Next of Kin (Australia, 1982)
Starring: Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott
Made and released during Australia's boom of exploitation flicks, this cult classic slasher thriller is an anomaly in aesthetics but well deserving of its status of a genre-defining favorite among many!
Returning back to her home town after receiving news that her dear mother passed away, Linda Stevens (Jacki Kerin) sees herself inheriting Montclare, a gothic yet luxuriant nursing home that her mother and aunt Rita created out of their own manor. Knowing little about the place, Linda entertained the idea of just selling it away and getting on with her life, but seeing the pleasant hostility of the home's head nurse Connie (Gerda Nicolson) and local medic Dr. Barton (Alex Scott), who both have been running the Montclare during the times Linda's mother was ailing, she sensed something rather off about her situation, opting to ponder over her decisions a bit more and maybe even managing the place while she's at it.
When one of the elderly residents is found dead at the bottom of a bathtub one day, Linda's stay in Montclare took a turn for the macabre as she's now catching glimpses of a mysterious figure hanging around the grounds, getting phone calls from someone heavily breathing on the other line, as well as finding sink and baths mysteriously left open to run. Furthermore, she discovers her late-mother's diary detailing something evil lurking within the manor and her aunt's eventual descent into violent madness twenty years ago. When asked about the home's dark past, Dr Barton and Connie decline to speak about the matter, forcing Linda to seek help from a local boy she's romancing named Barney (Pre-Wolf Creek John Jarratt!) in uncovering what's really going on in Montclare...
To call Next of Kin (1982) a slasher is only true for about a third of the movie as the rest play out more as a slow burn psychological thriller crafted with effectively haunting imagery, stylized scenery, and, too, intriguing characters for the premise to focus on. It's a direction that may not work for most, but the film's steady and controlled pacing undoubtedly help build the story and tension towards a workably dark and gothic mystery behind the enigmatic horrors hidden in Montclare, fleshing out the devil in the details and, too, raising the dread the further the situation deepens. There's a mild surrealist bend to its execution, making use of a good deal of superb camerawork and uncannily eloquent visuals to give this Ozploitation piece a psuedo-supernatural sense in its scares, adding more on its creep factor. In turn, the narrative is well-acted and tainted with low cheese, influenced greatly by the Old Dark House horror outings down to the very tropes of apparent hauntings and suspiciously secretive individuals, with lead actress Jacki Kerin navigating her character through this unraveling plot with a fair range of being warmly nostalgic towards the old town she grew up in and simply downright horrified once a nightmarish turn starts a horrifying killing spree.
It isn't until the closing act where the murdering steps in, as a genuinely enthralling reveal sets off a good old fashioned cat-and-mouse stalking and terrifyingly villains on the prowl. It's a rewarding payoff after an hour of build up, one that may have rushed the bodycount since most of the murders were done offcamera, but the striking imagery of the slaughtered bodies do make up for it, plus the overall eeriness of the attacks, done hauntingly through expressive camera work and sound design, are among the most efficient I've seen!
So, not the most carnal slasher out there, but Next of Kin (1982) manages to maintain a noteworthy cult following for just how it stands out in tone and style compared to most other bodycounter horror flicks. It's a genuine horror gem spellbound with a patient yet captivatingly dark storytelling, exploding into a visceral display of tormented realities and murderous psychosis just right before the film meets its reaches its strange yet captivating conclusion. If you're yet to see this, then you owe yourself a viewing of this psychological mini-masterpiece from our friends down under!
1 elderly male found dead in a bath tub
1 elderly male found drowned in a bath tub (flashback)
1 female found dead from a slashed throat
1 male found murdered, face bloodied
1 female found murdered, body seen in bath tub
1 male found dead from a head wound and a syringe to the neck, body seen in bath tub
1 female stabbed through the eye with a hat pin comb
1 male had his head blown off with a shot gun