Thirst (Australia, 1979)
After greatly enjoying Patrick in 2020’s challenge, I knew I wanted to return to the golden age of Ozploitation. Australian cinema of the 1970s produced some wild horror films and thrillers, packed with the kind of imagination that makes up for any shortcomings of budget.
I didn’t know anything about Thirst beyond it being an Australian vampire film of the period. While I have a soft spot for vampire movies, there are an awful lot of unimaginative ones out there. Happily, Thirst proves to be something rather unique.
Thirst is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Kate Davis has some kind of high-flying job which affords her a nice house and a live-in housekeeper to, er, keep it. She also has a beefy boyfriend, Derek, whose mid-length hairstyle and lush moustache combo could only have existed in the late ’70s.
All of this is torn away from Davis when she is kidnapped by a shadowy cabal. “The Brotherhood”, as they call themselves, are vampiric aristocrats whose interest in blood as lineage is only matched by blood as nourishment. They believe Davis to be a direct descendent of the notorious Countess Bathory and rightful heir to her place in The Brotherhood.
Unsurprisingly, Davis reacts poorly to all this and rejects their recruitment pitch. The Brotherhood embark on a carrot-and-stick approach to convincing Davis that her future lies in vampirism. Along with promises of unnaturally long life, Davis’s captors show her the conveniences available to the modern vampire. These largely revolve around industrialised farms and treatment facilities, ensuring a constant supply of fresh, healthy human blood.
At the same time, The Brotherhood embark upon a programme of psychological torture, designed to break down Davis’s defences using drugs and mind games. Dr Fraser, a more moderate member of the cabal, worries that Davis may be driven mad by the process. Despite these risks, his colleagues will stop at nothing to make Davis embrace her true nature.
The portrayal of the industrialised farming of human blood is the most chilling aspect of Thirst. Everything is so efficient and clinical. The human livestock may be kept well but their wills are utterly broken. They are one step above the animalistic human herds of Agustina Bazterrica’s nightmarish novel Tender is the Flesh, but they are definitely of the same ilk.
At the same time, the human farm feels like a cult compound. The cattle wear identical white uniforms and are subject to endless psychological manipulations and veiled threats. Even those who retain some survival instinct are too cowed to resist.
The vampires of Thirst are unusual. They walk by daylight and claim no supernatural origins. More than providing sustenance, they believe that drinking blood is “the ultimate aristocratic act”. If not for their long lives and dietary preferences, they would be completely human. In fact, they are so divorced from classical vampirism that they even lack fangs. On the rare occasions they feed directly from victims, purely for ritual purposes, they don metal prosthetics over their human incisors.
From the conspiracy thriller underpinnings to a theme song so painfully anchored in the period, Thirst is the very essence of the 1970s. The helicopter stunts in particular feel like they could only have come from the time. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a condemnation. The ’70s may be my favourite decade for horror movies and seeing them distilled so perfectly into one film is wonderful.
There are a number of strands of horror in Thirst, but they never clash with each other. The conspiracy of vampires is probably the most mundane aspect, although it is executed imaginatively. The in-fighting between different factions and their obsession with status and legitimacy feel all too real. Davis’s psychological torment at the hands of The Brotherhood becomes an endless series of nightmares, undermining the viewer’s sense of reality as much as hers. But the greatest horror comes from the sheer mundanity of the industrialised blood farm. The haunted, beaten expressions of the human cattle will haunt you long after the credits roll.
We are still early in the challenge, but Thirst is a strong contender for film of the month. While it might not have too many scares, its overall effect is one of dread and even despair. For such a bloody film, this is psychological horror of the finest sort.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!
The problem I’ve always had with ‘vampires get organised’ films is that vampires are the ultimate selfish creatures. There is no way a cabal of vampires could work together to subjugate humans.
It’s antithetical, and it makes my brain itch.
That’s sort of addressed in Thirst. The cabal is much less effective than they should be because of all the infighting. The film would probably have been 15 minutes long if they’d all just worked together.