WAKE IN FRIGHT: Dir. Ted Kotcheff | Australia | 1971 | 109 min. | R | DCP
On a two-year post at a tiny school in the Australian Outback, disgruntled middle school teacher John Grant only wants to spend the Christmas holiday with his girlfriend back in Sydney, but gets stranded in transit — or perhaps swallowed whole — in “The Yabba”, a beer-soaked station town where barbarism and vice have found a permanent home. WAKE IN FRIGHT is either the greatest film about beer and the holidays, or the worst. Functional livers are as much a target as wild kangaroos — director and vegetarian Ted Kotcheff has defended its jaw-dropping hunting scene (animal lovers, please beware). Eleven years later, he’d go on to make another notable holiday classic, FIRST BLOOD, in which the police force of a small northwestern town would be given not dissimilar treatment during the height of the holidays.
“A very, very good film that examines male ego in a way that’s almost more Sam Peckinpah than Sam Peckinpah himself.” —Don R. Lewis, Film Threat
"It's simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, a full-on shotgun blast to the face of rediscovered 1970s weirdness, something like finding out that there's a classic Peckinpah film you've never seen, or that Wes Craven and Bernardo Bertolucci got drunk in Sydney one weekend and decided to make a movie together." —Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“Ted Kotcheff has infused WAKE IN FRIGHT with more suspense than most thrillers, and provided a fascinating look at a desolate and depraved wilderness where beer bellies celebrate Christmas in record heat playing slot machines and howling ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ while the sweat rolls off their dirty necks.” —Rex Reed, Observer.com
FIRST BLOOD: Dir. Ted Kotcheff | USA | 1982 | 95 min. | R | 4K DCP Restoration
Before John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) was franchised into an ‘80s-era mold of ultra-violence, he was a transient Vietnam Vet passing through small-town Washington to see a war buddy for the holidays. Arrested for vagrancy by local sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and provoked by jailhouse indignities, his elite survival training kicks in — and a manhunt ensues. Overwhelmed and under-prepared, Teasle calls in Rambo’s old commanding officer to help defuse the situation.
Eleven years earlier and working from an adapted novel as well, director Ted Kotcheff made another notable holiday classic, WAKE IN FRIGHT, about how the barbarism of fellow man eclipses the “Christmas spirit” to expend upon the common holiday traveler during the height of the season. John Rambo is not expendable.
“Stallone brought intense physicality, obviously, but also hangdog vulnerability to a character who takes revenge on a cruel, unfeeling establishment and utters some of the most iconic lines in shoot’em’up history.” —Kevin Maher, The Times (UK)
“FIRST BLOOD is full of grueling-looking stunts, involving a helicopter, a motorcycle, explosions, numerous trucks and a lot of heavy weapons (this arsenal, which had to be imported to British Columbia where the movie was shot, was stolen midway through filming). It is also one of those rare movies to list in its closing credits the craftsman responsible for an exotic knife, not to mention a dog handler and a rat wrangler.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times