Wake in Fright (1971) – Ted Kotcheff

The next film, based on the novel by Kenneth Cook, is from the What Else to Watch list in DK Canada’s The Movie Book following its suggested viewing of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

It’s a dark, violent tale that strips the civility and education of man away from him as he is plunged into darker and darker circumstances by his choices. The story directed by Ted Kotcheff, who helped launch the Rambo series with First Blood, finds in the Australian outback as we journey with a teacher, John Grant (Gary Bond) as he travels from a small town on his way to civilization and ends up in another outback town, and that is where his trouble starts.

He ends up betting in a game, and sees a way to get out from under his contract, but loses everything. But that’s ok, everyone in town will help him out with booze, and fun (providing it’s of a violent nature).

As he struggles to retain his humanity, he finds himself losing it more and more, while one of the townsfolk, Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasance) who has previously experienced these events, and has become irrevocably changed, looks on and hints at what he may become.

wake in fright pic

Stunning locations, and horrifying moments (including an actual kangaroo hunt (which has some real and shocking footage) – and fight) as we see everyone in the town imbibe, bet, carouse, and be quite proud of their little town. But as Doc points out, the demons are proud of their hell.

I’ve always been a fan of Pleasance and I quite like Bond in this film as well, he feels like a cross between Peter O’Toole and Robert Redford, and watching him descend into madness is a riveting watch.

The location work is stunning, and Australia looks beautiful, if desolate. And one wonders whether the land affects the people, that they are so remote, so separate from the rest of civilization, that people can’t help but to return to their baser selves, encourage their darker emotions and activities.

He returns to his job at the end of the film, changed, arguably broken, and the audience is left the same way, ruminating on our very nature, behavior, and where our darker impulses may lead.

It’s a troubling and unnerving watch, but one that is definitely worth the watch. It’s an intense, driving film that probably didn’t do much for Australia’s tourism. But wow, the locations.

But, hey don’t take my word for it, pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book and find a brand new classic watch tonight!





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