To paraphrase F Scott Fitzgerald, “The Australians are different to you and me”. They sure are: they have over three million species of indigenous flora and fauna that are lethal to anyone with less constitution than a Terminator, their children have to make their own shoes by catching and skinning crocodiles, they once elected a pint of beer Prime Minister, and their greatest export, Mel Gibson, was in fact born and raised in New York (at least one of these facts is true). They speak English (sort of, though at least their accents aren’t as appalling as those damned Americans), and so are accessible, yet also exotic.
They also took the post-apocalyptic film genre and, with MAD MAX and its sequels, fitted a V-8 supercharger and sent it screaming into the desert to inspire countless Italian and Filipino rip-offs for years to come. They took the fish-out-of-water romantic comedy trope and with the CROCODILE DUNDEE franchise made Paul Hogan immensely wealthy and unable to do anything else. And with THE HOWLING III, introduced to the world the concept of marsupial werewolves. Thanks for that, dingo breaths. I’ve watched that movie four times now and still feel like I’ve only watched half a film.
Australian films, as opposed to films made in Australia by outside crews, are always guaranteed to be quirky. They may be bad, but more often than not you’ll remember them, like some dream you had while sleeping off a big meal with the cat on top of you.
And Tom Conyers’ 2012 low-budget vampire movie THE CARETAKER certainly fits that bill.
The movie opens at night, with a man, Doctor Ford Grainger (Mark White) driving out to an isolated house to tend to the mother of a vintner, Lester (Colin MacPherson). It seems there’s a flu-like virus running through the country, with strange symptoms like sensitivity to light, inability to stomach regular food, enlarged canines and delusions. Grainger, who seems to be exhibiting symptoms of his own, convinces Lester to let him stay the night and wait until the next day to take his mother to the big city for treatment, though it’s clear to the viewer that Grainger has no intention of leaving; Lester’s mother, hiding in the cellar, warns him that this is her “territory”.
We soon learn that Grainger is a doctor, but as a patient, one of the infected who had fled the hospital, where the epidemic has left the staff exhausted and struggling to cope – and when the infected rise and attack en masse, struggling to stay alive.
Meanwhile a couple, Anna (Anna Kate Burgess) and Guy (Clint Dowdell), are out camping, trying unsuccessfully to patch up their relationship, while in a local town, Ron (Lee Mason) leads a “pro-men’s group”, which seems to consist of blokes sitting around drinking pints and talking about what bitches women are. Then the radio tells them that the infected are behaving psychotically, throughout the world. Ron is a little man, but when the vampires attack the pub and he barely escapes (the vampires, rather than showing solidarity like zombies do, are willing to attack each other almost as much as they do normal humans), he sees this as his destiny, a chance to survive and make himself something important.
All these people will eventually converge on Lester’s house out of sheer chance, with the headstrong Anna, wanting to return to the big city to her family, clashing with the presumptive Alpha Male Ron, with Guy in the middle. But once they convince Lester of what’s happening, and the phones and electricity go dead, he remembers how Dr Grainger was looking, and they go looking for him and Lester’s mother.
They find them. Well, they find Grainger munching on the dismembered pieces of Lester’s mother. He repels their attempts to attack him, exhibiting enhanced strength and speed, but unlike the feral vampires seen previously, he speaks intelligently, offering them an arrangement: if they protect him during the day from anyone who might want to kill him, and he’ll protect them from his kind at night. Some of the group are appalled by the notion, while others see the sense of it.
And it proves to be an effective arrangement over the coming days and nights, as the group, sealing themselves up in the isolated house, deal with vampire hunters by day and vampires at night. But the food supplies are limited, the group dynamics are already strained, and you can throw in the fact that Lester is as crazy as an outhouse rat and has his sights on claiming Anna for himself, and one of the group gets infected and slowly begins to turn, offering a rival for Grainger’s role.
The film isn’t without its flaws. The low budget hurts it. Conyers does his best, but when the global epidemic is depicted by one shot in a hospital corridor and a radio broadcast, it feels like the movie’s ambitions are exceeding its grasp. The stationary setting hurt it as well, I thought; I would have liked to have seen the group on the road, moving from town to town, scavenging and facing threats day and night, because I couldn’t help but think that, staying where they were, they would run out of threats and food before long, and the alliance would have crumbled anyway. The dialogue at times, trying to convey philosophical issues of survival and morality, came across as sounding more appropriate to a play than a film. And there’s almost nothing told about the background behind Grainger, the most interesting character in the film, how he kept his intelligence and how he felt about his vampiric state (there’s a suggestion that he’s aware enough not to want to really survive, but can’t overcome these base instincts).
THE CARETAKER is a flawed but interesting film, which I would recommend more than some bigger-budgeted but boring movie any day. It does something with vampires besides making them teen heartthrobs, and that’s a plus in Deggsy’s books. It’s available on DVD, and the trailer is below.
Director: Tom Conyers
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent