With the surge in interest in Ozploitation caused by the documentary of the same name I've been diligently trying to track down some of the cult titles mentioned in the documentary. Next of Kin certainly got some loving from Tarantino et al with the final scene of the movie featuring prominently in the doco, so I was sweating on getting my hands on a copy to both watch and review. It proved an elusive beast to track down with most online stores having sold out, another example of poorly managed Australian Distribution of local product? - but I finally discovered fishpond.com.au who not only had copies in stock but were selling them at an excellent price. The DVD duly arrived and I immediately tossed the movie at the player to settle in to see if the people claiming Next of Kin is a forgotten classic or the naysayers were correct. So good or not so good, lets light a candle over at the Montclare place.
Talk us through itbr> Linda Stevens has inherited the estate of Montclare from her deceased mother. The large colonial mansion has been operating as a retirement for quite some time but Linda is unsure if she wants to take on the responsibility of running the house and sorting out the accounts her mother has left in some disarray. Not helping is that Linda is estranged from her old friends, with the single exception of boyfriend Barney, and the housekeeper Connie and Dr Barton seem to be sharing a dark secret.
Finding her mother's diary Linda starts to read of strange events in the past, events that are starting to happen in the present. An old man drowns in the bath, just like in her mother's time, windows open by themselves, candles light themselves, and who is the stranger Linda keeps seeing outside or at her bedroom window? Montclare harbours a dark secret and Linda will need to unravel the truth before she becomes another victim. One hell of a strange movie ensues.
Ready to check out the dark corridors of Montclare?
Reviewbr> "Someone was wandering around the house last night I couldn't sleep." - Mrs Stevens diary.
I've nominate giallo as the genre Next of Kin most readily fits into rather than the more obvious haunted house or slasher genres that most reviewers are noting, the movie has elements of both. Unfortunately I can't claim true genius in making the comparison to the Italian murder mystery genre as Robert Hood first noted the similarities in an earlier review of Next of Kin. As Rob points out the giallo roots become self evident as the movie progresses and a second viewing from that point of reference is worth while in order to appreciate just what Director Tony Williams has achieved with his outback mystery.
Williams opens his movie with a slow motion scene, a risky venture in itself, as he slowly captures Linda, we learn her name later in the movie, clearly traumatised by some event making her way to the drivers side of a ute. Linda drives off and the camera pans backward indicating we are leaving something. This all becomes cool when we go full circle and visit the scene again late in Next of Kin's running time, and have full knowledge of the events that have conspired to put Linda where she is in the scene. In a seamless transition Williams then pans his camera forward to show Linda driving towards her confrontation with the forces of chaos, we may not recognise it at the time but we are in very safe hands here. At this stage of proceedings I actually let out an audible groan thinking I was dialling into another Peter Weir type stylist, who was going to substitute David Lynch style aesthetics for meat on the bone. Hey I'm here for a horror movie not an undergraduate's wet dream about surreal film making.
While admittedly Next of Kin moves at glacial speed, one of the old age pensioners could have outrun it with their zimmer frame to be honest, Williams does build a convincing style gothic haunted house atmosphere with the trappings being dealt out at regular intervals. Windows open themselves, candles are lighted by no seen hand, and bathrooms are flooded to name just a few. Interestingly it's only in hindsight that Williams alludes to an other worldly explanation for what are initially just viewed as slight irritations in Linda's life. At one stage I was even reminded of Hammer Studios at their height with Williams doing a montage of images from the house's exterior for no apparent reason, but it's spooky enough for us to award a behind for the effort that drifts off target. The Director is slowly constructing his house of cards and leading the viewer down the garden path, with the final third of the movie Williams will wrench the viewer off the garden path and kick over his own careful orchestrated house of cards to dazzling effect. Nothing is as it seems in Next of Kin which makes for one hell of a weird viewing experience.
Why the Director constructs a gothic atmisphere and then discards it remains a mystery, but it certainly is effective as a plot device.
There are two scenes within Next of Kin where Director Williams is simply going straight at the dark heart of horror without thought to his overall giallo plotting. In the first we track a cat down a hallway and into the room where strangely the body of the deceased old timer is being stored for no apparent reason, not to offend the delicate but meat goes off friends and neighbours. Anyway in one of the more brazen attempts at getting under the audience's skin we get a view of the cat nestling against the shrouded body and clearly looking at someone or something just off screen. Excellent effect and a subtle chill down the spine moment. In his second salvo at the dark genre masses Williams goes for a nightmare sequence that had me giving a standard ovation, it's simply a masterful piece of cinema. Prior to the scene Willams has focused on the dead guy's face twice to fix that visage in the viewer's mind. As Linda sleeps, she's been hearing voices and remembering her childhood in the house, the dead dude drifts to her window and starts tapping on it. Tobe Hooper was also effective with this approach in his adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot with another later night visitor. Linda wakes in Next of Kin to find it's Barney who has somehow gained access to her room rather than a more ghostly visitor. Excellent and effective sequence, and yes Williams isn't above punctuating his slowly moving epic with sudden jump scenes, one actually does involve a cat friends and neighbours and I wouldn't have put it passed Williams to have tossed the feline from just off camera.
While carefully constructing his English style gothic trappings Williams is also marching to the giallo beat with plenty of pointers that things are going to get bloody toward the conclusion for the sharp eyed and bushy tailed. The colour red plays a continued motif almost to the level of Dario Argento's infatuation with colours and what they can be used to denote. Linda's stranger who only she can apparently see, both in and outside the house, and at one stage one assumes watching Linda and Barney in the woods. And the gradual uncovering that all is not well in the state of Montclare via her mother's diaries and the medical records. Through out the viewer is constantly reminded that Connie and Dr Barton are harbouring a secret that might explain late night shenanigans of the haunting kind.
Probably the only true weakness in Next of Kin is the final act of the movie where we move away from any thought of a supernatural explanation to full on giallo blood letting. Director Williams simply goes bucked naked wild with the effects here and gallops towards a repeat dose of his opening scene. While appreciating the slow motion, overhead camera shots, and everything else Williams tacks on you get the feeling that it's all so slightly contrived. The script writers haven't spent enough time setting up the actual resolution so it all comes out of left field and slower audience members will be left high and dry as to what the hell is going down. Without giving too much away here, I simply didn't find the reason for events at Montclare in anyway convincing. The writers needed another edit maybe to nail this aspect of the movie, but it will leave a lot of viewers shaking their heads over the left field explanations, and quite possibly the state of rural policing in this Country. It should however be noted that going off the deep end is a trait of giallo that both Argento and Bava weren't adverse to using in their own movies.
Jacki Kerin (Linda) was a wonderful casting choice, besides being more than pleasant to look at Kerin nails her role without over doing it or lapsing into ockerisms. Speaking of ocker an impossibly young looking John Jarratt (Barney) manages to keep it all bottled up and will win some fans for a carefully studied role. Alex Scott (Dr Barton) simply plays it as irritating rural Doctor with an inflated ego, Gerda Nicolson (Connie) is excellent as the button downed house keeper, and Charles McCallum (Lance) added the almost Falstaff role to Kerin's character.
Special mention of Bernadette Gibson (Rita/Mrs Ryan), suitably crazed with a whole mob of roos bounding around in the top paddock.
Williams covers the T&A requirements with a quick boob shot from Jacki Kerin, don't blink, and John Jarratt showing off the benefits of sessions down the gym. Lap it up their folks equal opportunity for all.
Klaus Schulze, former member of Tangerine Dream, threw together a bunch of music that clearly was never composed for Next of Kin. We get drum heavy overtures, that isn't used in the one scene that would have benefitted from it, fading into weird almost early Pink Floyd that simply doesn't work, before matching it up with what can only be described as Euro industrial keyboards. At no stage does the soundtrack match the visuals adding to audience confusion as to just what they may be watching here.
Summary Executionbr> I enjoyed Next of Kin for the atmospherics and attention to detail that Director Williams provides. It's definitely a movie on the slow simmer but once you cotton on to the giallo roots then you are good as gold, assuming you can dance to the giallo beat. There's a mystery to be solved, Dr RB (Rita) payments, and Williams drives towards his conclusion with a clear vision of what he is doing. There's some sidetracking to be got through, just what did happen to Carol, but Williams leaves nothing unanswered and adds in enough relish to keep fans of quiet horror happy with their viewing decision. I watched the movie twice, it's so much better the second time round when you recognise the giallo elements, and would be more than happy to dive into a third viewing if anyone wants to arrive at my place armed with some wine.
As stated right up the top of this review the DVD is bloody hard to track down, you are either going to luck out on a copy (try amazon.com perhaps), or be in early and grab one of the remaining copies over at fishpond.com.au. Please note I've got no association with fishpond. In terms of the DVD package don't expect much, you basically get the movie with the option of turning the subtitles, wtf, on or off. There isn't even a scene selection option. Pretty primitive but for the most part the transfer to digital is okay without anyone bothering to clean things up. I actually thought the grainy look heightened the gothic atmosphere to be honest.
For the few readers who dig the whole Italian giallo efforts of Directors like Argento and Bava then dive on into Next of Kin. Director Williams has made a slowly paced movie that simply drips atmosphere and follows the giallo party to an out of control final act that will have you yelling for more. As a horror movie Next of Kin sucks, as a giallo it rivals Argento's Deep Red.
ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...br> br> Worth tracking down, but don't over tax yourself in doing so.