In the aftermath of Mondo Cane's release in the early 1960s, every exploitation filmmaker seemed eager to jump on the bandwagon and produce "documentaries" that ostensibly were made to educate audiences about shocking and weird people and practices throughout the world. Even in the 1970s, Australia was considered an exotic locale to most of the world's population. Because of its inaccessibility, travel to Oz in those days was relegated to seemingly only the most financially secure lucky souls. Thus, life in Australia seemed to be a good bet for any number of exploitation films that gave a double meaning to the term "Down Under". One of the more prominent opportunists to capitalize on this craze for the short-lived "Ozploitation" films was producer/director John D. Lamond, who churned out a number of soft-core porn films during the '70s and '80s. Among the more notable achievements was Australia After Dark, filmed on location throughout Oz in 1975. The film apparently caused a minor sensation in its initial release and was heavily edited in some countries, including England. The InterVision DVD label, in conjunction with CAV Distributing Corporation, has just found an uncut print "recently discovered in the cellar of the Lower Wonga Drive-in" according to the press release. That's appropriate because the drive-in's name alone sounds like an erogenous zone. In any event, the film's release is a welcome event as it brings us back to a time when international cinema was still pushing the boundaries on censorship.
There's nothing shocking by today's standards in Australia After Dark, though Lamond didn't punt when it came to showing extensive views of full female and male nudity. Although the movie's key premise is sexploitation, most of the more interesting segments pertain to more mainstream topics. There is a visit to the world's longest bar as well as brief but fascinating looks at ancient cave wall paintings. There's also a brief segment about a 19th century serial killer of women who nevertheless received hundreds of "fan letters" from women admirers. Lamond shoots and edits in a haphazard, anything-goes style. Thus, one minute you're paying a visit to an S&M club and the next you're viewing a beautiful young naturist swimming nude in the Great Barrier Reef. There is a pointless but extended visit with a performance artist named Count Copernicus, who - based on his billing in the film- must have been somewhat of a sensation at the time. Copernicus dresses in drag even while he gets it on with comely young women. He also cloaks his "schtick" with pretentious political protests, making him the kind of character generally spoofed in Woody Allen movies. In another segment, we view a body painting studio where uptight businessmen spend their lunch hours renting live nude models whose bodies they adorn with "art". In the most compelling sequence, we're brought inside a modern witches coven where practitioners initiate a new female member by having her ravaged by some bloke dressed as a witch doctor (Imagine the voodoo sequences from Live and Let Die if they had been rated X.) Intermingled with all this are shots of sexily-clad young women who were filmed surreptitiously for inclusion in the movie. The girl-on-the-street footage reminds us why my friend, British fashion consultant Colin Woodhead, has referred to the '70s "the decade that fashion forgot" - but it also reminds us that the era did present us with the regrettably short-lived hot pants craze. Other segments jump from alleged UFO landing sites to a visit to a shop where the owner gained fame by custom-fitting bikinis to female customers who willingly doffed their clothes to get his professional opinion.
The DVD includes a director's commentary with John Lamond and Mark Hartley, director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about Ozploitation films. Their conversation is highly enjoyable due to the lack of pretentiousness. Lamond makes no bones about his desire to make a cheap, trashy movie designed for quick playoff in Aussie drive-ins. However, he did have a loftier goal in mind. Tired of having Australians live in the shadows of the Americans and British, he wanted to do his part to show that there were plenty of local people who were equally eccentric to those seen in overseas films. The fact that by doing so, he helped reinvigorate the entire Australian film industry, pleases him to this day. He also discusses certain scenes he had to cut including footage of Trans Australian Airlines (TAA). The company agreed to fly him for free around Australia in return for promotion in the film. However, when airline executives saw the finished movie they were horrified and forced Lamond to cut all footage of TAA from the film. (Now that the airline is defunct, Lamond has restored the footage for this DVD release.) Lamond also admits staging certain sequences, though he says the participants were only recreating their normal activities. Both Lamond and Hartley come across as the kind of unpretentious guys you'd like to sit around and enjoy a cold one with and their conversation on the commentary track eclipses the merits of the film itself. At one point, Lamond stops in his tracks to comment on some nubile naked young woman by saying, "Look at that! That's all woman!" (This also has to be the only audio commentary track in memory in which both participants discuss in detail the changing viewpoints of female sexuality by making observations about the abundance of pubic and armpit hair on the female participants.) The DVD sleeve also promises a trailer gallery of Lamond's other films, but for the life of me I couldn't find it on the actual DVD.
The print of the film is only adequate and appears to have been shot through some sort of glass filter that leaves some consistent blemishes throughout. Nevertheless, it's a very enjoyable guilty pleasure and one can't fault InterVision for the film quality. After all, would you have spent time tracking this down in the cellar of the Lower Wonga Drive-In?
Australia After Dark is tacky, sleazy, and politically incorrect. I loved every minute of it.