The Film: 4/5
Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) is living the life of a happy professional woman in Australia with her handsome, mustachioed boyfriend Derek (Rod Mullinar). All seems to be perfect until the day she is kidnapped and taken to a peaceful and civilized compound somewhere in the countryside that is owned and operated by a mysterious cabal known only as the Brotherhood. Run by the benevolent Dr. Eric Fraser (David Hemmings) and his less sympathetic assistants Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron) and Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva), the Brotherhood is a cult of modern vampires whose 70,000 members around the world have successfully infiltrated the highest levels of society. The compound functions as their "dairy" where they imprison their future victims and keep them in a state of drugged compliance until the time when they are called upon to be offered as the Brotherhood's next warm liquid meal. Fraser and Barker reveal to Kate that she is the last living descendant of the infamous Elizabeth Bathory, the "Blood Countess" of Hungary who was known to have bathed in the blood of her victims in order to keep her body rejuvenated, and they want her to join their ranks. Fraser insists that she be allowed to join of her own free will, but he is overruled by Barker's aggressive approach of using hallucinogens to break down Kate's resistance. Kate is now faced with the decision to either fight back against her captors or accept her dark destiny and help the Brotherhood to achieve their plans for world domination.
Mark Hartley's 2008 film Not Quite Hollywood is one of my favorite documentaries of recent years regarding cinema. It focused on a long-neglected subgenre of international exploitation filmmaking from the sunny and ultra-macho continent of Australia of which the classic Mad Max was only a major footnote. That doc was when I first heard of a film called Thirst; the only enduring image from this underrated treatment of vampiric lore was its tortured heroine stepping into the shower wanting nothing more than to wash away several days' worth of horrific memories and receiving a literal blood bath for her troubles. So yeah, I really wanted to see that movie right then. Directed by Aussie television director Rod Hardy (December Boys) in his feature debut and produced by Antony I. Ginnane (better known to cult film fans as the Roger Corman of the land Down Under), Thirst is anything but a mindless glop of drive-in swill. That's pretty much what I expected it to be when I started watching it for the first time thanks to Severin Films' brand-new Region A Blu-ray release. Instead those expectations were not only surpassed, but they were lapped several hundred times, leaving many other modern vampire flicks coughing up dust.
Hardy and screenwriter John Pinkney infused the classic but tired Universal and Hammer versions of Dracula with a few welcome doses of 1970's conspiracy thrillers and the psychological terrors of Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby in creating the story of Thirst. There is much blood to be found in this film, but the scariest moments have virtually little or nothing to do with the flowing red stuff; the real horror comes from watching our capable but vulnerable heroine Kate break down under the merciless forces of the Brotherhood, leading up to an extended sequence in the second act where she is subjected to a hallucinatory mind-fuck designed to remove every trace of resistance from her personality. With people known and loved to her being subverted (and perverted) by the group's machinations and images of decaying corpses and crumbling walls coming from every corner of Kate's perceived safe have, this sequence is a mini-masterpiece of sustained dread and overpowering paranoia that would earn Thirst the highest of recommendations from this writer easily. Fortunately the rest of the film is just as good, with the exception of a lackluster finale that runs out of fresh ideas and finds its villains being dispatched with relative ease despite ending with a haunting coda that seems befitting of everything that came before.
The conception of the Brotherhood as a organization of corporatized bloodsuckers less indebted to Bram Stoker than Lockheed-Martin would be revisited in the Blade movies. Chantal Contouri (Barry McKenzie Holds His Own) gives one of the standout performances as Thirst as the besieged Kate, creating a sympathetic character where one doesn't really exist on the page through inspired choices in body language. She never becomes a standard issue damsel-in-distress. David Hemmings (Blow-Up) provides the dark proceedings with a measure of class and charisma as the morally complicated Dr. Fraser, while both Shirley Cameron and iconic American tough guy character actor Henry Silva (The Italian Connection) back him up with diabolical delight as Fraser's duplicitous cohorts. Fans of Australian cinema will recognize Max Phipps (Mad Max) in a brief supporting role, as well as Patrick himself Robert Thompson as one of the Brotherhood's agents. Rod Mullinar (Breaker Morant) is suitable empathetic as Kate's lover who gets unwillingly sucked into the larger schemes of the Brotherhood, setting up the third act denouement with tension and some fleeting thrills.
Severin Films's Blu-ray presentation of Thirst was transferred in 1080p high-definition from the original camera negative, and to say the results are remarkable is an understatement. The picture is framed in a 2.43:1 widescreen aspect ratio which is slightly wider than the 2.35:1 ratio the film was originally shot in, but despite the altered AR there are no traces of loss in visual information. Thirst was photographed by noted Aussie cinematographer Vincent Monton (Long Weekend, Road Games) in warm, desaturated reds and browns to reflect the persistent presence of blood throughout the film and. The colors on this HD transfer have not been brightened or dulled to detract from the filmmakers' intentions. They are presented in wonderfully detailed resolution. The print quality is almost flawless with fine grain practically non-existent. Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio options are provided in both English and Spanish. Each of the soundtracks has been cleaned up and stripped of noticeable signs of distortion in the sound mix. Dialogue and the music score composed by Brian May (Mad Max) are presented with fantastic audible clarity and the overall mix is very front-heavy without manual volume adjustment ever being much of a problem, though the quieter conversational scenes might occasionally require your assistance with the remote control. No subtitles have been provided.
Severin has ported over nearly every supplement from the 2003 Elite Region 1 DVD, beginning with an informative, friendly audio commentary from director Hardy and producer Ginnane that goes into great detail about the film's origins, production problems, and its theatrical release and cult following. If you care to check out May's Carl Orff-influenced soundtrack independent of the rest of the sound mix it has been given its own isolated audio channel in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. A theatrical trailer and three television spots from New Line Cinema's U.S. release are also included here in standard-definition. That concludes the extras offering. The earlier Elite DVD also contained cast and crew text biographies and a small still gallery, but they're not really missed here. Severin has also provided us with a DVD copy of Thirst featuring the film in SD and the accompanying bonus features.
A classy and imaginative take on the vampire tale, Thirst treats its story with the utmost verisimilitude and thus is a greater deal better than its reputation would have you believe. If you're in the mood for a high-quality slice of superior Ozploitation then Severin Films's solid Blu-ray with its upgraded picture and sound and fine supplements is worth picking up.