the extra scenes blend into the rest of the finished film with ease. Aside from that one notable sequence in Mick's camp, you'd be hard-pressed to spot what was even added. Considering we've never had a 1080p release here in the States I'm damned happy with the results over my old DVD.
The Theatrical Cut of Wolf Creek rocks a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix while the Unrated Cut sports an effective LPCM Stereo track. I’m not sure why the difference there, but I like both auditory experiences for what they accomplish. The 5.1 on the theatrical can feel open and wide and more desolate letting you really feel like this movie takes place in the middle of nowhere. Dialog is clean and clear without issue and the film’s minimal use of music cues isn’t at odds with the other elements. Maybe not the most robust surround track, much of the action is kept to the front/center channels with surrounds used for spacing and atmospherics most of the time but it’s a moody and effective mix all the same.
On the other disc, we have that LPCM stereo track which I like because it keeps the audio action much closer and tightly configured for a more foreboding sense of claustrophobia. Especially within the caverns and tight buildings around Mick’s campsite. Dialog is strong here as well and the minimalist score by François Tétaz is just as foreboding and creepy. Both tracks do well by the film and since I prefer the Unrated Cut of the film anyway, I’m not at all upset with only a stereo track on that particular disc - as odd as that is. Both tracks accomplish their respective goals.
On top of art cards and snazzy packaging, Viavision’s release of Wolf Creek also comes packed in with a fine assortment of bonus features. At the top of the pack is a great commentary track with Writer/Director Greg McLean, stars Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi, with producer Matt Hern. It’s a lively discussion without any dead air and a range of topics about the production, shooting in an isolated area, and some of the intensity in the performances are covered. After that, there is the excellent archival Making of Doc that covers the full production without being a compilation of obnoxious talking head segments. The deleted scenes don’t radically change the movie, they’re essentially what you get out of the Unrated Cut, the third segment is the most interesting of that lot. On the Unrated Disc the most interesting extra is the John Jarratt interview.
Theatrical Cut Disc
Unrated Cut Disc
Wolf Creek is a terrifying piece of work. Unleashed at a time when “Torture Porn” horror films were dominating multiplexes, it made a decent box office splash in its day but was also unfairly lumped into that horror subgenre. While certainly intense and unrelenting, it doesn’t relish the pain and grotesqueries like its contemporaries. It may have spawned an alright sequel, but I’m glad this film never really took off as an ongoing franchise. One and done was enough and to this day it packs a mighty punch. Now on Blu-ray from Via Vision, fans can pick up both the Theatrical Cut and Unrated Cut with solid A/V presentations given the film’s early digital cinematography roots along with a nice range of bonus features to pick through. Since we haven’t gotten the first film on Blu here in the states, it’s an easy one to call Highly Recommended.
Now - the Limited Edition Lenticular set has already sold out (basically overnight if I understand correctly), but Via Vision is offering up a basic discs-only edition with a non-lenticular slipcover that you can snag if you’re not into paying high-value collector’s prices.