Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)

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In Rod Hardy’s THIRST (1979) we’re introduced to Kate (Chantal Contouri), an attractive waif-like young fashion designer with a pet cat and a serious problem. Kate’s the last descendent of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, often cited as history’s first and most prolific female serial killer, and she’s been kidnapped by a group of power hungry aristocratic vampires known as ‘The Brotherhood’ who need her blood so they can fulfill their diabolical plan to turn the rest of us into human cattle. Will Kate outwit her sinister captors and survive her ordeal or succumb to her baser instincts? Thanks to a new Blu-ray package from Severin Films you can discover the answer to that question for yourself.

Few film subjects have been as exploited, examined and scrutinized as vampires. These blood sucking monsters are a favorite topic of horror filmmakers and fans, morbid romantics and angst-ridden pubescent teens. In recent years the vampire has lost some of its bite thanks to a spat of predictable and tired films made for kids and indiscriminate adults but this wasn’t always the case. The 1970s was a particularly inventive time for our fanged friends and during that pivotal decade audiences were treated to an abundance of creative movies and telefilms interested in reimagining, subverting and deconstructing vampire legend and lore such as DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Harry Kumel; 1970), THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (Jean Rollin; 1970), VAMPIRE CIRCUS (Robert Young ; 1971), LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (John D. Hancock; 1971), VAMPYROS LESBOS (Jess Franco; 1971), THE OMEGA MAN (Boris Sagal; 1971), THE VELVET VAMPIRE (Stephanie Rothman; 1971), THE NIGHT STALKER (John Llewellyn Moxey; 1972), BLACKULA (William Crain; 1972), GANJA & HESS (Bill Gunn; 1973), CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (Brian Clemens ; 1974), VAMPYRES (Jose Ramon Larraz; 1974), BLOOD FOR DRACULA (Paul Morrissey; 1974), ALUCARDA (Juan. L. Moctezuma; 1975), LEMORA (Richard Blackburn; 1975), MARTIN (George Romero; 1977) and SALEM’S LOT (Tobe Hooper; 1979).

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One of the best and most unusual vampire films to emerge from this ripe period was Rod Hardy’s Australian thriller THIRST. Although it’s currently being touted as an “Ozploitation classic” THIRST is a smarter and more accomplished film than that all-purpose label might suggest. This thinking man’s vampire tale mixes elements of science fiction, fantasy and classic gothic fiction into a heady cocktail that serves the taut script well. THIRST was director Rod Hardy’s first feature film but it feels like the work of a much more accomplished director who was able to easily overcome the constraints of a minimal budget and limited resources. The film forgoes a conventional narrative structure and is rooted in the dreams and anxieties of its female protagonist but the clinical setting and convincing cast keep it grounded. In this respect, Hardy’s film shares similarities with David Cronenberg’s early work such as RABID (1977) and THE BROOD (1979).

Chantal Contouri gives a particularly impassioned and sensitive performance as Kate, a woman who clings to her romantic memories of a well-intended mustachioed man (Rod Mullinar) to keep her sane when her reality begins to crumble. She’s surrounded by a terrific supporting cast that includes a shrewdly subdued David Hemmings as Dr. Fraser, a naturally menacing Henry Silva as Dr. Gauss and a particularly sadistic Shirley Cameron as Mrs. Barker, who acts like a blue-blooded Nurse Ratched. These three make up the calculating head, cold heart and black soul of The Brotherhood, an underground organization running a human plasma farm for wealthy vampires who desperately want Kate to join their undead ranks. The film’s catchy tagline read “This ancient Evil is now a modern industry” indicating that THIRST was a well-intended jab at capitalism and unscrupulous corporate criminals, which is plainly evident as the film unfurls. But this occasionally heavy-handed and humorously delivered message doesn’t diminish its otherworldly atmosphere. Horror fans can enjoy THIRST as pure entertainment and although the violence is minimal it’s certainly a very bloody film. Its languid pacing and lack of special effects probably won’t appeal to everyone but the movie does provide patient viewers with some surprising rewards including plenty of visual flourishes and a few genuine thrills and chills.

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thirstdvdI first saw THIRST on home video in the late ‘80s and later on DVD (from Synapse) but Severin’s new Blu-ray was a real revelation. The disc features a brand new anamorphic widescreen HD transfer from the original negative and the film has never looked or sounded better. Colors are vivid and the audio is crisp allowing composer Brain May’s impressive score to really come alive. Severin has packaged their Blu-ray disc with a DVD and the set includes audio commentary with director Rod Hardy and producer Antony I. Ginnane, an isolated music score so you can enjoy May soundtrack’s as a standalone accomplishment, the original theatrical trailer and TV spots. If you’d like to purchase the THIRST Blu-ray + DVD Combo or just want more information about the release you can find it on Severin’s website.

5 Responses Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)
Posted By DevlinCarnate : March 20, 2014 9:57 pm

i know i saw this in some truncated form on the old USA network sometime in the 80′s and despite Silva and Hemmings,it didn’t really hold my attention,i’m more of a cliche vampire enthusiast(although i did enjoy Planet of the Vampires,Queen of Blood,hell..even The Thing From Another World)i prefer the Gothic atmosphere,the costumes,the unabashed (imaginary) extravagance of a Hammer style vampire film….but the reason i’m even commenting on this is the title image,it reminds me of a loony (but great in it’s own way) Mexican film Alucarda…the only difference being she isn’t covered in blood,and that particular film was a a jab at religion in a country where it came first,with sport and industry a distant second,at the time at least

Posted By Gene : March 21, 2014 1:15 am

Those were the days when vampires were vampires and not box-office drivel. Have not seen Thirst, but LOVE Daughters of Darkness, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Night Stalker, and I must add a 60s favorite – Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (though it breaks my heart every time I see Sharon Tate). Great Post Kimberly!

Posted By Doug : March 21, 2014 11:33 am

We’re all used to the familiar with Vampires from our favorite movies, and this is a movie blog, but I would like to point out a couple of vampires you might not have heard of.

Ivy Alisha Tamwood, from the “Hollows” or Rachel Morgan book series by Kim Hamilton. Imagine a True Blood-type universe set in an urban setting (Cincinnati) with tight stories instead of the ridiculous overheated melodrama. If Allen Ball had been aware of this series, I think he would have chosen this over True Blood. Ivy Tamwood is a vampire partnered with the lead character, a witch named Rachel Morgan.

Cassidy the Irish alcoholic vampire-you will see Cassidy soon on television as the “Preacher” graphic novels are being produced by Seth Rogen for AMC. Imagine the most blasphemous work of art possible…and you will be only about halfway to “Preacher” which goes beyond that horizon. It might be AMC’s biggest hit yet, which says something about our culture.

There-two vampires that could match fangs with any daughter of Dracula we’ve yet seen. “Preacher” is not for the easily offended, but “The Hollows” by Kim Harrison is a challenging series where the ‘Ancient Evil’ is but one component of a fully realized universe. It would make a great movie series.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : March 22, 2014 11:19 pm

The strangest bit in this film for me — out of an admitted wealth of strange bits — was the casting of Yvette Rees as the Creepy Nurse. Rees’s (arguably) most iconic film role was as the Barbara Steele-like (Steelean?) Vanessa Whitlock in Don Sharp’s WITCRAFT (1964), though she was also way memorable as the crafty Chinese servant in Sharp’s CURSE OF THE FLY (1965). Rees’ film roles were few and far between but she always popped for me, even if it was only in a bit role, as in THE TROJAN WOMEN (1971). Don’t know what became of her after THIRST but I remember seeing that face (and those teeth) and gasping “GAH!”

Posted By swac44 : March 28, 2014 2:27 pm

I was bummed when Thirst wasn’t included in any of the six-film Ozploitation sets released by Umbrella in Australia (they’re up to four volumes now, that’s a lot of road rage and forced sex comedies), but I’m pleased to hear it was deemed worthy of a stand-alone release by Severin. Seeing clips of this in the Aussie film doc Not Quite Hollywood only made me more eager to see a title I’d only read about prior to that.

Not to be confused with the more recent Korean vampire title Thirst, but it’s also worth seeking out if you want something a little different in this noteworthy vein.

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