Australian horror movies have been making waves in Hollywood over recent years with Wolf Creek, the works of James Wan, and most recently The Babadook. With that in mind, let’s have a look at what is arguably Australia’s most horrifically made horror film, Houseboat Horror.
Australia, 1989, Kendal Flanagan/Ollie Martin
Like so many lovable train wrecks, Houseboat Horror is the vision of one man – Ollie Martin. The radio DJ and music reporter who passed away in 2009 produced, wrote and directed this movie about a band who go to a lake to film a video clip and wind up mostly murdered. Well, he sort of directed it. He was fired after the third day of filming after cast members threatened to abandon the set.
Houseboat Horror boasts one of the strangest casts in Australian cinema. Martin has seemingly collected any vaguely recognisable face he could, leading to a cast including Countdown announcer Gavin Wood, John Michael Howson and Des ‘Animal’ McKenna, the drummer from Electric Mayhem, Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’s house band. It also stars then Neighbours actor Alan Dale, in a role that was beneath him even before he hit Hollywood.
Houseboat Horror starts with blaring Casio keyboard drums and some truly ordinary cinematography, which you will be hearing and seeing throughout the film. Then it starts quickly ticking off slasher clichés. Young people driving on a long road spouting bad dialogue – check. They’re going to party at a Lake – check. Pick up a hitchhiker – check. Surprise murder – check.
Afterwards we get our first glimpse at Alan Dale’s hotshot director Evans, who is on his newfangled mobile phone, talking to his girlfriend. Who is in a car driving right next to him, side-by-side, windows open.
Next in the cavalcade of stars is John Michael Howson, not making his first cameo appearance in a terrible Australian movie (he also appeared in the disappointing sequel to Alvin Purple). Howson, playing himself, hams it up in him short screen time, which is not surprising considering that’s how he seems to act every minute of every day.
Once at the wonderfully average looking Lake Infinity we are treated to the breakout star of the film – Gavin Wood. The former Countdown announcer seems to have forgotten he’s on a film set and not on TV as has speaks every line like, well, an announcer. His lines seem improvised, like the director just said ‘hey, Gav, can you just say stuff in that great voice of yours, just anything really.’ I’m still not entirely sure what his role actually is, but I’m sure glad he’s there.
The film loves its party scenes. I mean, most stereotypical slasher films feature some kind of debauched partying, but Houseboat Horror seems to forget it’s a horror film sometimes instead of a movie about a band filming a music clip. We are treated to an entire film clip shoot, featuring a laughably bad ‘Brian Mannix song hit’ and the antics of one man party machine Animal. The drummer from Hey, Hey It’s Saturday plays the drummer (of course) who wears make up and says little, just parties. Though when he does speak, he says things like ‘I’ve got to stop smoking these mushrooms.’ And he doesn’t keep in time during the film clip, despite playing one drum. He’s a fantastic mess.
When it comes down to horror, Houseboat Horror fails in every possible way. It’s probably the least scary horror I’ve ever seen. I saw Babe the other day and that was scarier (though that movie is surprisingly dark). Every attempt at suspense falls flat on its face due to a complete lack of pacing, poor camera work and worse lighting. There a chase scene at one point which is filmed at night and seemingly lit only by the moon and the killer’s flash light.
That said, the kills are the one genuinely good part of this film. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about them, though there is a good head slicing and Gavin Wood gets harpooned while trying to put on a condom. The kills mostly stand out because they are the only competently done thing in the movie. The way the killer, who is called Acid Head in the credits, I guess due to the fact it looks like someone poured a bit of acid on his head (just guessing), goes about his murder spree is interesting. Well, sort of. He just lumbers about the houseboat, killing whoever is in his way. No stalking, no suspense, just killing. It actually somewhat works until it is cut short by the terrible final kerfuffle (it’s too lame to be a fight) and Acid Head ends up in the lake, drowned… or is he? Dun dun dun. It is very clearly set up for a sequel that never happened and that I like to think would be called Houseboat Horror 2: John Michael Howson’s Revenge.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much in the way of plot or motivation for the killer. Well, that’s because there’s not much to say. A creepy lady appears a couple of times and talks about a fire killing a film crew and Acid Head (or should that be Burn Head?) hating people in the film industry. That’s it, really.
Houseboat Horror is 86 minutes of all-round terrible filmmaking and it is so-bad-it’s-good at its finest. Wooden acting, a non-existent plot, scenes with no connection to the story, mullets – it’s all there. A must for fans of Australian films and awful horror flicks.
Availability: Houseboat Horror can be bought direct from the distributor for a mere AU$11.90, with free postage in Australia.