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Wake In Fright (1971):
The Alcoholic’s Binge As Horror

DIRECTOR: Ted Kotcheff

STARRING: Donald Pleasance, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty

‘Wake In Fright,’ also known as ‘The Outback,’ is the canonical forgotten gem for film buffs.  Released in 1971, Ted Kotcheff’s depiction of gritty, surreal and disturbing rural Australian life is a classic that has somehow coasted under the radar for decades.  After receiving a tour through select U.S. theatres, and a high recommendation from esteemed director Martin Scorsese, the film has undergone some slight revival.  The U.S. circuit began after a premiere at Cannes, which was the film’s second appearance there and something virtually unheard of. ‘Wake In Fright’ has been receiving a lot of much deserved critical acclaim as of late, and after watching the film, one can understand why.


‘Wake In Fright,’ could be seen as a horror film, but better exemplifies the gritty exploitation movement of the 1970s in its bleak portrayal of a desperate man at wit’s end.  The film follows a bonded schoolteacher, John Grant making his way to Sydney during Christmas vacation and his accidental layover in a twisted hamlet called Bundanyabba.  Referred to as ‘The Yabba’ by its inhabitants, the town is a purgatory of sorts, one drenched in sweat and reeking of stale beer.  After losing all of his money gambling (In a scene that harkens the brutal Russian roulette of Cimino’s ‘The Deer Hunter), Grant finds himself shacking up with alcoholic local Doc’ Tydon.


Donald Pleasance gives another perfect performance as the decadent Doc’ Tydon, utilizing his English heritage to create a believable Australian miscreant.  It is the small details that Pleasance brings to the character that lend the overwhelming sense believability.  One can imagine that spending an evening with Doc’ Tydon is a raucous, unsavory, although not wholly unpleasant scenario.  The meeting of Doc’ and Grant begins the true disturbing finale of the film.  Grant unwittingly falls into a whirlpool of alcoholism and violence.  In this sense, ‘Wake In Fright’ can be viewed as a horror film: the horrors of an alcoholic’s binge, a genre that’s never been so uniquely explored as in Kotcheff’s film.


‘Wake In Fright’ is an essential film for admirers of exploitation, horror, Ozploitation, and gritty 70s film in general.  It is the exploration of one man’s hell, and the inability to escape not only Bundanyabba, but also himself.  ‘Wake In Fright’ is suggested for fans of ‘Deliverance,’ ‘The Wicker Man,’ ‘Mad Max,’ and addiction movies (The Lost Weekend 1945, Leaving Las Vegas 1995, The Gambler 1974, etc).

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