As far as 1970's/80's exploitation films go, few continents/nations have created greater works than the Aussie auteur filmmakers of the wild outback. With such great Ozploitation films as The Devil’s Playground (1976) and Long Weekend (1979) – works that transcend the usually fine line between atmospheric art and tasteless trash – one could honestly argue that the Australians even gave the ever so artistically prodigious garlic-eaters a run for their money. Out all of the Ozploitation works ever created, Tony Williams’ whodunit horror-thriller Next of Kin (1982) is indubitably one of the most severely underrated and equally unseen. Sophisticatedly stylized but also totally demoralizing, Next of Kin is a sleek Kubrickian quasi-slasher flick featuring a cryptic coldblooded killer who lusts after elderly hemoglobin. Instead of arrogantly flaunting his fetishistic dastardly deeds, the senior-slayer attempts to make his crimes seem like everyday accidents that happened as a result of the aged victim’s golden year senility. After her mother dies, protagonist Linda (Jacki Kerin) – being next of kin – inherits a retirement home that she seems to be somewhat ill-equipped to deal with, not least due to less than fond memories she had acquired there as child. Banished from the family estate 20 years earlier for reasons she fails to remember, Linda engages in an increasingly fermenting internal war that would intrigue any serious psychoanalyst. As Next of Kin progresses and Linda begins to come to terms with her distressing childhood, her personal quandaries are further compounded by the stark realization that a murderous maniac is lurking underneath her roof. Not unlike Roman Polanski’s early masterpiece Repulsion (1965), Next of Kin is a slow but steady and often menacing and claustrophobic mood piece that engulfs the viewer in the impending hysteria suffered by the female lead. Unlike the stunning Franco-Nordic beauty featured in Polanski’s film, Linda is an extremely intelligent and intuitive yet homely lady that is surely scared for her life, but that does not impede her from defending herself from the loony longings of a pernicious prick. Needless to say, if you’re expecting an equally artless and aesthetically repugnant Australian equivalent of Friday the 13th (1980) with a senseless body count and lackluster direction, Next of Kin is probably not the film for you.
In my humble opinion, Next of Kin features one of the greatest endings ever featured in an Ozploitation film and, arguably even in horror cinema in general. As explained in the somewhat recent and extremely worthwhile documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) directed by Mark Hartley, the adrenaline-rushing conclusion of Next of Kin was partly the consequence of happenstance due to a miscalculation in timing by one of the special effects men, which is quite the revelation when one considers the immaculate nature of this truly stunning and singular scene. In fact, I was so impressed by the ending of Next of Kin that I have re-watched it by itself no less than 100 times since I initially viewed the film. Comprised of televised ballroom dancing, a pyramid of meticulously stacked sugar cubes, a shotgun blow to the head a close-rage, and an aesthetically-pleasing explosion that no big-budget Hollywood film crew could have contrived, the nitroglycerin-heavy finale of Next of Kin combines hypnotic celluloid poetry with gritty human brutality in a cinematic marriage that synthesizes the best attributes of Ozploitation. Unfortunately, like most horror films, even the greatest ones, Next of Kin is not without its flaws. Due to the fact that the film features a number of memorable desultory sequences throughout, Next of Kin sometimes loses steam in between phantasmagorical dream-sequences and its handful of elaborate death scenes. As explained by a commentator in Not Quite Hollywood, the film has been often compared to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), which is no small compliment, but regardless Next of Kin is an original film in of itself that has few contemporaries, even within the Ozploitation movement.
Featuring a musical score composed by prolific krautrock musician Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel), Next of Kin is a film that sounds as lugubrious and ethereal as it looks, thus it is a cinematic work that is notably trance-inducing throughout; an imperative trait that any worthwhile horror film should have but few can boast. Then again, Next of Kin is not merely a horror film, but a sui generis work created during a certain period at a certain place that totally (or at least as far as I can tell) captures the radical zeitgeist of its respective era. Created during the middle point of the Ozploitation and Australian New Wave movements – undoubtedly the most stimulating and innovative period of the nation’s film history – Next of Kin is a newfangled work that shares equal attributes from both sectors of the Aussie film renaissance, henceforth inevitably leading the way for much grittier (if less ambitious) future atmospheric films like Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (2005) and Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown (2011). What makes Next of Kin conspicuously unparalleled among most Australian horror films is its striking supernatural/surreal scenes and overall labyrinthine essence. While featuring some of the sunny scenic realism typical of Aussie films, especially from the Ozploitation and Australian New Wave movements, Next of Kin also manages to have an ominous metaphysical aura that lingers like a foreboding malediction throughout. Needless to say, Next of Kin leaves a persisting imprint on the viewer that – like the childhood memories of the film’s lead protagonist – can never be cleaned away.