Blood of bright red flows throughout the frames of Rod Hardy’s sublime and seemingly undervalued THIRST. An imperfect but no less enthralling gem excavated from the tail end of the 70s, this is the kind of film that oozes with all sorts of salaciously surreal potential. Midnight madness is no stranger to twisty tales of vampirism, but few come so dangerously close to evoking the quality of the feverish day-dream of a deeply disturbed flower child (one with a penchant for paranoid conspiracy and aesthetic occultism) and that’s barely penetrating the surface.
If the director’s name is at all familiar, it might be because Hardy was behind the Daniel Radcliffe vehicle DECEMBER BOYS (2007); quite an unexpected change of pace from his acid-tinged debut, which is far more interested in entertaining elements of science fiction, psychedelia, and even the legend of Elizabeth Bathory than it is in conventional empathic rumination.
The infamous Blood Countess provides a great deal of essential framing for the story, which concerns the kidnapping of Australian housewife Kate Davis (Chantal Cantouri) by a shady organization which refers to itself as “The Brotherhood” who later inform the distraught heroine that she is in fact a descendent of Bathory and that she is to be kept in the confines of their compound in order to undergo a series of mysterious though revealing medical experiments.
Roughly the first half of the film is soaked in pervasive ambience and ambiguity, and for better or worse, we feel about as lost as Kate. Those behind the operation seem to be harvesting the blood of their “patients” and it would also appear that Kate is unique for her hereditary ties. One of the professionals on site, Dr. Fraser (the ever-reliable David Hemmings), takes a shine to her and even makes a commendable effort to subvert the character’s increasingly grim fate.
Then, the illusion is shattered and the screaming starts; with the ingestion of psychoactive substance comes a positively remarkable phantasmagoria that segues into a somewhat underwhelming conclusion that almost seems to actively acknowledge that what came before was a uniquely hard act to follow. It is, along with the silly glowing red eye effect applied to the vamps as they make their immediate transitions, one of the only real blind spots here but it’s a biggie. It might be difficult to imagine, with a premise as unabashedly outlandish as this, that the lackluster home stretch would be borderline detrimental to its lasting influence, but here we are.
On a whole, however, this is just exquisite. The widescreen compositions are absolutely divine, just jam-packed with essential information, and some would argue the oddball ideas on display here are not quite worthy of their grandeur; but it all made sense when an IMDB search informed me that Vincent Monton had also lensed the excellent LONG WEEKEND just a year prior. Brian May, best known for his work on the first two installments in George Miller’s MAD MAX Trilogy, also provides an alternatively elegant and haunting musical accompaniment to the madness which unfolds on-screen. It’s a perfectly perverse and meticulously crafted spectacle, and one which knows all too well that not every trip – and this is certainly a memorable one – is thoroughly pleasant.
Sure, this could just as easily be chocked up to drug-addled nonsense as it could be to an effective late night entertainment but one man’s bullshit is another man’s benefit. THIRST dares to descend into the rabbit hole and emerges with an intriguing cinematic brew; and if it’s one that doesn’t entirely work, because admittedly mileage may vary among viewers, it’s at the very least an inspiring effort that does well to provide a substantial amount of audio-visual fodder for those who simply, and constantly, crave the wild side of celluloid. Nothing, and nowhere, is safe from the liquid red; not the chicken drumsticks at the picnic, not the bottle of milk delivered to your doorstep, and absolutely not the suburban shower. The nightmare certainly seems never-ending, but it remains a powerful prospect. Sometimes you gotta go get mad, and it’s films like this which just make it all the easier.