Urban Cinefile
"I was delightfully surprised that she was as good as she was, as professional as she was, as amenable as she was"  - Jonathan Pryce on Evita co-star, Madonna
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday July 21, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Central Industrial Prison is a maximum security "containment facility" located in the middle of a desert. Inmates are housed in sections according to their crimes and monitored via high-tech surveillance equipment. Following an escalation in violent incidents, the prison has been in a state of "lockdown" for the past 37 months. Prisoners are confined to their cells, basic rights have been withdrawn and goon squads carry out body and property searches. As flashbacks reveal the incidents leading to the lockdown it becomes evident that prison administrators have deliberately manipulated both prisoners and their guards into a heightened state of confrontation. When psycho killer Maynard (Nick Cave) and guard killer Grezner (Chris De Rose) are transferred into the general population the tension escalates and more bloody violence erupts.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
The liner notes on this release claim it contains the most extraordinary extras ever assembled for an Australian DVD and for once the hype is justified. What you get for your $35 is not only one of the most significant and important Australian films ever made but a comprehensive analysis of every conceivable aspect of its genesis, execution and impact. Ghosts...Of The Civil Dead is not an easy film to watch but is a film that must be watched. It is a one-off freak without peer in the annals of our national cinema or the realms of the prison film genre in general. The setting might be a gaol but this riveting experience goes beyond walls and barbed wire. It is an incisive, unforgettable allegory about the institutions that govern us and how states exercise power to manipulate, control and dehumanise sections of its population.

What's most frightening about the brutal events depicted here is their basis in truth. As director John Hillcoat and producer Evan English explain in lengthy interviews, the screenplay was inspired by American convict Jack Henry Abbot's book 'In The Belly Of The Beast' and the recollections of David Hale, a former guard at Marion Prison, Illinois - a facility known as 'The New Alcatraz'. What emerges from the horrific real-life testimony is a screenplay of enormous power that refuses to offer a single sympathetic character yet makes us care about the way in which our society treats its offenders. Its portrayal of both prisoners and guards as the lab rats of an anonymous State is enhanced by Chris Kennedy's stunning sets that remind us more of supermarkets and modern, open-plan workspaces than a place of incarceration. Brilliantly performed by a collection of professionals (Vincent Gil, Bogdan Koca, David Field), rock stars (Nick Cave, Dave Mason) and real-life ex-convicts, Ghosts...Of The Civil Dead is a film you won't forget and a DVD release to immerse yourself in.

The information and level of analysis in the supplementary material is quite outstanding. Even the notoriously hard-to-get Nick Cave comes through with insightful and vivid accounts of an experience that still resonates strongly on the emotions of all its participants. With an astounding wealth of artwork, storyboards, promotional material and research notes to complement the interviews, this DVD qualifies as essential viewing and deserves to be on the shelf in any serious collection. The basic 2.0 Dolby mix may not contain the surround sound we're used to with most releases but it's appropriate to the tone of the film and the full-frame transfer is crisp and clean.

My only slight quibble is with a credit that reads "4:3-Original Ratio" on the liner notes. This film was shot in 35mm and even the narrowest aspect ratios of 1.66:1 or the less common 1.57:1 do not fit into a full-frame transfer. We're not missing very much of the picture but we should be told exactly what the original shooting ratio was. That small matter aside, Ghosts ...Of The Civil Dead is a superb package.

Published May 15, 2003

Email this article


(Aus) - 1988

CAST: David Field, Mike Bishop, Chris De Rose, Freddo Dierck, Dave Mason, Nick Cave, Vincent Gil, Bogdan Koca

DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: 1988 and 2002 Interviews with John Hillcoat, Producer Evan English, Nick Cave and Composers Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey. Audio Interviews with cast and crew members including Production Designer Graham Walker. Soundtrack Excerpts, Critical Analysis (audio essay by Ina Bertrand, Principal Fellow of Cinema Studies at Melbourne University), Press Reviews, Poster Art, Research Scrapbook, Letter to John Hillcoat from Jack Henry Abbott, Photo Gallery, Storyboards, Cannes and Venice Film Festival coverage, Australian and French Trailers, Trailers from Australian Prison Movies Stir, Everynight, Everynight and Chopper, Language: English. Subtitles: None

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment/The AV Channel

DVD RELEASE: April 22, 2003

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018