Thirst (1979)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-03-07 04:29

Written by: John Pinkney
Directed by: Rod Hardy
Starring: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, and Max Phipps

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“We'll probably end up spending a fortune on her and achieving nothing. Except perhaps drive her insane."

I suppose producer Anthony Gianne was the Ozploitation scene’s own Roger Corman, as he spit out various flavors of horror, from supernatural coma patients (Patrick) to dead kids (Dead Kids). With Thirst, he had to scratch the obligatory vampire itch, even though the Outback doesn’t seem to be the most natural of habitats for such creatures. But I guess Australia has ‘em, too. Mythologize one bloodthirsty 15th century Romanian monarch, and suddenly you’ve got vampires all over the place, like goddamn vermin.

You can rest assured that it’s a thoroughly weird take, as Ozploitation is wont to be. Like vampire films that followed it during the next decade, Thirst transports the gothic creatures to modern times, where they’ve been reimagined as a sinister cabal that abducts its latent brethren and attempts to turn them. Their latest target is Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri), a cosmetics worker unaware that her family tree descends from Elizabeth Bathory, the infamous Hungarian countess who displayed vampiric tendencies during her bloody reign on the throne. One of the members of this brotherhood (unimaginatively dubbed The Brotherhood) figures that transforming Kate into a vampire will allow him to merge a couple of prestigious bloodlines, so the group subjects her to the most awkward courtship imaginable, one that’s full of attempts to develop her taste for blood on the world’s most sinister farm.

And on that farm, you have some cows—but not those lovable milk-producing sorts. Instead, these “blood-cows” are lobotomized humans that are harvested for the vampires worldwide. Between the deadpan presentation of this Soylent Green style setup and the snooty vampires who fancy themselves a superior class of being, Thirst functions as an unsubtle allegory for the aristocracy’s preying on the proletariat. Or at least that’s its posturing whenever it feels like it should be about Big Ideas or something. It’s a fascinating but undercooked concept that reveals some ominous truths about the upper class’s ominous ability to co-opt both the lower class’s resources and their zeitgeist, as the compound is a Marxist nightmare that resembles a hippie commune twisted into a sleek, soulless factory for mass consumption.

But that’s not really the story since Thirst is more preoccupied with The Brotherhood’s attempt to drive Kate out of her damn mind. Their doggedness is almost humorous. I mean, these guys really want her to enjoy a pint of blood and go to great, sneaky lengths to accomplish it. Their first attempt involves switching her carton of milk for a carton of blood, while another finds Kate on an idyllic picnic with her boyfriend (Rod Mullinar) that ends with her gnawing on a bloody chicken bone. I don’t think that’s one of the herbs and spices in the original recipe, but I could be wrong. Anyway, The Brotherhood gets less subtle as they go along, and they eventually stuff her into a shower that starts blasting (you guessed it) blood. Persistence is a virtue.

All of this is a hoot, even though I’m not convinced it’s totally meant to be since the film is fairly straight-laced and features that satiric bent that never quite bares its fangs, perhaps because Kate herself isn’t exactly part of the helpless working class, what with her posh apartment and cozy job. It’s not like she’s a farm girl out there with the dingoes and kangaroos. As a result, Thirst is divided against itself as a film that seems to have muddled political ambitions but also just wants to indulge in feverish, giallo-like hysteria (David Hemmings is even around as one of the cultists). Aesthetically, the film is similarly schizoid in its attempt to have its blood cow and eat it too, as it attempts to merge a clinical, modern day approach with more traditionally gothic imagery, so you’ve got blood farms smashing up against unholy rituals where the newly initiated tear into a human victim to the delight of their fellow vampires in the audience.

With such highlights, it’s hard to deny that Thirst is quirky enough to separate itself from the vampiric pack, especially since it’s stylishly shot in gorgeous scope like so many of its Ozploitation brethren. Naturally, most of the images involving blood are striking as hell. You can never have too many shots of the red stuff hitting a porcelain-white background, though I’m sure it’s something you’ll want to avoid in reality (that shit stains like a sumbitch, I bet).

Director Rod Hardy’s visuals are even more stunning on Severin’s upcoming Blu-ray, which marks the film’s high-definition debut. It arrives with a solid transfer sourced from the original negative, and the image is free from any distracting digital artifacts. The mono track is only standard Dolby Digital, as is the accompanying isolated score track by Aussie legend Brian May, a decision that amounts to a nitpick since we’re so accustomed to lossless audio at this point. Other extras include an audio commentary with Hardy and Ginnane, a theatrical trailer, and a few TV spots, making it a worthy upgrade over the previous DVD release. Credit is due to Thirst for remaining fresh and weird 35 years after its release; those intervening years have seen a glut of movies that have exhausted me on vampires, but I welcome this one. Buy it!

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