Our reviews of Thirst (1979) Special Edition (published October 15th, 2008), Thirst (2009) (published November 17th, 2009), and Thirst (1979) (Blu-ray) (published March 23rd, 2014) are also available.
Surrender to an unholy, insatiable evil
Kate Davis is a successful, independent woman who lives in luxury with her maid, Lori, and her architect boyfriend, Derek. But one day, Kate's life is turned upside down when she receives a cartoon of milk which, when opened, contains fresh blood. Without warning, our heroine is kidnapped and taken to the remote compound of the Hyma Brotherhood, a cult of modern "vampires" who live off the red life force of human "cattle" all in the rational goal of achieving youth and immortality. Their "blood cows" (read: local residents) are fed a controlled diet and "milked" in a highly sophisticated facility that manufactures the heady heart brew for consumption by fellow members around the world. Seems Kate is the predestined mother of the group's next generation of offspring (having directly descended from one of their founders), but she wants nothing to do with their orgy of ritualistic murder. So the board of directors for this heretical conclave devise mind-altering conditioning treatments, exercises in psychological and physical terror, hoping to breakdown Kate's defenses, quell her misgivings, and awaken her long dormant Thirst. But when these sessions in sadism yield very little response, a new tactic is taken, one that will hopefully win the scared, potential succubus over to her rightful place in the ancestral procession of the sect.
Thirst is an excellent, atmospheric horror film that puts an interesting spin on the entire "vampire" genre of blood sucking cinema. The premise is indeed unique: a cult of seemingly normal individuals who actually run a human dairy factory, used to produce and process germ and allergy free blood products for the discriminating immortal's palate. Avoiding all the gothic trappings of a standard Nosferatu flick (stakes through the heart, late night neck biting, pre-dawn coffin scrambles), Thirst sets up a realistic, scientific deconstruction of the Dracula myth to create a class warfare fright film in which the consumption of human blood is seen as a privilege of the aristocracy—that is, as long as they are feeding on the lower echelons of society. Frankly, more could have been made out of the trickle down theory of everlasting life, but what Thirst lacks in overriding political or social dogma, it more than makes up for in tone, terror and bloodletting. This Australian vampire film understands the primal power in gore and is not afraid to splash torrents of artery juice all over the characters and screen. There are huge vats of blood, milk cartons containing said claret, sanguine showers, and bleeding walls. It also manages to sell its slightly off-center idea with resolute seriousness, never once compelled to move into a tongue in cheek satire or over the top ridicule. What Thirst does best is defy expectations. It sets up situations only to circumvent them wildly the next scene. And where other films would shy away from the whole man-animal milking idea, this one relishes it in all its biological bloodthirsty butchery.
There are several very good scare sequences here, almost all revolving around the cult's attempts to program Kate into accepting her fate as a brooder and blood drinker. These conditioning scenes play out like part nightmare, part psychosexual mind games. One in particular, set in an ancient drawing room, is an outstanding terror tour de force. It combines fantastic set design, excellent effects, eerie sound and visual cues with perfect control of tempo by director Rod Hardy to continuously crank up the fear factor. Thirst is like one long oppressive night in a decaying haunted house. There is unknown fright around every corner, but the only way to escape is to explore every unrelenting aspect of the setting. Still, none of these horror histrionics would work without a fine cast and crew. As stated before, director Rod Hardy, working from a clever script by John Pinkney, walks the fine line between technology and terror to create a near classic of the genre. David Hemmings makes a welcome, warm presence as the seemingly helpful Dr. Fraser. He charms the main character (and audience) into trusting him, only to turn on a dime of deception for his own personal power trip. On the decidedly evil side is Stephanie Cameron as the coldly scientific head of the "dairy," who wants nothing more than to have Kate accept her fate, no matter the mental or physical cost. And as our heroine, Chantal Contouri, who looks likes an older, more world-weary Elizabeth Hurley, does a fine job of expressing perplexed shock and helplessness in what is basically a scream queen role. Reminiscent of Hammer's best work in cast, style, tone and terror, Thirst is a great, lost classic just waiting to be discovered by a new generation of horror film fans
Elite Entertainment is to be commended for saving this film from relative obscurity and giving it such a wonderful DVD presentation. The transfer offered here, in an anamorphic 2.35:1 original aspect ratio has some flecks and dirt, but overall, looks shockingly good. There is excellent color timing and crispness, making the rampant bloodletting that much more impressively gory. On the sound end, Elite cannot do very much with the Dolby Digital audio track to this 24-year-old film, so they simply clean it up and offer it in a front channel dominant presentation. But as with many releases from this company, Thirst is packed with wonderful bonus elements. First, we are treated to trailers and TV spots for the film, which seem to focus more on the rather lame animated title card than the premise or power of the film. We then get a comprehensive filmography for over 15 members of the cast and crew, each with several screen shots of past credits. There is also a nice gallery of stills from the production and promotion of the film. And as a final added treat, we are presented a full-length audio commentary featuring producer Anthony Gimmane and director Hardy. It's amazing to hear Hardy talk of how he first viewed the film as a parody and how a widescreen version of the movie was basically "lost" for decades. It's also intriguing to note the number of "small world" coincidences that exist between the cast, the crew, and Hollywood circa 2003. Their alternative audio track is a wonderful, anecdotal insight into the making of this low budget Australian horror film.
Far more effective than modern retellings of the vampire legend, Thirst manages to make the usually tired tale of blood drinking fresh and frightening. It is a superb exercise in postmodern horror.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Commentary Track with Director Ron Hardy and Producer Anthony Gimmane
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