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Blu-ray Review: Down-Under Oddity “Next of Kin” Turns Ozploitation Upside-Down

Saturday, March 16, 2019 | Blu-ray/DVD

By ROCCO THOMPSON

Starring Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, and Alex Scott
Directed by Tony Williams
Written by Michael Heath and Tony Williams
Severin Films 

Dubbed by Quentin Tarantino “a horror movie unlike any other,” Tony Williams’ NEXT OF KIN (1982) has remained largely unseen in the US despite its reputation as one of the most arresting films released during the Ozploitation boom of the 70s and 80s, when Australia’s introduction of the R rating ushered in a flood of low-budget genre films and the country’s New Wave of filmmakers. Arguably, the most famous of the bunch remains George Miller’s THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) which would spawn the “mad max” franchise, while other notable films such as WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971) and RAZORBACK (1984) are well-known in horror circles. With mad bushwhackers, dune-buggy riding pirates, and killer pigs raising bloody hell in the dusty environs of the country’s deadly outback, it’s no wonder that even casual fans of Ozploitation have passed over NEXT OF KIN, concerned as it is with supernatural occurrences, buried secrets, and scare-making of an older school. But make no mistake: this giallo-tinged haunted house oddity is no less gutsy than its more rough n’ tumble cinematic cousins, and is finally available in a region-free package thanks to Severin Films.

After the passing of her mother, Linda (Jackie Kerin) inherits a palatial retirement home named Montclare, to which she relocates to assume the duties of running it along with a staff of shifty caretakers. After a rash of strange deaths visit the place, Linda turns to her mother’s trove of personal diaries to unravel the mysteries of Montclare and discover the cause of the mysterious killings.

Though NEXT OF KIN begins with shots of the sun-baked, heat shimmering Australian vistas viewers would expect, the action, by and large, is confined to Montclare, a Victorian Tudor style manor that appears plucked from the very European grounds that birthed the gothic elements that flavor the story. Exteriors were shot at Victoria’s Overnewton Castle, but the film is more indebted to Daphne Du Maurier than Joan Lindsay. Adding to this sense of displacement is the cinematography of the late Gary Hansen, who uses extreme angles and a lurking Steadicam to weave an atmosphere of dreamlike unease that has caused some to label NEXT OF KIN “SUSPIRIA down under.” But where Argento’s film places its heroine within a dark neon fantasy, Williams and Hansen seek to make the film’s visual world a projection of her fragile emotional state, where reality is mutable and uncertain. Are the denizens of this retirement home as feeble as they seem, or is there something malevolent lurking behind their dementia-clouded eyes? Was Linda’s mother mad, or was someone or something trying to drive her to madness? In the fashion of a good gothic psychodrama, NEXT OF KIN is a slow-burner where mental decay isn’t just hereditary, it may be catching, and the stink of unsettled familial wrongs leaches from every pane and board of Montclare’s antideluvian edifice. 

Severin presents the film in an AVC encoded transfer taken from a new 4K scan of the original 35mm interpositive. The overall presentation is soft, but in general, the image is impeccably sharp, while colors and black levels are strong and true. Severin, per usual, has done a fine job of cleaning up the picture without sacrificing the quality film grain of the image. For audiophiles, the disc includes two sound options, the best of which is the  DTS-HD 5.1 mix which helps the film’s “intense synth score” by one time Tangerine Dream bandmate Klaus Schulze to really shine. 

The disc also contains a veritable wealth of special features, including two commentaries with the film’s producers and various cast members, an intro by Kier-La Janisse (author of House of Psychotic Women) for Morbido TV, Extended Interviews from Ozploitation doc NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, a location revisit, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, and a bevy of other goodies. All-in-all, this above and beyond what fans of NEXT OF KIN could have ever hoped for in terms of loving presentation.

Worlds-away from so much of Australia’s genre cinema, NEXT OF KIN is a patient frightener that tills familiar ground and comes up something unique. Melding elements of gothic ghost story, giallo, and even a few tricks from the Aussie action playbook into a sinuous and compelling whole, Tony Williams’ film is one of the crown jewels of the Ozploitation boom. Severin has placed NEXT OF KIN back on its pedestal with a near perfect restoration and a disc almost full to bursting with special features that will please fans and impress anyone new to this film and its strange delights.

Rocco Thompson
Rocco is a Chicago-based writer. An avid devotee of all things weird and outrageous, he seeks to bring attention to and recontextualize forgotten or misunderstood films through impassioned study and analysis. His heart belongs to Jason Voorhees, Lucio Fulci, and Elvira. Follow him on Instagram: @rosemarys_gayby