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Monday, March 3, 2014

THIRST -- Blu-ray/DVD review by porfle

Blowing in on the great Oz-plosion of the 70s and 80s came the vampire thrilla from dan-unda known as THIRST (1979), which definitely would've been part of my VHS rotation if I'd taped it off of Cinemax or dubbed a rental copy. 

It isn't a great movie, but these resourceful Aussie filmmakers did a great job taking an outlandish horror story and whipping up a delightfully ghastly bit of entertainment to go around it.  The attractive and very expressive Chantal Contouri stars as Kate, a well-to-do career woman who finds out the hard way (being abducted by a vampire cult, that is) that she is the last descendant of Elizabeth Bathory and is now expected to join with her fellow vampires in order to enrich and extend the "bloodline."

Max Phipps, best known as the pathetic "Toady" from THE ROAD WARRIOR, is fellow vampire blue-blood Mr. Hodge, who is most excited about this joining since he'll be participating in the most "intimate" way.  Others interested in Kate's absorption into the cult are the vile Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron), the familiar Robert Thompson (PATRICK, ROAD GAMES) as Sean, ultra-awesome cult actor Henry Silva as Dr. Gauss, and a curiously reticent Dr. Fraser (DEEP RED's David Hemmings at his most David Hemmings-y) who appears to sympathize with Kate's desire to return home to her hunky fiance' Derek (Rod Mullinar, DEAD CALM).

They're all members of the board of directors of a kind of vampire resort located in a secluded manor (THIRST boasts some very nice actual locations) where passive humans known as "bloodcows" are raised like cattle and drained of their blood to be packaged in milk cartons for thirsty vampires everywhere.  Some wonderfully morbid touches include a tour group of excited vamp VIPs being led through the sanitary facilities and snapping photos of bloodcows hooked up to "milking" machines. 

Interestingly, director Rod Hardy (BUFFALO GIRLS) originally thought the film was intended as a spoof but discovered John Pinkney's screenplay to be dead serious, which, to the film's benefit, is exactly how Hardy shot it.  Thus, while much tongue-in-cheek sport could have been made of several over-the-top scenes featuring gleeful vampiric debauchery and giddy perversity (such as when, during an unholy ritual, we see an old lady insert a set of pointed choppers into her mouth and chow down on a helpless subject) it's all played deliciously straight.

This must have proven a challenge to Chantal Contouri's acting skills, especially since her character is onscreen for almost the entire running time and must remain absolutely convincing throughout.  Due to her continued rejection of the vampire life, Kate is subjected to marathon mind-control sessions  that are surrealistic nightmares of horror in which she never knows the real from the unreal.  Gouts of blood gush from shower heads, people suddenly turn into decaying corpses, and, in one rather icky scene, the man Kate thinks is Derek during their idyllic lovemaking session by a pond turns out to be the toadlike Mr. Hodge. 

Things really get intense when Kate finally stops trying to escape and seemingly gives in to her "destiny", which elevates an already bleak film to the truly horrific.  Her induction ritual in which she gets to don the pointy teeth herself and go for a prostrate subject's exposed jugular is richly decadent, enhanced by Contouri's glowing-eye emoting.  Overall, the film is reminiscent of the modern-day vampire flicks from Hammer or the kind of stuff companies like Amicus were doing in the 60s and 70s. 

At times THIRST even has a bit of a SUSPIRIA-like feel to it, and while Hardy is no Argento, his direction is solid.  The typically robust musical score by Brian May goes  from tragedy to thriller to full-tilt horror in his own inimitable style.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo from Severin Films is in 2.35:1 widescreen with English mono sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of an informative commentary track with director Ron Hardy and producer Antony I. Ginnane, an isolated music score, and a theatrical trailer and TV spots.  The film itself looks fine, taken, as the commentary track informs us, from a pristine print kept in storage.

Will Kate fully surrender to a life of vampirism and take her place among the elite bloodsuckers lording it over the rest of us lowly bloodcows?  Will she finally manage to escape and return to a normal life in which milk cartons actually have milk in them and false teeth are just for eating corn on the cob?  Or--and this is the one I'd put my money on--will THIRST have a bleak, downbeat ending which brings this gleefully lurid vampire romp to its most logical conclusion?  Either way, horror fans who like a satisfying taste of modern-day Goth with an Aussie flavor should sink their teeth into this bloodsuckers' tale.

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