"And out of the darkness came the hands that reached through nature, moulding men". This quote from the work of Alfred Lord Tennyson opens Travis Bain's ambitious low-budget creature flick, THROWBACK.
It leads nicely into a stylish prologue set in 1825, in which avaricious outlaw Thunderclap Newman (Andy Bramble) wishes he hadn't set his sights on hiding his stolen treasure in a Queensland rainforest when he falls afoul of its resident beast, a hairy sasquatch called the Yowie.
Fast-forward to present day, where we find amiable pest exterminators Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (Anthony Ring) preoccupied with the legend of Newman's demise. More specifically, these two wry pals are particularly interested in locating his ill-gotten gold for themselves.
And so, our protagonists set off to the forest in search of said treasures. For a time, their greatest opposition comes in the form of each other: an early discovery of the loot soon leads to a spectacular moment of double-crossing. But when the smoke from their camp fire draws unwanted attention, they have someone else to contend with: suspicious homicide detective McNab (Vernon Wells).
Throw in idiosyncratic park ranger Rhiannon (Melanie Serafin), and we really have a motley bunch on our hands. Their grouping alone promises an adventure along the lines of mismatched personalities repeatedly clashing. But then, something else rears its ugly head - the aforementioned fabled creature said to roam the hills, the Bigfoot-like Yowie (Warren Clements)...
A variation on the Bigfoot film - or sasquatchploitation, as the filmmakers themselves refer to it - THROWBACK may deal with a beast more traditional to its Australian setting, but mines from the same source as recent flicks such as WILLOW CREEK, BIGFOOT, HUNTING THE LEGEND and EXISTS.
How does it fit in with this curious small sub-genre? Well, it's not as scary as WILLOW CREEK was at times. Nor does it attain the level of adroit editing that helped EXISTS scrape by. It doesn't even cater for the splatter fraternity, a la James C Wasson's 1980 gift to gorehounds NIGHT OF THE DEMON.
There are the occasional moments of grisliness, certainly, but it's hardly "video nasty" territory - and it's all offset with a finely balanced sense of humour throughout.
What it does do is manage to achieve a level of visual style completely unlikely for a self-funded film that took 8 years to plan and was apparently shot for just $4,000. Right from the start, the Australian bush - a natural beauty, granted - looks arresting in gold, brown and green hues. The widescreen scope photography lends a healthy cinematic sheen to proceedings; Richard Band and Amotz Plessner's stirring score sounds like the type of strings-heavy manipulation that would grace a Steven Spielberg blockbuster.
Certainly, THROWBACK is aesthetically polished to the max. Remarkably so. While this ably examples Bain's talent for stretching limited resources and marks him as a highly proficient director to watch in future, the slick finish does rob the movie of something it really should possess: threat.
There's very little of it in evidence. Resultantly, there is very little tension to speak of. It's a shame, because the characters are likeable (typically quirky and humorous, as per most Australian cinema) and the locations used are not only beautiful but surely also capable of eliciting rich atmospherics. That doesn't happen here unfortunately; THROWBACK looks great and is well-acted throughout, but you're left remarking on these attributes rather than getting sucked into any unfolding drama.
The monster is a tad underwhelming, of course. But, this being such a low budget DIY endeavour, I'm willing to concede that Bains made the most of what he had to work with. I was impressed with the moments of underwater photography and, okay, they did account for one sequence where a genuine sense of suspense was successfully mustered.
As its title suggests, Bain's film owes plenty to classic monster flicks of yore. It's commendable that the writer-director wishes to hark back to the likes of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. Even THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE has been cited as an influence. In a sense, this provides a breath of fresh air amid the glut of torture porn and found-footage codswallop we're required to watch week-in week-out. And I do appreciate Bain's efforts. But, despite the aforementioned merits, THROWBACK still falls short of being essential.
Still, full marks for getting Mr Wells (MAD MAX 2; COMMANDO) to feature in the film...
MVD Visual have licensed the film from our friends Monster Pictures for this region-free US DVD release, which ensures a fine set is in order.
Firstly, the film's presentation is pretty great. Presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, the HD cameras were put to good use. Images are crisp and clean, while daytime scenes exhibit unwaveringly strong colours. If the presentation has a weakness, it's in the sometimes greyish hue during the night sequences. By and large though, and considering the film's micro budget, it all looks highly satisfying.
English audio gets the 2.0 stereo treatment, sounding sufficiently clean and well-balanced throughout.
A static main menu page leads into a similarly static scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
A welcome selection of bonus features begins with a 14-minute alternate ending. Without wishing to spoil anything I will say that, while this was interesting, I preferred the one used in the final cut.
3 minutes of deleted scenes mostly offer extended takes and therefore add nothing revelatory. It's easy to see why they were trimmed away.
An engaging, insightful 44-minute 'Behind the Scenes' documentary follows. A wealth of on-location footage from the shoot is interesting, while Bain makes for an agreeable host with his easy manner. Clearly a labour of love, this is the kind of featurette that makes its viewer feel guilty for not loving the main feature more.
The good nature of the above featurette is carried forward in 23 minutes of short video blogs detailing the film's journey to the Famous Monster Film Festival in May 2014.
Two trailers act as effective teasers.
A series of radio interviews promoting the film on Cairns-based stations follow. If you can get past the 'Smashie and Nicey' goofiness of the various DJs, there are some interesting titbits of trivia to be gleamed from local boys-done-good Brack and Ring. These run for a total of 55 minutes.
Wells is on hand to read a 73-second excerpt from Henry Lawson's book "The Hairy Man" with laidback finesse. The enduring influence of the description contained within this 1916 text is quickly apparent.
Finally, we get three short films: "Daniel's Jack" (6 minutes), "Full Moon, Dirty Laundry" (8 minutes) and "Parrot Ice Tours" (5 minutes). These are all early examples of Bain's talent as a filmmaker, shot in Cairns for peanuts and reliant solely on his eye for casual style, combined with his dry wit and love of indie cinema (further influences of his are evidenced via posters on the wall of a launderette in the second film: LA CONFIDENTIAL, CLERKS, CITY OF INDUSTRY ...).
THROWBACK is an interesting addition to the tiny sasquatchploitation genre, one that aesthetically transcends its miniscule budget and DIY processes. It looks good on MVD Visuals' disc and is loaded with excellent complementary extras.
Also available from Monster Pictures in the UK, where they have also released the film onto blu-ray.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by MVD Visual|
|see main review|