"At the age of 24 Linda Stevens returns to inherit Monclare, the old family home run by her mother as a retirement home for the aged. Something deep in her memory seems to be triggered merely by being back in the house, where strange things start to happen: taps turn themselves on in her bathroom. The lights go out - not by accident.
Someone listens to her telephone calls. She feels she is being watched.
What is going on at Montclare? As unrest gives way to mounting terror, Linda
turns to her mother's diaries for answers, and discovers a horrifying correlation
between the events which threaten her sanity and those which killed her mother.
There is something evil in this house ... she should never have returned."
Australia has given the world some pretty ropey slashers in its time: THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (1979), NIGHTMARES (1980), and – sweet, sweet Jesus – HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989), are among the cheesy bon-bons belched out of the Antipodes during the golden age of the slasher flick. So, it was with some surprise that NEXT OF KIN turns out to be a frightening, decidedly dairy-free zone, which unravels like a tightly coiled rattlesnake and actually carries one hell of a sting in its tale.
The film starts out with Linda Stevens (Jackie Kerin) returning to her sleepy little hometown after the death of her Mother. Even though she’s been away for a long time she soon realises that nothing much has changed – the biggest change, the owner of the local cook jokes, is that there’s a new public toilet.
Linda’s mother owned Montclare, a sprawling, gothic retirement home – rammed to the rafters with batty old dears and retired generals. Coming back she is hit with a rush of emotions: from mourning her dead mother to feeling overwhelmed by the daunting task of managing the home. She even confides in the head nurse, Connie (Gerda Nicolson), and the local medic, Dr Barton (Alex Scott), that she might sell the place and move on. As she considers her options, and despite the fact she stipulated that Connie shouldn’t take in anyone else, a new resident arrives one dark and stormy night – an old woman in a wheelchair and her nephew.
Keen to take her mind off Montclare, Linda rekindles a romance with a local boy, Barney (John Jarratt). However, when one of the residents is found drowned in his bathtub she has to return her attentions back to the home. Disturbed by the unexplained death, she also can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching and listening to her every move. As a diversion, she reads her mother’s diaries. However, the more that she delves in the more she realises that something is very wrong: she discovers that 20 years ago the home was plagued by similarly mysterious deaths, and she begins to have flashbacks to herself as a little girl discovering something horrible lurking in the bathroom. She also tries to find out from Dr Barton and Connie what happened to her errand Aunt, who seems to have vanished several years ago, but the fact they are so reticent to tell her the truth, and the discovery of bruises on the neck of the dead resident, fuels her paranoia – and all with good reason …
NEXT OF KIN is a slow burner, there’s no denying it. Its decidedly measured pacing may put off some people. Linda unravels the mystery of Montclare at a less than breakneck speed, but ultimately, if you have patience, it works. As an audience we are drawn into her quiet, waking nightmare. The slow pacing is easily forgiven, as the premise is so intriguing and director, Tony Williams, imbues the film with a creepy feeling of dread throughout. Also, NEXT OF KIN has one hell of a payoff. To be honest, it might be pushing it to call the film a slasher movie: that’s not to say it isn’t blood-drenched (what it lacks in the first 2/3’ds of the movie it sure makes up for in the wham-bam closing act), perhaps what it more closely resembles is a giallo. This is no surprise given the finale of the film (don’t worry, I’m not going to reveal any secrets!). Williams is clearly an Argento fan: during the closing 20 minutes there are many visual flourishes that wouldn’t seem out of place in the work of the errant enfant-terrible of Italian genre cinema. And it’s the last 20 minutes where all that build up really pays off: the slow burner becomes a white-knuckle ride into terror! The creepy dread of the previous 60 minutes gives way to one hell of a scary denouement. Of course, a deserted retirement home is an ideal location for a horror movie, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Jackie Kerin gives a fantastic performance as a young woman whose journey home and warm nostalgia morphs into a journey into terror. She becomes the archetypical final-girl; the final revelations of the house’s secrets and a cat-and-mouse game with the killer are pulse-pounding stuff. Perhaps taking his lead from Robert Wise’s supremely terrifying 60s ghost movie, THE HAUNTING, Williams uses sound to pump up the tension: especially the scenes where Linda listens to the unseen killer racing around the corridors of Montclare in search of her.
NEXT OF KIN works especially well juxtaposing the gruffness of rural Australia and grand guignol gothic. It’s certainly atypical of the subgenre – and, let’s face it, it hasn’t got a huge amount of competition – but it is probably the best slasher flick from down-under. For those who are a little adventurous, and are prepared to stick with it, this is one slow burner that really comes into its own.
BODYCOUNT 8 female:3 / male:51) Male found drowned