Writer-director Tony D’Aquino’s ferocious debut feature, The Furies, is good old-fashioned R-rated gorefest – proudly made in Australia.
The Hunger Games collides with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in The Furies, the story of a group of women who are mysteriously abducted and forced to play a most dangerous game, which involves them being hunted by masked maniacs.
A self-described “huge horror nerd,” D’Aquino says the idea for the film stemmed from his desire to do a modern take on the slasher film cycle of the 1980s.
“I love the slasher genre and that ‘final girl’ trope, where one woman survives to face off against the masked killer. So I thought, what would happen if you had a whole bunch of final women and a whole bunch of killers and put them together – how would that play out?
“That was the idea, and I also wanted to update the slasher a bit, because it became a bit problematic later in the cycle, being misogynistic and sexist. I wanted to change it up and make it all about the women, but not them waiting to be rescued or running around screaming with their tops falling off.
“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, slasher films were half and half male/female audiences. In that period there weren’t a lot of films with female leads and slasher movies were often female driven.
“My main tonal inspiration is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the 1974 version. I wanted that sense where you feel like you’re watching a nightmare unfold in broad daylight, and it’s that stark sunlight as well.”
Adding to the sense of unease is the film’s eerie central location – an abandoned tourist attraction on the outskirts of Canberra. “It was an amazing find,” says D’Aquino. “I’d written the script to be set in a bunch of old abandoned farmhouses and was directed to this location by a Canberra producer. There was a gold mining town there that was rebuilt as a tourist attraction, but it quickly went broke in the ‘70s, I believe, and they just walked away and left everything there. So it’s kind of been rotting since then and the buildings have aged naturally; it looks like a real ghost town. The owner kindly let us rent the property and it basically became a studio backlot for us.
“It’s in the middle of 60 acres of ghost gums, which are quite eerie, particularly for overseas audiences. It looks like a forest of bleached bones. DOP Garry Richards did an amazing job making it look as fantastic as it does.”
Essential to any homage to ‘80s slasher flicks is an abundance of gruesome make-up effects, and D’Aquino was determined to keep things practical, enlisting the services of prosthetics designer Larry Van Duynhoven (Upgrade) to deliver the insanely gory set pieces.
“I wrote all the gory stuff before I met Larry, and I was always concerned about finding somebody who could actually pull this off for the budget that we had. We got on straight away because he adores horror films as well; he loves Tom Savini and all the films from the ‘70s and ‘80s, so he was happy to go as far as possible with what was in the script. He was happy that I was going to show all the effects and not cut away from them.”
When asked which modern horror films have impressed him lately, D’Aquino says he loved Hereditary and The Witch. “They’re quite serious and bleak films though,” he laughs. “I wanted The Furies to be like a fun rollercoaster ride, going back to the VHS days of getting a video, a bunch of friends and a pizza, and to scream and laugh and engage with the movie.”