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Long Lost Horror Film That Left Scorsese Speechless: Recovering Australia's 'Wake in Fright'

Wake in FrightMaybe it’s the Indiana Jones in me, but I enjoy finding old film relics, be they old Super 16 non-theatrical films (the animated environmental film Flashpoint is just about the greatest thing I’ve ever seenor lost and forgotten features. So, once I heard about the film considered to be Australia’s “great lost film” I couldn’t resist. This horror flick from 1971, which has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes “disappeared” for over 25 years until the film’s editor saved it before it was destroyed. And now, it’s finally available to view online.

It’s always a little more of a magical viewing experience when the story behind the story is just as if not more intriguing. This is one of those movies. Considered to be “one of the films in the development of modern Australian cinema,” Wake in Frightdirected by Ted Kotcheff, follows a schoolteacher (Gary Bond) as he slips into madness while being stranded in a small town in the outback. Before we go into how this thing was lost and eventually found, check out the trailer below.

The film wasn’t released on DVD or VHS. After many Australian directors and film schools lamented about not being able to find and view it, the film’s editor Tony Buckley decided to track down the original print in 1994. Years later, Buckley did find it, however, in an interview with Indiewire, Kotcheff describes how close Wake in Fright came to complete obliteration.

He took two years on to try and find it and he finally found it in a warehouse in Pittsburgh, in two big boxes with inter-negatives, sound reels, everything — On the outside of the box it was marked ‘For Destruction,’ — Had he arrived one week later, they were going to make room in the warehouse and Wake In Fright would have been lost forever.

Wake in Fright stillThankfully that wasn’t the case. Honestly, I had never heard of this film before, but apparently some pretty big names have — like Martin Scorsese, who said this about it:

Wake in Fright is a deeply — and I mean deeply — unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it’s beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I’m excited that Wake in Fright has been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves

On that note — check out the film if you haven’t already. You can buy it here (thanks to VHX for the heads up) and there are 4 purchase options: some include a physical DVD/Blu-ray, digital download, posters, and other extras. Enter the code haveabeermate to get 50% off. Hurry! The deal is for this weekend only! Or you could always buy or rent it on Amazon Instant Video.

Have you ever seen Wake in Fright? What did you think about it? What is your favorite “lost” movie?


[via VHX]


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  • The great Ted Kotcheff. Vital filmmaker whose career went sort of sideways. Sounds intriguing!

  • I saw this in theatres about 6 or so months ago. I don’t want to bloviate too much, so I’ll just say it’s more than well worth anyones time to sit down with a pint and watch it. It’s really fucking good.

  • Amazing, thanks for the heads up!

    I’m try to buy the BLU-RAY copy but there’s no where for me to enter the promotional code for 50% off, right up to the complete purchase page. Any idea where it appears?

  • Alex Withers on 06.15.13 @ 6:49AM

    Definitely watching this! Incidentally, why is every nofilmschool post lately about Martin Scorsese? Don’t get me wrong – he’s a great filmmaker, but why so little mention of the hundreds of other greats around the world and throughout history?

    • This is hardly about Scorsese. If you feel like complaining, at least make it accurate.

      • I never said ‘this’ post was about Scorsese, but mentioned it due to the reference to Scorsese in the title which exacerbates the issue at hand. If you’re going to criticise me, at least make it accurate.

  • Now if we do the same and unearth “The Day the Clown Cried” and “Dream of Hamish Mose”

    • “The Day the Clown Cried” imagine, just imagine being able to view that movie.
      I don’t even care about owning a copy, i just want to be able to say I’ve seen it.
      It’s got to be wonderful,

  • Anthony Marino on 06.15.13 @ 9:06AM

    A while back I met Hershal Gorden Lewis, the man responsible for making the first real gory horror film, 10,000 Maniacs. For the 1950′s, It was a very controversial film at the time because of all the blood and gore. He was the first filmmaker at the time to show body parts getting ripped off and created the blood bath that I guess repulsed a lot of people back then. You watch the film now you’ll see so many references other horror film directors use even in their films today. Perhaps one of the most underrated people to come out of Hollywood, He was truly a pioneer and i feel kucky to have met and spent some time with him. He was such a nice man, a true gentleman. We all know or have heard of the group 10,000 maniac so I guess in some degree he was vindicated. Though he never profited off the name they choose. He said he was honored, and loved their music. If anyone ever has the chance, in my book it’s certainly a “must see”. Thanks

    • Anthony Marino on 06.15.13 @ 9:29AM

      *Correction*. Hershal Gorden Lewis made 2,000 Maniacs, that inspired the musical group 10,000 Maniacs. It’s been a while, but glad I remembered, thanks NFS. :)

  • Cool, I was looking for this film a couple months ago after hearing about it being an amazing “rediscovered” film. Will probably buy it via digital download.

  • I heard about it at the Museum Ducrós Hicken , where the “Metropolis” Berlin version was found in 2008, with 26 extra minutes censored to the world. Back in 1982, a career editor teaching us how to complete our short thriller, made several references to the climax in the “now lost Australian horror flick” and how it was an example of capturing the viewer’s undivided attention, as something we must strive for in our projects. I thought I will never see it. This is great. Thank you very much for the link and the code. Now I have a unique film to watch with friends on movie night. kudos!

  • I managed to secure my DVD copy only recently. It is one excellent movie with exquisite casting and acting performances. And it carries a variety of messages that are still current in today’s Australia.

  • Cameron Blyth on 06.16.13 @ 5:17AM

    One of the greatest films I’ve ever seen and probably the best Australian film I’ve seen. Scorsese sums it up pretty well. It’s definitely confronting, even more so as an Australian myself because its messages are so true and so powerful.

  • wow! Donald Pleasence! he was such an amazing actor… must watch this!

    • yes, and in a great performance,eh? For me, along with Christopher Plummer is one of those key actors that can master any role you request of them.

  • Justin Morrow on 06.18.13 @ 6:54PM

    This movie cold messed my head up. I can only imagine seeing it in a theater with no foreknowledge of what was about to hit. Also, Gary Bond is perfectly cast. You kind of want to smack him upside the head, and his movie star looks and sneering style are perfect. The Outback is kind of like the Appalachians for Australians, except it’s the size of North America. And full of beer. Lots and lots and lots and lots of beer.

  • Ted s. career was not bad FYI
    He worked the last decade – at least on a little show called law and order

  • Hi, Good story and great to see an Aussie classic getting some notice. I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but this film was not really ‘lost’ in Australia. It is very well known in film making circles, a classic, and has been on Oz TV many times over the past 2 decades.

  • While I agree that this is one of the Great Australian Films, I question the accuracy of you statement that it has been ‘lost for 25 years’ and now rediscovered. Lost to whom ? Maybe the copy found in the USA was just not so lucky.
    There have been both DVD and Blu Ray copies readily available in Australia for many years.
    I for one have had a Blu Ray copy since 2011 at least. Please check your facts with industry people in Australia, we still exist, be we small in number, but very large on talent.

    • This quote is from the Indiewire article I sourced above:

      “Half the money put up for the movie was Australian and 25 years later, Australian directors, Australian film schools, would say, ‘Hey we would like to see this film. But we can’t find it.’ They looked in Sydney, they looked in London, and they couldn’t find it,” Kotcheff said. “Then the editor, a wonderful man named Tony Buckley, made it his job to try and find this negative. He took two years on to try and find it and he finally found it in a warehouse in Pittsburgh, in two big boxes with inter-negatives, sound reels, everything.” Buckley’s timing couldn’t have been better. In a turn of events worthy of “Wake in Fright,” Buckley saved the film in the knick of time. “On the outside of the box it was marked ‘For Destruction,’” Kotcheff said with a nervous giggle. “Had he arrived one week later, they were going to make room in the warehouse and ‘Wake In Fright’ would have been lost forever.”

      I assumed it had been lost for 25 years, but re-reading it the timespan seems more ambiguous. However, it really was lost — even in Australia.

  • I just got it from Netflix and sat spellbound and horrified. Truly incredible filmmaking reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah.

  • I saw this film on its first release here in Australia and was completely blown away.Was a commercial failure here because Australian audiences didn’t want to see their underbelly so exposed. It is still the same today where the film is revered by those “in the know” and the expose is still true for some sections of Australian society today. Still one of my fave Aussie films of all time,directed by the great Ted K (a Canadian!)

  • I love being Australian. Warts and all.

  • Geoff lLongford on 06.23.13 @ 7:02AM

    A great Aussie film.I saw it on the ABC only in the last 5 months so I don’t think it was that lost.

  • Well, as interested as I might be in seeing this film, simply because of what’s been said about it, I must say that the trailer leaves a lot to be desired. If I didn’t have this little bit of background to it, I wouldn’t even think about watching it.

  • I am not saying this is a bad thing, but we were forced to watch this at school, for an assignment, sort as around the time it came out, or soon after.

    It’s an excellent movie.

    But it’s horrifying in accurate portrayal of the booze fucked “Aussie Culture”.

    It’s like an alcohol fueled “out back Australian version” of the film (from the book) “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – and it predates that too, by like 30 or so years.

    It’s horrifying because it’s life like – watching the movie is like being in the real world – but behind the camera observing it.

    It’s THE “Nightmare on Elm Street” of the alcohol addicted rural Australian Family and social networks.

    It’s funny – it’s so well done, and it’s not horrible as in beheadings and shoot them up American movies and all – it’s the nightmare of the out-of-control-ness…

    Reality is way scarier than fiction..

    This is very real.

  • Chuck Ellis on 02.20.14 @ 10:14AM

    Chilling. Absolutely bone chilling. Reminds me of an American film from around the same time that also went missing, MORTAL REMAINS by Karl Atticus. Supposedly a gore-soaked frenzy similar to what H.G. Lewis was doing in the ’60s. Unavailable for viewing anywhere, probably unlikely to ever be seen again…one of those b-movies that gets swept off the books and forgotten for whatever reason.