Kate Davis lives a happy life with her lover Derek (Rod Mullinar), that is until she’s kidnapped from her home and taken to a remote village. It’s there she’s introduced to a 70,000-strong cult who refer to themselves as ‘The Brotherhood’. They inform Kate that she’s in fact part of their legacy - a descendant of prolific serial killer Countess Elizabeth Báthory. Dubbing her baroness they try to convince her that she deserves to exist on a higher plane, but naturally she wants no part of it. When the cult becomes a little more aggressive in trying to persuade her to stay Kate is even more determined to escape, but her efforts to do so are futile. The only person she seems to be able to trust is the resident Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings), but he might be a bit mad as well.
Seeing that my colleague Gary Couzens has already provided an excellent overview on the works of Rod Hardy and Antony I. Ginnane I shall refer the reader to his introductions by clicking on the ‘related content’ panel, which leaves me to get straight onto the film discussion here.
Thirst is an effective little horror, but it could have been a great one. The problem is that for all its ideas it has an awful habit of meandering along, causing little confusion as to what its intended tone should be. The initial build-up is quick and tense as Kate is whisked away to an unknown location, only to discover that she’s somehow related to a bloodthirsty cult. It’s all very ambiguous and director Ron Hardy - on his first feature film - does well to establish an ominous atmosphere with some well-lit interior work and hand-held footage. But once the Wicker Man style set-up is dispensed with and Kate has escaped her captors for the first time the film goes on a loop and simply regurgitates on itself for the duration of the next hour as people try to convince Kate to succumb to her destiny. It’s during this time that Hardy finds some opportunities to throw in some kind of curious satire: a human dairy farm run by aristocrats, in which its doomed inhabitants are referred to as “blood cows”. It’s never really all that clear though exactly what he’s trying to say, and the oddly humorous take on this locale seems misplaced, never totally fitting within the darker scheme of things. On the other hand it is disturbing in a clinical sort of way, that is if you’re prone to turning away from the sight of needles and the extraction of blood…much like myself, ahem. And Thirst is very good when it sticks to the grit. Despite a bit of a laggy middle, Hardy does well to incorporate some neat little twists in order to make the script seem a bit weightier than it actually is, and in fact it’s the fantastically surreal nature of some of these sequences that provides Thirst with its best material, from bizarre dreamlike encounters to shuddering sets, which bring to mind the works of Nobuhiko Obayashi, Alfred Hitchcock, and of course Sam Raimi, the latter of whom this just barely predates.
And it certainly helps to have a capable cast. The ever-likable David Hemmings puts in a solid performance, despite the underused nature of his character for the most part, while Rod Mullinar also makes a welcome appearance; in fact look out for other Patrick stars including the title character himself Robert Thompson and a small cameo from Walter Pym. But it’s Chantal Contouri who carries the weight of the film on her shoulders and she’s barely ever out of our sight. The actress puts in a fine performance, doing well to earn our sympathies, even if she doesn’t quite nail every scene. Given her task this is a pretty demanding role, however, and she’s certainly put through her paces both physically and mentally, so you can’t help but admire her determination on screen.
I presume that this presentation isn’t greatly different from the old Elite release, in that, as mentioned during the commentary, this is the first time we get to see Thirst is its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The commentary was recorded several years back, shortly after the discovery of a ‘Lo-con’ print which was kept in storage, so all the restoration work has been previously taken care of. Synapse’s release, then, is very good. Aside from some white specks here and there the source material is in great shape. Colours are vibrant and detail is pretty good. Unless I see this in high definition it’s hard to say just how good. Certainly it’s a little soft, but judging some wide shots (which look a little like Vaseline lens) it seems to be normal. One thing, however, struck me as a little odd. I only noticed it during this particular scene, but there is evident vertical banding across the skyline as pictured below (click to enlarge)
Gary has informed me that his Australian edition of the film - of which Elite seemed to have used the same master - also contains this slight flaw.
The original mono track is fairly demanding given its limitations. It handles some of the more aggressive sound effects very well, especially during the moving room sequence, while dialogue and Brian May’s score are handled with much care.
The main feature on the disc is an audio commentary with Director Rod Hardy and Producer Antony I. Ginnane. This is an enjoyable listen, especially as both men clearly enjoy one another’s company. Both have very strong recollections of working on the film, as they say “Coming into the business when there was no business”, detailing plenty of little things like budget, theatrical showings and overseas distribution planning. They also talk fondly of their cast members and explain here and there how they wished to develop the story and find the right ending, while having a little laugh along the way. A few gaps here and there do little to spoil things.
Next is an isolated music score, which runs as a separate audio track accompanying the film. As mentioned in the audio commentary Brian May’s score has plenty of pleasant strings and all round it’s an effective one. I don’t personally listen to these type of extras, preferring a CD instead, but it’s a nice inclusion all the same.
The original theatrical trailer is interesting to see, if only for it showing the film in pan&scan. It looks absolutely dreadful; thank god for what we have now. There are also some TV Spots, filmographies and a gallery of 25 photos consisting of set photography and promo material.
Thirst is an exceptional feature film from the Australian cinema boom of the seventies; a little mixed up in places, but rewarding on account of some finely staged sequences and pretty great performances.