HORROR ICON OF THE MONTH: JOHN JARRATT

G’Day everyone.  Rhiannon Irons, a.k.a Ahlephia, here with the latest member of the Horror Icon Hall of Fame.  And we’re waving the Australian flag proudly.

When it comes to horror (and scaring the bejesus out of an entire nation), this man certainly knows what shocks an audience.  A lovable larrikin, this man’s transformation from all-round good guy to scheming villain left Australia shaking in its boots.  Ladies and gentlemen, from the shores of Down Under, I present this month’s Horror Icon: John Jarratt.

John was born on August 5th, 1951 in Wongawilli, a small rural town near Wollongong, New South Wales.  His father was a coal miner before switching professions and becoming a concreter who worked on the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme.

John’s love of acting came about after he directed a high school play which was a great success.  So much so that his principal recommended that acting might be a sort out profession for John.  Under that advice, John applied for NIDA and graduated in 1973.

Two years later he would begin his acting career in the movie The Great MacArthy.  That same year John’s horror career would begin with the role of Albert Crundall in Picnic At Hanging Rock.  The storyline behind Picnic At Hanging Rock is three students and a teacher disappear on a school excursion to Hanging Rock in Victoria on Valentine’s Day 1900.  (Fun Fact:  This movie is widely regarded as being based on a true story yet this is innocent.  It is simply a fictitious movie based on a novel of the same name)

In 1977 John moved into the thriller category of cinema with Plunge Into Darkness and Summer City, the latter starring opposite Mel Gibson.

The following year, John found himself alongside Ray Barrett, Jack Thompson and Steve Dodds in the biography/crime/drama story The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith.  The story of Jimmie Blacksmith is a true story of a part aboriginal man who finds the pressure of adapting to white culture intolerable, and as a result snaps in a violent and horrific manner.  If you can find this film, I highly recommend it.

In 1982 the horror genre came knocking again with Next Of Kin.  This time John was one of the main characters in a story about a rest home for elderly people.  Doesn’t sound horrifying but when a daughter reads her elderly mother’s diary, the events listed in the diary suddenly begin happening to her.  Tony Williams directed John alongside Jacki Kerin and Alex Scott.  The story is vastly underrated and is a fantastic way to pass the time.

John teamed up with Nicole Kidman and Steve Dodds in 1983 for a TV movie entitled Chase Through The Night.  This drama/thriller is about a group of harden criminals who are on the lam.  They take refuge in the badlands of the outback.  When they discover a small settlement, they take hostages just in case if the law shows up.  Not great, but I have seen worse.

In 1987 the horror genre called, and John was more than delighted to answer that call.  Dark Age was once again set in the Australian outback and saw John in the role of a park ranger who, along with two local guides, set out to track down a giant salt water crocodile that has been killing and eating the locals.  (Fun Fact: You are more likely to be eaten by an Australian Salt Water Crocodile than any other animal on the planet)

Now, I admit that I’m a sucker for killer animal movies, regardless of whether they’re sharks, crocs or even razorbacks.  But the problem I had with this film is that it’s more an “Ozploitation” (Australian exploitation) picture than a serious film.  If it didn’t have one of the local guides discovering that he shared ESP with the crocodile, I think it would have been a much greater film.  In saying that, it’s certainly not a boring film and it has a few good scenes that leave you wanting more.  The ending alone is different and should satisfy most horror fans.  It is a rare movie, but if you can find it, it is certainly worth the watch.

From 1983 to 1991, John appeared on the long running soap/drama, A Country Practice.  Showing off his loving, more gentle nature as three different characters, John became a house hold favourite.

In 1996, John returned to our televisions alongside his wife at the time, Noni Hazlehurst, hosting a home improvement show called Better Homes And Gardens.  John proved himself to be quite the handy man and much to the surprise of Australians, we learned that while he was filming movies, John was actually a carpenter/builder by trade who worked on the council.  It was during his stint on Better Homes And Gardens that we really saw his larrikin side come out to play.  Sadly, during his time on Better Homes And Gardens, John and Noni divorced.  Noni stayed on to host the show until 2006 while John took some time away from both the TV and movie screen.

In 2000 he returned to TV with an appearance on Water Rats before starring in the TV family series Outriders in 2001.

But his return to the big screen was in 2005 with a little well known horror movie entitled Wolf Creek.

Now, if you’ve been an avid reader of Truly Disturbing, you would know that I’ve spoken very highly about Wolf Creek, even going as far as writing an in depth review about what makes this movie so terrifying from an Australian stand point.  That review was even featured on the app Return To Wolf Creek, which is available now.

But what some of you might not know about the film is that even between takes, John remained in character.  That would have been enough to have me running for the hills.

The film was also shot by doing a couple of takes sticking rigidly to the script, and then allowing the actors to improvise.  Many of the scenes that made it into the movie were the improvised material and much of Mick Taylor’s colourful dialog was improvised by John Jarratt.

John’s performance in Wolf Creek was so chilling that it left Australian horror fans scratching their heads as to why he was snubbed for an AFI award.  His ability to dive into such an evil persona was enough to put this Aussie off travelling around the country.

The reason that his performance was so chilling is that John is a method actor and spent weeks prior to filming living in the Australian desert preparing for the role of Mick Taylor.  In addition to that, he also avoided bathing before shooting so he would have a much more rugged appearance.  Furthermore, the idea for Mick to have a creepy laugh was Jarratt’s own idea and it took him four months to get it just right.  He also created a detailed biography of the character, although he still hasn’t revealed the details to anyone, leaving Mick Taylor to be an enigma.

In 2007 John came face to face with another man eating salt water crocodile in Greg Mclean’s Rogue.  The movie sees Michael Vartan as a travel writer, writing about the Australian outback, joining a group of people going on a river cruise through the Kakadu National Park.  Kate (Radha Mitchell) is the boat captain and John is a quiet man by the name of Russell.  Russell was a minor role for a man with such talent, but judging from the urn that he carried protectively and the way he placed the ashes onto the water, you could tell the Russell has just lost his wife or a loved one.  Stephen Curry and Sam Wothington also starred, both of them in roles that were beneath their talents.

I was very critical of Rogue.  Yes, it is a nicely paced adventure/horror, but the inaccuracies and plot holes take away from the brilliant acting and jump worthy moments.  Fun way to kill a couple of hours but easily forgettable.

In 2010, John Jarratt returned to horror in a little movie known as Bad Behaviour.  Intersecting storylines including murderers, police, teachers and teenagers leave this film as something I thoroughly enjoyed.  It was darkly humorous and yet still managed to be severely violent.  If you can find it, it certainly is a must watch.

That same year John teamed up with Craig McLachlan and Chris Haywood for Savages Crossing.  (Fun Fact: Savages Crossing was filmed in Ipswich.  Ipswich was one of the towns that found itself completely underwater during the January 2011 floods that wiped out most of Queensland)  John took a crack at co-writing this film and while I found it somewhat enjoyable, the storyline isn’t made clear so you’re left with wondering what exactly happened.  I was expecting a brutal horror movie but instead I felt that film fell into the lame thriller category.  In saying that, John’s performance could not be faulted as a man who has just left prison (or maybe rehab.  It’s not made very clear what his back story is other than he’s a bad man).  Savages Crossing is forgettable, but if you’re a fan of John Jarratt’s work, then check it out.  Just don’t expect a Wolf Creek like film.

I’m always a little worried when an actor is listed in the credits as a coroner.  And in the 2010 movie Needle, that’s what John is listed as.  Paul, the coroner.  Filmed in Perth, Australia (that’s the capital of Western Australia for those not familiar with the country) this movie is rather interesting.  After the death of his father, archaeology student Ben Rutherford inherits an 18th century mechanical device known as “Le Vaudo Mort”.  At a college party he flaunts the machine in front of a group of his closest friends and later discovers that the machine has a sinister past and may harbor supernatural powers.  After class he returns to his dorm room to find that the contraption has been stolen. One by one, Ben’s friends begin to die in strange and horrific circumstances.  Now he must reunite with his estranged half-brother, Marcus, a forensic photographer, and delve deeper into their father’s past to work out who is behind the grisly murders.  As the terror mounts and the clues seem to suggest the unthinkable, a surprising twist will reveal the true identity of the killer.

This movie has had a lot of bad reviews, but I don’t believe it was worthy of such a harsh response by critics.  Yes, it is low budget, but it’s done very well.  There are some genuine scares within the movie and the story is a fresh idea.  It does have a slower pace than most slashers, and that seems to be the main criticism of this film, however I think that’s unjust.  The character building in this movie can’t be faulted and as they’re getting killed off, the audience actually feels the tension between the characters mounting until the climatic end.  It really is a murder mystery movie done right.  If you can find Needle, I highly recommend checking it out.  As someone who thrives on my detective skills, I couldn’t work out who the killer was.

More recently, John teamed up with fellow Horror Icon Of The Month, Danielle Harris, in a little movie called Shiver.  Shiver’s storyline is about Wendy Alden, a young secretary in Portland lacking in self- confidence becomes victim of a savage killer who has claimed the lives of a number of other women.  Somehow Wendy finds the resources of courage to fight back and escape.

Living up to his Wolf Creek villain status, John is the bad guy, and from what I’ve seen through the trailer of the film, his performance will leave more psychological scars on the audiences.

As 2012 rapidly comes to an end, John is edging closer to returning to the Australian outback in the highly anticipated Wolf Creek 2, due to start filming in January 2013.  Greg Mclean is back on board as both writer and director and John is back as the villainous Mick Taylor.  The only question remains is how many victims will he chalk up this time.  Mick’s back….with a few days to kill.

John Jarratt.  A man of a thousand talents who is vastly underrated when it comes to his craft.  His performance as Mick Taylor will forever live in the minds of all who have experienced Wolf Creek and his love of horror, regardless if he’s the villain or not, will live on through cinema.  As the first ever Australian to have the Horror Icon Of The Month bestowed upon them, John Jarratt can play my leading man any day of the week.

 

 

Ahlephia’s Top 5 John Jarratt Movies

1) Wolf Creek (2005) – See John at his scary best in a role that no one else could play to such perfection.

2)  Needle (2010) – Vastly underrated movie that will leave you guessing until the very end.

3) Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) – See where John’s horror career began.

4) Dark Age (1987) – A man eating crocodile and only John can stop it.  Great, campy fun film.

5) Shiver (2011) – Though I haven’t seen it yet, John Jarratt teamed up with Danielle Harris is a must see for all horror fans.

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