It’s relatively rare to come across a contemporary horror film which relies heavily, if not entirely, on atmosphere – even if such an approach is often the most effective and generates the kind of longevity which transcends fleeting trends within the genre. Take the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre which terrified and delighted fans of the macabre but infuriated the censors who, try as they might, could not agree on a suitable cut. Although the film boasted smart use of editing, sound and direction, it was relatively low on gore and violence and is now celebrated as a cult classic by horror buffs and a master-class in low-budget creativity by movie-makers. Director Greg McLean (whose 2005 directorial debut was Wolf Creek) cited Texas Chainsaw as a significant influence and it’s clear to see why. Both take idyllic landscapes such as the Australian outback and the Texan countryside respectively and subvert their ethereal beauty. Although violent, demented killers such as Leatherface and Mick Taylor are used to deliver the shocks, they are in a sense secondary to the environment which produces them. There is also very little in the way of explanation as to their origins, which allows the audience to project onto them their own worst fears.
Wolf Creek 2, by comparison, is much more situational and although the landscape is beautifully shot, the main focus of the piece is the diabolical Taylor and how many tourists he can pick off on his one man vendetta against the ignorance of youth. As is the way with most horror sequels, the body count is much higher and the victims far less interesting. While one of the strengths of the first film was the believability of the bond between the three ill-fated backpackers, the second merely offers Mick’s prey as a series of bodies to be sliced and diced for the audience’s pleasure. Although John Jarrett puts in a reliably nihilistic turn as the bogeyman of the outback, his characterisation veers dangerously close to the Freddy Kreuger of the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies, transforming him into a figure of parody. This isn’t helped by the quite frankly bizarre tonal shifts and the final showdown between Taylor and his last victim – a young British traveller who attempts to appeal to his warped sense of humour in order to stay alive – is a feeble attempt at black comedy. The scenes of torture are also particularly difficult to watch for all the wrong reasons. Whilst the attacks on the female characters in the first movie were harrowing due to the audience’s investment in their plight, here they are uncomfortably voyeuristic in nature.
All in all, McLean seems to have forgotten just what made his original vision so fresh and exciting and it’s a real shame to see the sequel to his offbeat gem fall foul of so many bad horror clichés. Avoid at all costs.