Next of Kin Review
When Quentin Tarantino was interviewed recently for Australian television, the discussion invariably moved on to his favourite films from Down Under. Two films on that list may come as no surprise: the original Mad Max (1979) and Richard Franklin’s Hitchcockian thriller Road Games (1981). His third choice on the other hand may at first seem a little more left field, being the relatively obscure Next of Kin (1982). This long forgotten little gem from the heyday of Ozploitation is now more likely to be confused with at least three other films that just happen to all bear the same title. Nevertheless, fervent fan Tarantino compares it to The Shining (1980) in terms of tone and feel, describing it as “a horror film unlike any other”. Praise indeed from a director who has, by all accounts, watched a fair number of genre movies during his days as a video store clerk.
Kiwi film-maker Tony Williams had already forged a successful career making documentaries in New Zealand when he was given the opportunity to direct Next of Kin in Australia, which would be his first feature. Originally envisaged as a comedy, Williams reworked the story into much darker territory, aimed squarely at the European market, where the Italian giallo horror-thrillers had already proven hugely successful.
The film begins as Linda Stevens (Jackie Kerin) returns to her home town after a lengthy absence, having inherited her mother’s estate, namely the grandiose Montclare retirement home, isolated deep in the countryside. Quite why Linda has been away for so long is never fully explained in the script, with her backstory reduced to merely a couple of brief lines of dialogue. There’s temptation just to sell the property, Linda considering it a huge undertaking, especially with spiralling debts. Despite this, the young woman feels obligated to stay as it has belonged to her family for decades, plus she feels compassion towards the elderly residents.
Whenever an individual comes into possession of a sprawling gothic mansion or rundown hotel in a movie, convention often dictates that the dwelling is going to have a sinister past, perhaps a supernatural presence or, if they’re exceptionally unlucky, it may even be constructed over a gateway to hell. In keeping with this tradition, Linda soon becomes aware that her presence at Montclare may not be entirely welcome, with something or someone putting on the frighteners. Candles seemingly light themselves, ominous shadows lurk everywhere, wash basins and tubs overflow and, most unnerving of all, there’s a mysterious watcher in the nearby woods. A grim discovery in a steam filled bathroom provides the film with a highly effective early scare.
Jovial manager Connie (Gerda Nicolson) and resident doctor Barton (Romper Stomper’s Alex Scott) both seem to have secrets to hide. Linda believes her mother’s diaries may unlock the truth, though these records bizarrely seem to mirror her own experiences and expose a series of inexplicable deaths in the home over the years. Plagued by unsettling dreams from her childhood growing up in Montclare, Linda starts to doubt her own sanity. This gives Williams an opportunity to incorporate some highly imaginative visual flourishes – in one nightmarish sequence an old man floats past her bedroom window submerged under water, tapping frantically on the glass as he slowly drowns.
The friendship between Linda and elderly stroke victim Lance (Charles McCallum) is nicely played, as is her burgeoning romance with old flame Barney - played by Wolf Creek’s John Jarratt, for once turning up the charm. There are also plenty of quirky moments, like the ventriloquist who arrives to entertain the elderly folk with his rather moth-eaten outback inspired puppet. “Not really joking, that koala, you know”, scolds one of the residents, “I saw that bloke’s lips move!”. Then there’s Linda’s odd preoccupation for making sculptures in the local café, interlocking cutlery to form a tower and later building a high pyramid of sugar cubes during a pivotal scene.
It is Next of Kin’s overwhelming sense of foreboding that sets it apart, even if the film does lurch into more familiar slasher territory towards the suspenseful final twenty minutes. There’s certainly style to burn, evoking memories of early Argento and Bava. Part of this success is down to the exemplary work by talented DOP Gary Hansen – who tragically died in a helicopter accident shortly after the film was completed. Don’t miss an astonishing shot saved right till last. It is also brilliantly complemented by an eerie electro score by former Tangerine Dream member Klaus Schulze. Jackie Kerin is quite wonderful too, her character fragile at first but finding that all important inner strength. She could have become Australia’s answer to Jamie Lee Curtis, but instead returned exclusively to television and some forgettable shows. Similarly, promising director Williams never made another feature film, going back to making commercials instead. On the evidence here, that’s a real shame on both counts.
Umbrella Entertainment have released Next of Kin in a sparkling new 4K scan from the original camera negative, preserving the 1.77:1 aspect ratio. From wide establishing shots of the Australian landscape to interiors that take place inside “Montclare”, the image looks simply stunning throughout. There is plenty of fine detail, with vibrant colours and accurate looking flesh tones. Blacks are suitably deep, helping to create tension in certain scenes. No signs of damage were observed.
The audio options available are DTS-HD MA 2.0 or 5.1. The latter offers a highly effective mix, from the pulsing synth score to assorted sound FX that are guaranteed to give you a jolt at strategic points.
Audio commentaries: Tony Williams and producer Tim White, plus a second with cast members Jackie Kerin, John Jarratt and Robert Ratti (moderated by Mark Hartley). The latter track is particularly good fun, with star Jarratt on fine form. If you wondered what became of Kerin, she’s now travelling around Australia reading stories to young people.
English subtitles have been included.
Next of Kin carries an “M” rating in Australia (Mature Audiences). It was last released in the UK during the early 1980s, predating the Video Recordings Act, therefore not submitted to the BBFC for a rating. However, the film is due to be classified soon ahead of a forthcoming UK release during 2019, where a 15 rating is most likely.
Image Gallery (10:37) – A selection of VHS covers, behind the scenes stills, storyboards, location sheets and press material.
Short Films (30:08) - Showcasing Tony Williams early work from 1971, including a black and white documentary, where a class of NZ school children express their ideas and talk about what “freedom” means to them. The footage is of poor quality, but it’s an interesting addition.
Extended Not Quite Hollywood Interviews (25:26) – In Mark Hartley’s superb documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008), which perfectly chronicled “Ozploitation”, Next of Kin was only briefly mentioned. Here we get the full interview with Tony Williams, who talks candidly about his career. The film was made under Australia’s popular 10BA scheme that was in place during that era, which allowed investors to claim a 150 per cent tax concession and to pay tax on only half of any income earned from the investment. Unfortunately, an imposed tight deadline meant that the film was rushed into production with only a first draft script, an aspect Williams clearly regrets.
The director is surprised at comparisons with The Shining, as he hadn’t even seen Kubrick’s classic at that point in time. Instead he and talented DOP Gary Hansen would pore over the work of Bernardo Bertolucci for visual inspiration. What comes across is the amount of effort that went into achieving certain elaborate shots, with special rigs often being constructed. The use of Steadicam was also still relatively new in the Australian film industry at that time. Williams reveals that he missed an opportunity to later direct Crocodile Dundee, which would have propelled him into the mainstream, being busy forming a company with Fred Schepisi at the time. Sadly, he would not direct any further features, instead going on to make a series of highly acclaimed commercials for television. Genre favourite John Jarratt – best known for Wolf Creek, also provides his recollections of the film.
Return to Montclare: Location Revisited (10:28) – The creepy mansion depicted is in fact the majestic Overnewton Castle in Keilor, a suburb of Melbourne. Built in the 19th Century, it has more recently become a popular place to get married or even have afternoon tea. Unsurprisingly, on the company’s official website, there is no mention of its starring role in an Ozploitation classic!
Deleted Scenes (4:26) – Several scenes were shot, but ultimately deleted from the final film. Regrettably the footage has been lost, but various stills are presented here with accompanying text to explain their content.
Before the Night is Out (2:25) – During a pivotal scene in the film, a television can be seen in the background broadcasting a dance contest. For some reason the original ballroom footage has been included here as an extra, though it has little relevance to the narrative.
Trailers – The restored original theatrical trailer (2:53), a faded UK VHS variant (2:53) and the German version (3:14). All 3 trailers reveal far too much, so beware of spoilers before watching them.
German Opening Credits: bearing an onscreen title of Montclare Erbe des Grauens
Next of Kin was released on Blu-ray (region free) by Australian label Umbrella Entertainment on 3rd October 2018. A UK release is planned by Second Sight Films in early 2019.