In the hoary history of the horror film, a genre as belittled by cliché and emotional lethargy as it is by the occasional powerful vision or unique idea, Australia has been poorly represented. Save for the occasional killer pig movie or cinematic nightmares that occur in the Outback (Wolf Creek), the wild, bleak and bruised natural beauty of the Australian landscape has more or less gone unnoticed and underused by the genre. This is a mistake, as the untamed, primal spirit of that land -- and some of its people -- represents a poetic savagery just itching to lend atmosphere to the director or production team wise enough to chart its secret geography of nightmare. This is precisely what Mark Savage has done, taping into the dark, violent splendor of Australia -- as both a wild physical landscape and as a larger representative of untamed spirit -- to instil greater power and believability into his painfully realized yet elegantly told stories of desire, decadence, and death. Subversive Cinema presents for the first time the collected dark visions of auteur Savage in what can only be described as an unbelievable celebration of terror and titillation, including three features -- Marauders, Sensitive New Age Killers, and Defenseless: A Blood Symphony.

Marauders, the first film, is a knock in the face from the start, terrifying in its themes of corruption and amorality. Heartless and lean in its delivery, this movie, made on video during a time when not everyone in the neighborhood was running down the street with a camcorder, lacks the poetry of the other two films in this package but succeeds in exploiting Savage's early penchant for drama and narrative verve. Its simplistic rawness is equally troublesome and exhilarating, and despite a lack of resources, the inventive placement of the camera and robust compositions suggest a natural storyteller at work.

JD and Emilio are two ruthless, small time thugs who live without moral codes or limitations. JD and Emilio are both depicted early on as crumbs, pieces of shit without conscience, and while Savage here runs the risk of making his material cliché, a parody of 'bad guys' rather than a serious story of modern criminals without conscience, his eye for movement and characterization save the film. Savage pulls off this gritty urban thriller, and we don't doubt the authenticity of the action as DJ murders his mother, and Emilio his girlfriend. These two sweet fellows meet up and get in the hooch while we're introduced to Becky, a naïve teenibop who decides to take a trip with David, the new guy she's met (and which her friends have warned her about). As fate would have it, both of these separate characters meet on the path of destiny when David hits drunken JD on his way to pick up Becky. Emilio and JD follow David, biding their time until payback, and wrecking their car when David and Becky eat at a café in the strange little town they roll into. Wile Emilio and JD rob the local stores and raise general havoc, the towns people, we find, stick together in this back-woods community, and the tension playing out between David/Becky and Emilio/JD is mirrored and strengthened by the onrush of the locals, who believe in their own form of justice . . .

A shocking expose of carnal pleasures and perversion, this painfully adroit comment on the inhuman condition of the human animal, stripped of all its flimsy disguises of grace, civility, or morality, pulls the polite masks off our fears and makes us take a greater, closer look. Worse than the startlingly discomforting manner in which Savage reveals his terrors is the fact that, after making us cringe in disgust, he then entices us with tempting moments of exploitative genius, making us grudgingly 'like' those same elements brutal savagery that we usually condemn. If his plot, coated in grim and sweat and urban sprawl, is also coated in blood and cum, all of it mixed together in portraits of pain that are as kinkily beautiful as they are ugly -- a contradiction hard to pull off. The conqueror worm sings in Savage's cinema alongside the moans of sado-machistic lovers; pleasure and pain, right and wrong, realism and the fantastic are each played against the other as he stresses contradictory emotional extremes. Savage is a craftsman and a poet, nihilistic one moment, oddly romantic the other. His loves, revealed in this film, are the souls of the wild, dark, untamed places -- in both the physical realm of flesh and the ethereal shadow lands of philosophy. Serious study of this picture reveals layers of possible meaning (despite the claim by many intellectually lazy online 'critics' whose inability to sense such intricacies themselves result in their defaming those of us who are interested in the deeper allegorical meanings of film), with symbolic possibilities paralleling explosions of unsuspected violence -- violence that, like Savage's depiction of love and nature, are revealed by the rough poetry of his madness to be far more multi-faceted than we ever suspected.

Marauders is presented in 1.33:1 full frame. Despite being shot on video, quality is clean and sharp, with bright, dead-on colors. Lacking is the grain and blurred image inherent to most low budget films of this ilk, preserving Savage's visual integrity. Audio in English Dolby Digital stereo is satisfying, meeting the professional standards expected from Subversive.

Extras are exceptional. Included are bios for cast and crew, including the director, a substantial stills gallery, and DVD credits that list the talent involved in putting this release together. Other features include a Production Booklet chock full of intimate reflections and the daily troubles experienced on set, and Trailers for other Subversive releases. Most significant on this disc is the 'Making-Of' featurette "Four friends in low Budget Heaven," a formidable 28 min documentary that examines the sweat, blood, and sacrifice required when making a film, including interviews with director Savage, his brother Colin Savage, Paul Harrington, Richard Wolstencroft, etc. Fund and informative in a nuts-and-bolts sort of manner, this segment reveals these gentlemen as real people as well as craftsmen. Highlights include the turmoil and joys encountered when things went wrong (all the time, it seems), and the self depreciating humor each of the speakers display. A family favorite is sure to be the recollection of how they recruited their rape victim, asking girls at a party if they were up to some violent fun! A sizeable "Still gallery" and Audio Commentary round out the supplements, this later addition filled with the same mixture of technical talk and friendly horseplay as the featurette.

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Sensitive New Age Killer is just as hip as it sounds, merging satire and social criticism with dark humor and violence. Better written than his Savage's other work, this amoral story of revenge is also a paradoxical celebration of, and warning against, a violent lifestyle. Gutter Shakespeare in a world void or morals or meaning, Savage sends us to Hell without ever asking us to leave the realm of possibility. Little Paul (Tyson Stein) is playing with his girl Helen (Nicole Lambert) when Arthur Serevetas and his associate Little Pete (Paul Beitans) manhandle the local hooker. This ends when "The Snake" (Frank Bren) emerges from the darkness and murders Little Pete, saving the hooker, and changing Paul's life forever. No loner idealizing artists, he know wants to be a man of violence. Years later, an adult Paul (Paul Moder) has married Helen (Helen Hopkins), having fathered Emma (Emma-Rose Hillary), a little girl. Trying to make it as an amateur Hitman, serving death only to those who deserve it, he messes up an important job and is caught by officer McKlean (Carolyn Bock), a female who, instead of turning him in, blackmails him -- not for money, but sex! A labyrinth of sin, skin, and dishonesty ensues as George, Paul's best friend, extorts his wife Beth to have sex with him, having recorded her own sexual infidelity. Together they play out George's sick mother fantasies. When this is no longer captivating enough for his libido, he plans on killing Paul (not so difficult, considering he accompanies Paul on each of his jobs). When Paul decides to kill a drug dealer coming to down, agreeing to split the profits with his dominatrix lover, he spots "the Snake" from his childhood doing the same. Unable to NOT go through with the job that will secure his reputation, Paul teeters between unfaithful friends and the revelation that his childhood idol is little better than the pimp he murdered in the film's beginning. Thus begins a downward spiral into violence, pain, and tragedy that will stay with you for a very long time.

Combining a naturalist technique of direction with a painter's eye for detail, Savage captures violence as an extension of sex and love (and vice versa). While not glamorizing it, per say, he certainly doesn't shy away from the poetics of suffering, pain, or bloodshed. In this he is more socially responsible and artistically honest than the type of Hollywood nonsense where a 'Rambo' can wipe out an entire village without any real consequences or on-screen suffering. Yet Savage also doesn't treat violence with the love or celebratory manner of the Slasher of Giallo, which treats destruction in a fetishistic manner. Instead Savage approaches violence as a logical extension of stormy sexual relationships, a manner of psychosis, and, most often, as a means of transformation that makes possible emotional and psychological revelations. This motion picture treats violence in all its potential for destruction. Amoral in his stance towards social problems and the choices of adults in untraditional relationships, he's just as non-judgmental about violence and death, letting his audience make up their own mind about such issues. This makes Sensitive Age Killer much more disturbing. When we find something that turns us on in his work, we're forced to ask ourselves . . . Why. We may not like the answer, but we can't help but admire Savage's art for asking.

Sensitive New Age Killer is presented in its anamorphic widescreen glory, preserving the original aspect ratio. Simply amazing, the picture is near faultless, with bright, vivid colors, solid depth presentation, and no grain or softness of image. The audio is in English here, in Dolby Digital stereo. Again there are no problems with sound distribution, and no noticeable distortion.

Extras encourage a better appreciation of its social and aesthetic context. The obligatory Bios for the cast and crew begin the fun, followed by a Stills Gallery, and, most substantial, a 40 minute documentary which features Mark Savage, Paul Moder, Carolyn Bock, Kevin Hopkins, Helen Hopkins, Colin Savage, etc. All of these people have great stories to recall, and they do so with a lively sense of humor and dedication to the material and each other. There are no egos here, everyone seeming to respect one another. An audio commentary is next, starring Mark Savage, Paul Moder, Carolyn Bock, and others. While this talk repeats some of what is mentioned in the documentary, enough fresh perspectives are engaged to make it worthwhile. Trailers and Production Diary Booklets are again included, covering technical and personal problems of the production that could only be gleaned from the source.

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Defenseless: A Blood Symphony, is a silent feature that requires no words because the meanings of its story are revealed in lighting, camera movement, and the expressions of actors who, both personas and symbols, invite audiences to make their own story. Emotionally draining, this film achieves the psychological depth of such grind house classics as Last House on the Left and The Night Train Terrors without one word of dialogue. Mirroring the aesthetics of early silent cinema, each nuance of body language is made to count, and the actors forced to define their story among the context of moody, evocative setting and Savage's intimate camera.

Elizabeth Peace leads a near ideal existence before her and her family are harassed by a small click of land developers with plenty of influence . . . and no heart. Hungering for Elizabeth's property, which they wish to transform into a modern hell of Condos, they seek Elizabeth's signature on the deed. Wishing to keep her land, Elizabeth finds herself pray to the influence of men who represent the greed and corruption of the modern business class. Resorting to violence, they murder her husband, making her lose hope. After delivering her son to a friend's house, she goes home and pops some pills in a lonely field, hoping to die. Switching gears somewhat into a rural Epic Quest of intimate proportions, Elizabeth is rescued by a strange woman who nurses her back to health. Falling in love with her keeper, Elizabeth is tormented by loss once again as she too is slain. In a truly horrific touch, she is sent a 'snuff' film, warned that her son will die if she involves police. When she inexplicably returns with her son (a lapse of logic that somewhat diminishes the effectiveness of all that went before), the final nightmare begins. Leaving Elizabeth dead but not out as she -- or her spirit -- prepares to wreak vengeance on the men who literally destroyed her life, what began as a realistic expose of corruption and heartbreak quickly becomes a phantasmagorical nightmare of expressionism.

This is Savage's most accomplished, lyrical film; it is also his most disturbing. The unapologetic extremes of emotion with which he treats his characters cannot help but make an impression on anyone who doesn't have a heart of concrete. Most admirable in this assault against the heart -- this symphony of pain and loss and alienation and tragedy -- is the filmmaker's obvious empathy with, and understanding of, the Outsider -- those madmen, loners, and disenfranchised 'Strangers' living on the fringe of society. These are his people, and he gives them a place for expression. Victims or victimizers, it's hard to tell who is who, or if such simplistic, crass moralizations may even be made, for the worlds which Savage evokes are ambiguous in context. Imbuing ferocious sexual violence with statements about the nature of man and the world, Savage, at his best, suggests that there is no common grace, no faith or truth in the universe. Nor are there any discernible boundaries. This thought, running like blood down skin, is very scary indeed. Defenseless is presented in anamorphic widescreen with luscious colors and sharp detail. The English audio is in the same Dolby Digital as the other titles in this collection, and as clear and sharp.

Finally, we reach the extras for Defenseless. Besides Trailers and another Booklet, this disc includes "Inside Defenseless," a documentary whose major worth is the interviews with Savage, Susanne Hausschmid, Bethany, Walsh, Thorne and Gladstone. Exploring the complete life and evolution of a film, the project looks at the journey an idea makes from idea to page to screen. Throughout cast/crew are asked to comment on their goals and aspirations, lending the movie a context of further emotional relevancy. What little isn't covered on this crash-course in filmmaking is sure to be covered in yet another commentary with Savage, Susanne Hausschmid, Bethany Fisher, Erin Walsh, etc.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Subversive Cinema
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review