MCLEAN, GREG - WOLF CREEK
WHY EVIL GETS AWAY
In what is perhaps the most audacious piece of ‘counter programming’ the
Weinstein Co is releasing the Australian horror film, Wolf Creek, on Christmas
Day in America, while in Australia, the film has already taken over $5 million
in less than two months. The film has stirred controversy with its graphic
violence and an ending in which the bad guy doesn’t get punished. In this
interview with Ryan Turek, writer director Greg McLean discusses the real crimes
that fed his imagination – and why he “let evil get away”.
What were the true events that inspired you to write Wolf Creek?
I wrote the original story five, six years ago and it was pretty much a standard
horror thriller set in the Outback. Then over the years I heard about a couple
of true cases that happened in Australia, one of them being the Ivan Milat case
which is about a serial killer who would pick up hitchhikers on lonely highways
and take them out into the woods and do horrific things to them. That case was
influential in many ways because is had all of these elements that were so
terrifying and scarier than anything I could possibly come up with. So that case
influenced the Mick Taylor character a lot in terms of what he did, what his
background was, mode of operation.
Then more recently there was the Bradley Murdoch case … [the trial has been
going for weeks now], again, a very similar character who lived in West
Australia allegedly patrolling these lonely highways looking for victims who
pulled over this car with two British backpackers in it and allegedly shot the
guy and tried to abduct the woman, Joanne Lees. They just had all of these
similarities and had all of these incredibly bad intentions. When people would
meet him he’d be the nicest guy in the world because he had to be nice enough to
get them to come with him in the first place. So that was the key quality that I
took from those true cases. There’s other details too that are a blend of those
cases. I also tried to blend clichés and icons from Australia - the Steve Irwin
or Mick Dundee character, all of these big broad Australian characters
recognizable in the States.
Mick Taylor joins a long list of cinematic bogeymen; do you hope he’ll attain
a similar prominence in the genre like, say, Leatherface or Freddy Krueger?
I don’t think you can consciously sit down and say, ‘Okay this weekend I’m going
to come up with the next great horror icon.’ Because if you could, people would
be doing it every weekend! I think the successful characters have to come from
some true place. Look at Mick Taylor in the movie, it’s conceivable that this
guy could be real. He could exist. Also, even though we don’t know anything
about his back-story really he’s a genuinely frightening character who is like a
monster. In terms of what he does and what he gets up to. He transcends things,
he’s not just a bad guy. He’s so evil he becomes this monster. And he just got
more evil when John Jarratt started playing him.
Was Jarratt someone you saw right away and knew exactly what you wanted?
I had a long list of people I wanted to read for the role and had an idea of the
quality he needed to be the character. John was the first actor I met and after
ten minutes I knew that he was perfect. The difficulty with this movie is: how
do you find an actor who can completely commit to doing that role and not judge
the character? It would be very hard to do that performance because some part of
you would be judging the character while you’re doing it. John immediately got
that when we met. He said, ‘I understand this guy and how far I would need to go
to make this work. It’s also about not judging him and being inside him. As soon
as I heard that I said, ‘Alright, you totally go how far you need to go.’
There’s an almost dutiful sense of research behind some of the torture
scenes, like the “head on a stick.” Was this common knowledge to you or did you
look for interesting way to kill people?
That’s real! That whole sequence is taken from the Milat case. When I read that
I couldn’t believe it. That’s what he did to some of his victims, and that’s
probably some of the worst stuff I’ve heard my whole life. That’s very real
which is even more disturbing.
Explain to me your whole approach to on-camera violence, every director
within the genre - from Argento to Craven - has one, and each is palpably
My approach to the ugliness in Wolf Creek was the same way Mike Leigh would
unflinchingly hold the camera on moments of incredibly intense human drama. I
thought, what would it be like to do the same thing and hold the camera on
someone who’s being tortured? What is it like to not look away? Part of the
goal, for me anyway as a storyteller, is to not look away because what we do in
our real life is not stare, it’s rude to look at a situation unfold. We tend to
look away and go back into our own world. It’s more rare and more interesting to
not look away from that darkness - keep the audience looking at it.
The positive thing to come of this is that you make your own judgments about
what you’re seeing. Obviously it’s screwed up, but deal with it because the
world is so full of real violence, especially the last five years. We think we
get violence with a lot of television shows but what I think we see in news
reporting, and shows like CSI, is we think we’re seeing violence. It’s actually
not, these programs are always panning away. It’s a homogenized version of it. I
think there’s a value of examining it for real because it says, ‘Okay, this is
what it looks like and this is how bad it really is.’
That said, were there any scenes in Wolf Creek that were particularly
difficult to get through?
The hardest was the first torture scene in the shed. That was incredibly hard
for the crew and for the actors, as well, because they completely committed to
it. We shot that scene over a span of two or three nights and it was
unbelievably hard for Kestie, who plays Kristy. She and John had to have an
incredible amount of trust between them, and they had to have a trust in me that
I would look after them and make sure they were okay. Essentially it was up to
them because they worked out what they wanted to do together as actors in the
scene and encouraged each other to do more. Kestie would tell John, ‘The more
intense you are the better my performance will be and I will just react to what
They were allowing each other to go all the way which was brave of them. At one
point while shooting that scene, because the shed was so small, the crew and me
had to be outside for the wide shot. It was just Kestie and John in there. I was
listening on the headset and watching on the screen the scene unfold and, at one
point, I literally sat up from my seat and thought something had gone wrong. I
thought John had gone crazy and Kestie really wants to stop. I was going to go
running in there, it was really quite bizarre and at the end of the take I ran
in there and they were both like, ‘What are you talking about? We’re doing what
you asked us to do!’ It was so convincing and so believable I thought he was
really hurting her. I reacted how the audience will react, which is: how do I
make this stop?!
Wolf Creek comes in the wake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills
Have Eyes; when you sat down to write it were there any conventions you were
trying to avoid and trying to achieve?
I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a fairly large influence. Some people think
it’s the scariest thing since Massacre, I don’t personally think it is. I
definitely set out to be as uncompromising as that film is and as unapologetic.
Massacre is just the most remarkable, brutal comment - it’s actually an
anti-comment because it’s saying nothing about what happened. It doesn’t say,
“And these people were bad and they died in a shoot-out with the cops.” It ends
with a psychopath waving a chainsaw on the highway, and it doesn’t tell you what
to think about that! I’m glad we actually got to make a film and not have to
explain it. You make of it what you will. These things do happen and there are
people out in the world that act like that. That’s just part of life. You can
make this film any day of the week, but you’d have to do it with private money.
You have to do it in a way that you can.
The other thing is that it’s hard to make a film with a countercultural comment
and get it seen in the mainstream media today. If you look at Massacre, it’s a
remarkably bleak thing to say. To put it out there and make people look at it,
it’s almost illegal. Going back to the earlier question about shooting in
Australia… There wasn’t any attempt to please anybody when we made this movie. I
was aware of the fact that it was a film so low budget it was probably the only
time I can say something countercultural which is that evil gets away, the bad
guy doesn’t get punished, the lead character who tries hard fails. These are
things you’re really not allowed to say. This concept of the western capitalist
ideal of “you work hard you will overcome the odds,” all these core beliefs of
our culture, by making a comment like this is the reason it’s attractive to
young people because they have a sense that these beliefs are not true anyway.
By seeing a horror film that shatters those conventions they sense something
truthful about the chaotic world we live in. We’re marketing films about happy
smiling people while we’re also reading about torture, death and carnage.
Published December 22, 2005
Email this article