While exploitation movies ruled the U.S. box office during the 1970s and ’80s, in the land down under, a group of Australian B-movie mavens were churning out profitable, low-budget flicks as well. While these gritty Aussie exploitation movies (dubbed “Ozploitation” by aficionados) never spawned any worldwide breakout hits (aside from Mad Max), they form a unique and neglected piece of movie history.
Now, thanks to Australian director Mark Hartley (making his feature debut after an award-winning run of music videos and short films), these hidden cinematic treasures are about to be unearthed with the release of Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!. The film marks the first full-length documentary chronicling the heyday of Ozploitation cinema; a time when movies featuring copious amounts of sex, violence and jam-packed action ran rampant at Australian movie theaters. Not Quite Hollywood is also chock full of outrageous, enlightening anecdotes from a large cast of local and international names, including Quentin Tarantino, Dennis Hopper and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Just before the movie’s release on July 31, MM spoke with Hartley about his infectious love for this forgotten—but essential—cinematic era and how none other than legendary moviemaker (and die-hard Ozploitation buff) Quentin Tarantino helped him get the movie made.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): What initially compelled you to make a documentary about Australian B-movies of the ’70s and ’80s? Have you always been a fan?
Mark Hartley (MH): I stumbled across Aussie genre films on late-night TV when I was a kid. When I tried to read about them in library books on Australian cinema, I discovered they had been either derisively dismissed or totally ignored.
After film school I forged a career making music videos and I would hire old-school crews who had worked on my favorite Australian genre movies. Chatting with these guys at lunch, I discovered that the stories behind the scenes on these gonzo films were even more outrageous than the footage on screen, so I decided to make a documentary that would finally shine an irreverent spotlight on this forgotten collection of down-under cinematic sex, violence and foot-to-the-floor action—which I dubbed “Ozploitation.”
MM: Supposedly, Ozploitation devotee Quentin Tarantino helped you get the film off the ground. How did that come about?
MH: This was a hard film to get financed, because it isn’t easy to convince government funding bodies to invest in a documentary that celebrates a large body of work that they’re eternally and unapologetically ashamed of! After about five years of knock-backs I gave up. Then I read an interview with Tarantino, where he spoke about his love of Australian genre films. We tracked down his e-mail and sent his assistant a 100-page research document I had written. It wasn’t to lure him to the project—which I thought was dead—I simply thought that he would enjoy reading it. The next day I got an e-mail back saying, “Quentin will do whatever he can to help you get this project up.” So we flew to L.A., shot an exhaustive interview with Tarantino and I used that as a pitch to get the film made. Having Tarantino in the film ultimately helped secure investment and distribution from Magnet Releasing, Optimum Releasing and Madman Cinema and that triggered the rest of the financing in Australia.
MM: How long did the documentary take to complete?
MH: It took eight years to get financed and then a couple more to produce. We ended up with 150 hours of interview footage plus 150 hours of the feature film footage plus 50 hours of archival material—so just watching that amount of material took a fair while. Culling it down into a cohesive 100 minutes was quite an undertaking. The edit was also difficult because I had to assume that a majority of the doc’s audience wouldn’t be familiar with the films featured in it (with the possible exception of Mad Max) so the question was, ‘How much information do we need to give before we cut to the funny stories (of which there were plenty)?’ It was a daily battle in the edit suite between information and entertainment. I hope we got the balance right.
MM: Did making this documentary change the way you view Australian genre cinema? If so, how?
MH: One of the main criticisms of these films within Australia was, “Why are we making American-style films here—we should be making Australian films!” And to be fair, a few Australian producers were trying to fool the world into thinking some of these films were made in the U.S. or the U.K. So it was interesting that when I spoke to a fan like Tarantino (who caught these films outside of Australia) he saw something distinctly Australian about them. Whether it was the way we filmed our car chases or used the weird Aussie environment as a backlot, these films had a unique Australian sensibility that we didn’t pick up on watching them back home.
MM: Ultimately, what do you hope audiences will take away from Not Quite Hollywood?
MH: It seemed to me that Ozploitation was the last bastion of unexplored genre cinema, so I hope that audiences leave a screening with a list of Ozploitation titles they’d like to add to their Netflix queue. Trust me, there are some very good—and very bad—ones out there just waiting to be experienced.
BONUS: Check out the next page for Mark Hartley’s five recommendations for the Ozploitation newbie!
Mark Hartley’s Ozploitation Primer
The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and Yu Wang
This action-packed, home-grown, martial arts extravaganza starred Australia’s very own James Bond, George Lazenby, as a kung-fu kicking Sydney drug lord pitted against co-director Jimmy Wang Yu. Nicknamed “Kung Fuhrer” on set, Jimmy made it clear that he wanted to be the auteur on set—just watch him beat the living crap out of director Brian Trenchard-Smith in the elevator shaft scene.
Long Weekend (1978)
directed by Colin Eggleston
Journeyman Director Colin Eggleston (Sky Pirates, Fantasm Comes Again) miraculously hit pay dirt with this taut, ecological thriller penned by Oz cinema’s most prolific genre scribe, Everett DeRoche. A bickering couple goes on a camping holiday, disrespects the bush and suffers the consequences. When possums, sea eagles, ants and dugongs are against you, be warned: It’s time to pack up and head back to the big smoke!
Mad Max (1979)
directed by George Miller
When it comes to raw automobile action, nothing comes close to the first Mad Max movie. Shooting in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, doctor-turned-novice-moviemaker George Miller battled a weary television crew to get his post-apocalyptic vision onto the drive-in screen. The overly camp biker behavior and futuristic disco scene may securely tie this film to the late ’70s, but the in-your-face car chase footage has yet to be equaled.
directed by Richard Franklin
After the success of Patrick (1978), an atmospheric thriller about a comatose patient with psychic powers, director and Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin and writer DeRoche turned their attention to Rear Window, adapting the plot to a truck driver crossing the Australian desert. They threw into the mix a couple of high profile imports (Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis—who unfortunately spends way too much screen time stuffed in a sleeping bag), Aussie stunt icon Grant Page as a demented serial killer with a fetish for dismembering hitchhikers, a bevy of ghoulish travel games and a climax that turns into the slowest car chase in film history. In doing so they created a severely underrated, first-class thriller.
Turkey Shoot (1981)
directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Originally conceived as a futuristic moral tale about an out-of-control totalitarian society, Turkey Shoot, also known as Escape 2000, ultimately became (courtesy of director Trenchard-Smith) an exercise in high-camp splatter. Toes are ripped off and eaten, bulldozers cut hairy freaks in half, Aussie TV Queen Lynda Stoner has her face punctured with an exploding arrow by a carnivorous lesbian! Almost 30 years after its release, the film now stands as a sincere plea to bring back tax incentive funding in Australia.