Review by: Mountain Monkey
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Having lived in Australia for a good six years, I found Wake in Fright to be strangely familiar despite not having been born when the film was made. It could be because the concept of “mateship” and centrality of alcohol to the Australian way of life has not changed, and probably never will.
Or maybe it was the wonderful cinematography, which so accurately evoked the hallucinogenic dirt and dust of the searing outback. Whatever the case, despite being directed by a Canadian (Ted Kotcheff) and having a Brit (John Grant, played by Gary Bond) in the central role, Wake in Fright is a key movie about Australia and should enjoy pride of place next to the equally excellent Walkabout, which incidentally was released in the same year (also directed by a non-Australian, Nicolas Roeg).
The premise of Wake in Fright is simple. John Grant, a teacher serving a bond in a tiny outback town, is heading to Sydney to spend time with his girlfriend during term break. He stops by the mining town of Bundanyabba for a night, where he intends to take the flight out to Sydney in the morning. John heads to the local pub at Bundanyabba, appropriately named “The Yabba”, for a drink. A drink in Australia, inevitably means alcohol, which the local copper Jock Crawford (played by Australian actor Chips Rafferty, in his final role before his death) sees fit to continually ply John with.
After dinner at the local steak house, Jock introduces John to a backroom gambling den where “two-up” is the name of the game. After a brief winning streak, John loses all his money and becomes stranded in Bundanyabba, dependent on the good will of the town’s residents, such as the alcoholic doctor, Doc Tydon (played by English actor, Donald Pleasence). This good will becomes more than he bargains for as his new mates lead him into a wild, alcohol-fueled frenzy that eventually leaves him contemplating suicide.
Wake in Fright has nothing to do with the usual twists and scares of a typical horror movie but more to do with shock of waking up from a drunken stupor in which all self-control’s been thrown out of the window. For Australians, the “Fright” in the title may be the realization that this 40+ year old movie could have been made yesterday and still accurately represent a “boy’s night out” Down Under.
I had frankly never heard of Wake in Fright whilst staying in Australia, perhaps because it was not released on VHS or DVD, vanishing into obscurity after its release in 1971. Now that it’s available in its fully-restored glory on Blu-ray, I absolutely recommend this film to anyone remotely interested in Australia or indeed the destructive depths of the human soul.