Cost-effective methods of cinematic exploitation always have a long life. Take the mondo movie, for instance: this pseudo-documentary style was created by Gualterio Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi in 1963 with Mondo Cane. It shocked audiences all over the world by serving up a cinematic travelogue of the most shocking and titillating aspects of life in several corners of the world. This celluloid firecracker created controversy wherever it was shown and packed the audiences in. Distributors and filmmakers quickly picked up on how cheap it would be to shoot (and/or fake) a similar effort, leading to a wave of imitators that still linger to this day.
Australia After Dark is a mid-1970’s example of the form and represents a softer, more titillation-centric example of the style. It was the first directorial gig for John Lamond, who would go on to become a successful exploitation filmmaker in his homeland. As he admits on the commentary track for the DVD of the film, he used Mondo Cane as a template to create something that would be sensationalistic enough to catch the public’s attention but cheap enough for a first-time director to make on a miniscule budget. The results didn’t cross the globe like Mondo Cane did but it did impressive business at home and provided enough success for him to transition from editor to director.
But how does it fare as a mondo movie? Truth be told, Australia After Dark is one of the more self-consciously staged versions of the form. Lamond has said what it is included is based on research of odd happenings in Australia, yet he has also admitted it relies mostly on recreations or outright phony stuff to get across the exploitative-content finish line. In fairness to the director, faking about half of a film’s “documentary” footage has always been part of the mondo movie playbook but his approach is usually too stagy and stylized to make anything except the most obvious shot-on-location bits look convincingly docu-style.
Another problem is that Australia After Dark never really gets the “shocking” part of the mondo movie style right. It makes a few gestures in that direction – some ominous opening narration about revealing Australia’s dark side, a tour through a gallery of death masks for executed murderers – but such bits are Sunday School stuff for this genre, particularly when compared to tougher mondo stuff from around the same time like Shocking Asia or Let Me Die A Woman. More successful are the bits about weirdness that are more amusing than threatening – like a visit to an S&M party that looks like an outtake from Eating Raoul or an extended bit devoted to the glam-cabaret antics of performer Count Copernicus, who comes on like a real-life version of Beef from Phantom Of The Paradise.
Once you’re about a half-hour into Australia After Dark, it becomes clear where Lamond’s heart really lies: the sexy stuff. Indeed, the best material in this film revolves around the director’s opportunities to use his camera to caress the female form: highlights include a sun-dappled visit to a nude beach, a “modeling” scene in a bikini shop that weaves in some full-frontal nudity and a lot of dellightfully gratuitous footage of regular Lamond starlet Marilyn Rodgers taking a milk bath and stripping out of lacy underthings. That said, even these tried-and-true segments don’t always work: extended scenes with naked women being used as human paintbrushes and a scene of a couple indulging their eating-food-off-body fetish au naturel wear out their welcome due to repetition and the rather rough-looking models in these scenes.
Ultimately, Australia After Dark was obviously a successful commercial proposition in its day but it’s more interesting now as a time capsule than anything else – and those seeking it out for that reason might find their patience wearing thin by the halfway mark. Mondo novices probably shouldn’t start here but the obsessive devotees of the form, not to mention 1970’s sexploitation enthusiasts, might find a modest amount of charm in its skin-baring huckster antics.