Australian film director Greg McLean returns to the scene of the crime with “Wolf Creek 2,” a movie that (supposedly anyway) is based on actual events. The original “Wolf Creek” came out in 2005 and introduced us to the relentless serial killer Mick Taylor (played by John Jarratt) who captures a group of backpackers and tortures them without remorse. Now Mick is back to take on another group of foreign tourists who make the mistake of crossing his path and have the serious misfortune of not being from his home country. If you are not a proud Australian and are not fully aware of the country’s rich history, pray you don’t run into Mick.
McLean also directed the killer crocodile horror film “Rogue,” and he is said to be a member of the unofficial “Splat Pack.” That term, which was created by film historian Alan Jones, refers to the modern wave of directors who make brutally violent horror films, and other members include Alexandre Aja, Neil Marshall, Eli Roth, James Wan and Rob Zombie. I spoke with McLean while he was doing press for “Wolf Creek 2” and we talked about how a sadistic psychopath like Mick Taylor can be strangely appealing, how this sequel differs from the original, and he pointed out the differences between making a film in Australia and the United States.
On returning to ‘Wolf Creek’
This was a terrific sequel, and it was great to see John Jarratt return as Mick Taylor. John’s character is one of the most sadistic psychopaths we have ever seen in a movie, and yet there is something about him that’s kind of appealing. Why is he so memorable and why are we drawn to characters like that?
Greg McLean: I think that people are generally fascinated with evil and true crime. A character like Mick Taylor represents a very interesting way of peering into a very, very dark psyche. People are fascinated with the nature of evil, and I think the appeal of a character like Mick Taylor is to really get a chance to examine someone who is completely devoid of any sign of humanity. He’s really incredibly dark and twisted, and he’s very terrifying. I think people who like horror films and thrillers and like being scared enjoy coming face-to-face with really disturbing personalities. There is a long history of really fascinating, evil characters and I think people are intrigued at how their personalities work.
When it came to doing a sequel to “Wolf Creek,” was that something you had planned on doing all along, or did you consider doing it after the original movie was finished?
Greg McLean: My plan was always to see if the movie worked and people liked it. If people embraced the character (of Mick Taylor), then there will be a chance for another film. So it was always in my mind to do it, it just took a lot longer to get around to it than I thought it ever would (laughs).
Working with John Jarratt
Regarding John Jarratt’s portrayal, did you develop the character with him or was it largely his creation?
Greg McLean: Well we obviously did the first film together so we had a background to how to approach the character and a discussion on what the character is about. We had been talking about this particular draft of the screenplay (for “Wolf Creek 2”) for a couple of years, so there were certain things we wanted to explore and certain aspects of the character we wanted to bring up, and we kept evolving it on set. Obviously John makes choices as an actor, and then some of those things are in the script and some are developed in the moment. When we got together, we just kind of jammed and came up with cool things to do.
Since the script was in the development stage for a couple of years, did that make it easier for you to return to the character of Mick Taylor and the original movie’s setting?
Greg McLean: It certainly enabled us to mine the thematic ideas that we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have such a long gestation period. We had a script a couple of years ago and it was good but it just wasn’t amazing. I realized that there was an element to it that was missing that was making me not want to pull the trigger on it, and what it didn’t have was a kind of somatic investigation into the character that I thought we needed to have. Then once I locked into that concept, then there was enough new information we revealed about his character that I thought it be worth making the film. We also wanted to make a different genre film. The first film is very much a first-person, true crime, real terror film whereas this one I wanted very much to explore the thriller film, and it’s more of an action film. It has horror elements, but it certainly is a different structure in terms of what kind of film that is.
The truck crash sequence
I agree, it does have a different structure and feels more like a road movie. Speaking of that, how did you manage to pull off the sequence where Mick Taylor launches the big rig truck into Paul Hammersmith’s (played by Ryan Corr) car?
Greg McLean: We just found a big hill and dropped the truck off it (laughs). It’s much easier to do stuff like that in Australia than it is in the (United) States. Doing things over there is still a bit of the Wild West. It’s interesting because I’m doing a film right now in Los Angeles and I showed that seem to some people and they were just like going, “Wow! How did you do that?” And there’s a shot after the actual truck hits where the fire is just actually continuing to burn the hillside, and everybody was freaking out about that. I said, “Why is that so weird?” They were just going, “Oh my god, how did you let the hill keep burning?” The restrictions are very intense. Obviously there are rules and regulations here and there are in Australia as well, but they were just fascinated by the idea of just literally destroying a truck and letting burn a hole in the hill. We had fire brigades in the back, and we were able to just do some really crazy stuff. We also wanted to do it in a very practical way. I love doing CG stuff and we used a lot of CG for the kangaroo sequence, but some things I feel are just better to get onscreen practically because you see the texture of things and the physics of moving in a particular way that’s kind of cool.
Yeah, I think that’s what I’m art most about that sequence because it really did look real. In most American films, filmmakers would more likely to a sequence like that with CG.
Greg McLean: Yeah, I think that part of that is kind of a budgetary thing as well. When you have a low budget, you kind of have to find more practical ways of doing things. Digital effects, if you want them to, can be ultra-photorealistic and necessarily expensive. The other way to do it is to find a location you can do something like that and ask to just do it. For all the driving stuff in that sequence, we just closed down highways and do crazy driving on them for two weeks and got all the shots. It was great fun doing a sequence like that.
The difference between the first and second films
Looking at those empty highways reminded me of “The Hitcher” with Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell. You have this great open space, but still there’s something about it that’s quite claustrophobic.
Greg McLean: Well I think the first movie had a very particular primary feed that it was drawing on, and this film to me was really about the fear of isolation in a desolate place. What most of the fear comes from is the primary idea of that which is quite different from the first film. The first film had a different emphasis which was more about the randomness of violence in the real terror that comes from believing someone is something and then suddenly seeing them transform. This one is really much more about exposing the audience to that real terror that comes from extreme isolation and being pursued by a character that is just relentless.
What a horror movie needs
What elements do you believe a horror movie should have in order for it to be successful?
Greg McLean: Two things. One, it needs to be based on a primary universal human fear that the psychic pressure point. Number two, the film has to have three (if not more) unique and believably memorable set pieces or things that people will talk about when they leave the cinema for hopefully weeks if not years, and that’s it.