The Demons of Horror Director Ursula Dabrowsky and Others (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

Lest we forget the Snowtown murders, otherwise known as the bodies in the barrels case which was turned into a South Australian film in 2011.

Anybody’s backyard: The Snowtown killings

My cousin was a witness at the trial and an uncle who was on the police force said when the cops discovered the barrels in the old Snowtown bank vault, the door was sealed with plastic sheeting and when they broke through the plastic, the wave of rotting human flesh had one of the cops present lose their breakfast.

The real former Snowtown bank where the barrels were kept

Snowtown is a nasty movie, premeditatedly so, like the crimes. It shows community and family dysfunction in the boondocks of Adelaide where paedophiles prey of neighbours and older brothers bugger their younger siblings. It is not a pretty picture.

Snowtown aka The Snowtown Murders (2011) trailer

In all, twelve people were murdered either for allegedly preying on children, for being homosexual or for being just plain ‘weak’. The murderers collected the social security payments of the victims. While only one victim was killed in Snowtown itself which is over 100kms north of Adelaide… the notoriety of the murders and the trial led to the town almost changing its name.

The Snowtown Murders aka Snowtown poster

The head killer is a charismatic man by the name of John Bunting who leads others in his quiet quest to clean up the neighbourhood in a “dysfunctional system”. They could almost be seen as heroes to some… but as the film progresses, we see how nasty these men really were and how little they thought of torturing another human being before finally murdering them after having caught on tape their voices saying they were going up north or interstate to live. They would use these recordings to play to the answering machines of friends or family of the victims.

I had long left Adelaide by the time these murders came around. I don’t know its effect on the city as the media reported it happening and the ensuing trial. I guess it was a part of life’s rich pageant in Adelaide.

Adelaide’s rich pageant!

The Snowtown movie has been described by critics as “extraordinary” and a “triumph” as well as a masterpiece. It is certainly a realistic portrayal and graphic in one particular torture sequence.

Snowtown is the polar opposite of The Family Murders, while the Truro murders were crimes which were only against women. One victim picked up by the Truro murderers in a shopping centre was intellectually disabled.

These are the real demons of Adelaide and I write about them with a little distaste. But I wanted to introduce to you that underbelly that haunts its inhabitants.

Upon my moving north to Queensland, my youngest sister, the one who saw the ghost, was approached by a married couple in a distinctive car while she was in the holiday town of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in the late 1980s. She turned down the ride from the couple who were trying to spirit her away in a friendly manner. It turned out these were to be the killers in the Sian Kingi murder case. Meanwhile, around the same time, while going surfing south of the Queensland border with a friend in a van which slept us both, I had an experience like the one shown in Wolf Creek 2 (2013).

Best not to lose your head under the circumstances

Sleeping in a vacant rest area in the middle of the night a car parked and idling with its headlights on the van woke me. My mate passed out stoned, I got up and couldn’t see who belonged to the voice which told me to “hide the surfboards” while the headlights obscured my vision… I did everything he said politely and without hesitation… It could have been a cop or it could have been a killer… backpackers disappeared in the south of that state. In Wolf Creek 2, the camper was rude to serial killer Mick Taylor and as a result lost his life. The two Wolf Creek movies (2005, 2013) are otherwise based on the Backpacker Murders in the Northern Territory.

The Wolf Creek movies are black comedies compared to Snowtown.

Wolf Creek 2 (2014) trailer

Then there is the movie The Hounds Love (2016). This film was highly praised and was nominated for many awards, winning several, especially for its acting.

This film harks back to my sister’s close call in Noosa, although this film is set in Perth in Western Australia back in the 1980s on the opposite coast.

British Hounds of Love (2016) DVD cover

Based on the Moorhouse murders, which were committed by a married couple who killed four women in their home, the movie has a seemingly trustworthy couple who lure a teenager into their car and take her back to their place… It starts off as somewhat of a relaxed fiction, despite the murder before the opening credits. It doesn’t have the ominous foreboding of Snowtown. But like that movie it just goes to show what can happen behind drawn curtains in everyday suburbia.

Teevee actress Ashleigh Cummings (1992-) makes the wrong decision by getting into Mr and Mrs White’s car, similar to the Sian Kingi car and it’s set within a month of her disappearance in late 1987. Invited for a drink and the promise of a stick of marijuana… The Moody Blues song Nights in White Satin, although overused in movies over the years, will never be the same if you watch the sequence as it plays in Hounds of Love.

The classic Moody Blues song Nights in White Satin. There’s a Mr White in Hounds of Love.

Whereas Snowtown had an almost documentary feel, this film is more of a theatrical fiction. The performances are good, including Stephen Curry (1976-) from hit film The Castle (1997) and AC/DC tribute film Thunderstruck (2004). He is Mr White, who rapes Ashleigh while his wife is down the shop buying cigarettes.

Serial killers Mr and Mrs White in Hounds of Love

Upon first release, Hounds of Love seemed shocking to mainstream audiences not used to the antics of serial killers. I guess it seemed it could happen in anybody’s home. But now Hounds of Love already seems a little familiar and not terribly compelling when watched again. It’s still a good movie, but it is not really a suspense film nor a character study. As a film about a disintegrating marriage while they go about committing murders, I guess it works. There’s also use of the Cat Steven’s song Lady D’Arbanville which shows you the trimmings you can have with a better than average budget. It is quaint exploitation for the mainstream market.

Hounds of Love (2016) trailer

Will Ashleigh escape from her chains, or will somebody save her, before her demise at the hands of these fiends? Director and actor Ben Young (no info) finishes the film with the song Atmosphere by Joy Division. The real Mr White hanged himself in prison like the lead singer of that band. Oh, it must be nice to have a budget!

Before Hounds of Love though, was Ursula Dabrowsky’s second film Inner Demon (2014). That film was made for far less than Hounds of Love and is based apparently on the same killers. Again, she has set her film in Adelaide, or its surrounding countryside, as it relates a story of a male and his female companion who kidnap young women or girls for what seems to be the sole purpose of killing them. In terms of its low-budget and comparative effectiveness, Hounds of Love seems to pale in comparison, yet Dabrowsky’s film won no major mainstream accolades as it seems to have been missed and lost in the flow of everyday horror product in the market.

Inner Demon poster

It is missing from many people’s lists of horror movies just like a teenager snatched from the street. It just hasn’t been given its due.

Like Dabrowsky’s first movie, Inner Demon is part murder and part ghost story.

Backed by the South Australian Film Commission as well as Dabrowsky’s production company, we have a Psycho-like opening of quick edits – an eye looking through a peephole of sorts and blood on what looks like a sheet or shower curtain.

The budget, while still relatively miniscule, is ten times what the director had at her disposal for Family Demons, as a blonde and blue-eyed girl is snatched from her home along, apparently, with her baby sister. We really don’t know what’s happened to her younger sister.

There are shades of another Adelaide abduction murder mystery, this time the disappearance of Louise Bell in terms of the younger sister’s disappearance.

Andreas Sobik is a monster in Inner Demon

Kerry Reid, who played the mother in Family Demons, plays the partner of Karl or actor Andreas Sobik, who is the main serial killer antagonist. Before she is carried off by said couple, our lead actress Sarah Jeavons promises to her baby sister she would “find a way” to save her even if she herself were dead.

Jeavons wakes in the boot of a car and when I first saw the film I immediately thought Truro murders… and from this moment on we know the entire movie will probably be an ordeal of escaping this couple – if Jeavons escapes at all! So, using a crowbar to puncture their tyre and as a weapon, she escapes into the surrounding countryside… it’s too early in the movie, of course, and she is injured with a slash across the stomach by a knife as she escapes down Truro Lane of all places to discover a cabin in the woods. No-one is home.

Jeavons takes a fateful turn down Truro Lane

Dabrowsky has improved as a filmmaker and this may be because she has had professional help in developing the film plus the luxury of a bigger budget. She is also working with cinematographer Nima Nabili Rad, who did second unit work on the much-heralded South Australian produced horror movie The Babadook (2014) which for me couldn’t live up to the critical hyperbole surrounding it upon its release.

The Babadook (2014) trailer

But it is still a good movie and is directed by Jennifer Kent (1969-) whose latest film The Nightingale (2018) swept the Aussie Oscars recently. The Babadook’s homage to silent movies, including a monster which could be inspired by the lost Lon Chaney Sr. movie London After Midnight (1927), maybe because Kent’s ancestors were one of the first filmmakers in Australia during the silent era.

Lon Chaney Sr. in the lost film London After Midnight may have inspired The Babadook

But back to Inner Demon, with a great circular dolly shot as Jeavons is lost in the woods – or the scrub – before she finds the cabin. It sets the scene in terms of the quality of cinema we are about to watch.

Jeavons enters the house and the floorboards creak beneath as she misses a picture of the actual owners of the place – the couple that kidnapped her! Hiding in the shower behind the curtain as the killers return home, she hears Reid protest to her murderous partner: “I don’t want to do this anymore… they’re getting younger and younger.”

“It’s over when I say it’s over,” Karl tells her. Such is their relationship and such is the monster that is Karl.

Jeavons goes through much in Ursula Dabrowsky’s masterpiece Inner Demon

Jeavons then sneaks into a closet in the couple’s home/cabin with its hole in the door to peep through. A good proportion of the movie is set in this closet and Dabrowsky uses it to great effect, just like Alfred Hitchcock used only a lifeboat for his entire cast for all of his movie Lifeboat. To compare it to Hitchcock is silly but I mean it on an even smaller scale if you know what I mean. In the closet, Jeavons is slowly bleeding to death. She watches as a visitor enjoying beers that night leaves and comments to Karl upon departure: “I’ve seen you… in the forest.” He’s joking, of course, but Karl gets angry in one of the best sequences of the film.

Don’t go for a beer at serial killer’s house as this visitor is about to find out in Inner Demon

I’ll say it again, like every great low-budget horror, good use is made of few sets and locations and basic ones at that. There is also a reference to witchcraft before Karl kills his guest by pummelling his skull in.

In terms of horror, Inner Demon aces Hounds of Love, which lacked the full exploitation element. That’s what probably helped make it a darling of the critics. Compare it to Snowtown, there is atmosphere in Inner Demon, whereas Snowtown had a coldness and deadness in its heart, despite its lighter moments, opposed to real atmosphere.

Jeavons is trapped inside the closet in Inner Demon

Inner Demon also hints a little at the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with its use of a chainsaw to dismember the dead guest, as well as the plastic sheeting like the shower curtain used in the original Psycho.

Jeavons by now realises the real horror of her situation and when she sifts through the backpacks in the closet, she finds the identities of girls, kidnapped and who we more than fear – are dead. And to stop herself bleeding to death, Jeavons sows her own guts up…. I won’t tell all but as the film develops to its climax, Dabrowsky seems to have made a demonic masterpiece.

Ursula Dabrowsky directs Inner Demon

If South Australia is cursed by demons, going back to the first native tribal massacres shown in The Dreaming (1988), then innocent or guilty, all of us are in a way damned by these crimes, which in Snowtown shows us that it continues in a vicious cycle in society from generation to generation. That is shown in Family Demons also. There is something ingrained in the society of Adelaide… there is a stain bleached by time and its hot summer sun but which is still really lingering there.

Inner Demon’s corpse strewn ending had the hairs on my head stand on end upon the first viewing… something which hadn’t happened to me since I saw The Conjuring 2 (2016) at the cinemas. Jaded horror viewer than I am, I caught up with this movie in the last six months.

Inner Demon (2014) trailer

As a small universe in itself – capturing the dead and dormant rage of the murdered girls of serial killers – Inner Demon is like the Revenge of the Truro murders. It is also like a ghostly rewriting of history in the manner of Tarantino but on a far more demonic level. I could also be reading something unintended, which shows Dabrowsky’s genius for the genre.

Being an Adelaide boy, maybe it was only this which gave me frissons… the ending is enigmatic and ambiguous – others may say confusing – is it pure hallucination as someone heads for the white light, or is Jeavons a ghost or just plain psychic energy? It is one of the greater endings of the genre… The breaking of a promise as seen through the eyes of others from another realm! Perhaps even only the self!

Dabrowsky’s first feature stands up to repeated viewings and so does this second one. I knew it wouldn’t scare me again… but Inner Demon is still a great movie.

Take a peek at Inner Demon. I hope you enjoy Dabrowsky’s movies and the others!

If ever there is a pantheon of South Australian horror or New Australian Gothic, Dabrowsky’s films belong there. There is more to see each time you watch. And the director’s demons aren’t from within, I hope – except in terms of her imagination. Her female protagonists are innocents destroyed by the underworld and/or the otherworld  – but they will have their day or night… destroyed by the city of Adelaide… where demons dwell either in the ether, or the woods, or even right next door!

For an interview with Ursula Dabrowsky PRESS HERE.

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