Dark Age (1987)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Arch Nicholson Reviewer :
Writers Sonia Borg, Stephen Cross, Tony Morphett
Starring John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Burnham Burnham, David Gulpilil
Genre Nature Attacks
Tagline Death is only one bite away
15 second cap Giant Croc attacks in Northern Territory, Steve Harris joins Koori capture party


"Poor Bastard, should have brought him with us, could have used him as bait" - Jackson

Local Park Ranger Steve Harris is all about protecting the Northern Territory Salt Water Crocodile population and stopping the poachers from rampaging through the environment like Young Liberals intent on giving out uranium mining rights. This is a bit unfortunate as a large "Saltie" is currently on the prowl decimating the local redneck population while picking off the odd Koori. Town Hall wants the Saltie's head as investment and tourism is at risk from the rioting reptile, while the local Koori Elders want the Croc rescued and retuned to it's normal environment, apparently heavy rains have confused the behemoth and it's headed into unfamiliar waters.

With the death toll rising and the white fellas unable to find the Saltie, Steve with help from locals Oondabund and Adjaral heads out into the mangroves to try and capture the rambunctious reptile. It's a race against time as poacher Jackson and his band of beer swilling Bogans are also after the Croc, though they just want to get a head. Can Koori dreamtime beliefs win out over white fella firepower in back country Australia? Lock and load folks, we're going Croc hunting.

Dark Age took quite some time to arrive on DVD Downunder due to copyright and other legal shenanigans. At one stage I thought about importing the region 1 release, hey who doesn't love them a giant croc movie, but the announced release in that region fell over as well. Finally, and to cut a long story short, Umbrella Entertainment got the rights to the movie and released a no frills disc into the wild, so two big thumbs up to Umbrella.

Director Arch Nicholson opens his movie with the sort of panaromic shot that the Northern Territory Board of Tourism love, he then cuts to Helicopters and Jackaroos herding cattle through the dusty landscape. Jackaroos are Aussie Cowboys if wondering. Anyway we cut to a camp next to a river as the crew settle in for a few brews and steak after a hard day on the range. Dude leads a horse down to the river to drink, and wham bam thank you mam, first croc attack of the evening to get things rolling. Not sure if the croc actually got the horse or the Jackaroo, action was way too kinetic to pick up details. Tidy start to the movie, though maybe it needed another minute on the tranquil long shots that kicked things off, Greg Mclean clearly under the influence would get this exactly right in Rogue.

The movie operates on the surface as a monster flick in the same style as Jaws, even down to the trio sent out to face the beast. Steve Harris, played by an impossibly young John Jarratt, is the dude who has the scientific knowledge of Crocs yet is restricted by the Koori belief in the big Saltie as being "Numunwari" in the face of white fella belief in firepower and technology. The Croc proceeds to take out a number of victims, including a young boy - once again mirroring Jaws, before the final showdown between, surprisingly our heroes who want to preserve the creature, and of course the powers that be and various rednecks who want to take the expedient path of simply culling the Croc. Naturally there's a love interest, allowing Producer Tony G to get boobs on screen - thank you Ms Nikki Coghill, and various other standard tropes. Director Arch Nicholson was well aware that he was making Jaws in the Aussie mangroves, and thus Dark Age has more in common with Razorback, than the more obvious Croc movies Black Water or Rogue. There's a faint hint for mine that a few scenes may have got trimmed way too much as a few things seem to happen out of the blue.

Combating the overt Jaws comparisons Dark Age has a number of mythical elements provided by and largely by Burnham Burnham 's Oondabund. The belief is the whites won't succeed in killing Numunwari as they have no understanding of what they are dealing with. Equally Oondabund's family seem to have a connection to the Croc going back at least three generations, to the extent that when one of the males dies they feed a couple of the decease's bones to the prehistoric terror. There's talk of being able to sing to the beast, a sort of Crocodile whisperer, and the not so subtle referencing of Koori manhood to our aquatic menace.

The clear indication here is that Kooris know about their environment and the beasts that may stalk it, while the white fellas are babes in the woods. Normally I would be cool with this concept, societies keeping to their traditional values are probably more in tune with the natural order, but it's slightly overdone in Dark Age to possibly not a good beat of the drum.

Which of course makes the scene where Steve Harris' white bread love interest Cathy intuits that something is wrong moments before the Croc makes the scene even more ludicrous considering she is in the midst of a Koori community at the time!?! Of course it could be argued that the old maternal instinct is kicking in, but hey there's stretching things and then there's stretching things, though the plot makes the wanting a kid thing a major point in the relationship problems between Steve and Cathy.

In amongst the various elements and themes we do actually get a half decent movie going down. Director Nicholson is all up in the tension and atmosphere with some scenes simply dripping in the good oil. Nicholson nails his scenes at night on the water, but could perhaps be held accountable for not using the Cairns locations to their best during the course of the movie. They are in frame from time to time but are used merely as background noise rather than setting the scene as one would expect.

While the pacing of the movie might be a tad slow at times, especially for modern audiences more used to the frantic pace of Hollywood no brainers, the movie does move to its own rhythm that had me rocking along to Director Nicholson's beat. Let's face facts here, only in Australia would you get a car chase involving a truck carrying a 25 foot man eating, queue the Halls and Oates music, crocodile.

In terms of the creature feature aspects of the movie, spot on till the very end when the Croc was lumbering across Country from a crashed truck to a Billabong. Good use of live footage interspersed with the animatronics to get things happening. I'm actually going to sign off on this aspect, while not being "A" list Weta Studio creatures, the Crocs were certainly holding their heads up in "B" grade splendour.

Danny Beckerman laid down the score, heavy on the keyboards, and it worked like a brought one with dramatic movements during the night time mangrove scenes, though I didn't note it as much during the daytime scenes. Good interspersing of traditional Koori sounds had me clapping my hands like a five year old at the ice cream parlour.

I was digging Director Nicholson's beat driving through Dark Age. Plenty of Croc POV ala Jaws added to the menace, your typical bogan antagonists were working for me, and who doesn't like genre heavy weight John Jarrett in a fright flick. If they had of turned down the Koori dreamtime overlays slightly I would be calling classic, however the movie is a bit top heavy with that stuff. It's definitely dated but still very watchable, full recommendation to Aussie horror fans and to those OS who might like to see what the locals can do with a Croc movie.

Dark Age, don't worry the title didn't make any sense to me either, is available from Umbrella Entertainment for around $20, not sure on foreign availability. Think it might also be on one of the Ozploitation box sets for those wanting to test non-dark genre waters as well.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Solid giant Croc movie that belabours the Koori thing slightly too much