Fans of the Wolf Creek films should be delighted to watch the evil Mick Taylor back in action — at a time of their choosing
The final scenes of both Wolf Creek (2005) and Wolf Creek 2 (2013) are long shots of the back of wisecracking, knife-wielding and Aussie popculture-quoting outback psychopath Mick Taylor as he walks off into the distance after engineering another bloodbath to which he can’t be connected. The obvious suggestion is that he won’t ever get caught — and that he’ll be back.
Now he is, courtesy of creator-writer-director Greg McLean, the producers behind the Underbelly franchise and the streaming service Stan. As of last Thursday, and following much fanfare that has included pop-up bars in Melbourne and Sydney, a six-part original series titled — wait for it! — Wolf Creek, is available in its entirety to Stan subscribers for immediate binge-watching. Tellingly, a long shot in one of Stan’s brief trailers for the series is of Taylor walking towards the camera.
It was inevitable the character, played as always with sadistic bonhomie by the singular John Jarratt, would materialise again from his outback lair. After all, as pre-credit title cards in both films explain, 30,000 people go missing in Australia each year, with 90 per cent found within the first month and the rest never seen again. Do the maths.
Whether or not the world actually craves more Mick Taylor is a question up for debate. The discussion is closed by the quality of the show: Wolf Creek the series is a smart, sinewy extension of a blunt-force film franchise that deepens motivations while turning the tables on itself by having the hunter become the hunted. As a bonus, the event itself is an inevitable and instructive confluence of creative and technical trends in the way filmed drama, particularly genre fare, is conceived, funded, constructed and consumed today.
McLean, who directs only the final episode, certainly saw the need, and the means, to continue the franchise.
“There was quite a long time between the two … movies,” he explains, “so during that period we [horror writer Aaron Sterns, who cowrote the sequel] started thinking about other stories in the Wolf Creek/ Mick Taylor universe, such as where had Mick come from and what happened to him beyond the films. I was pondering these notions a long time before the series came about and had several story ideas I wanted to explore. We also developed prequel novels [ Origin and Desolation Game, published just prior to the second film] that took place before the first movie, so we were basically laying the groundwork to explore his character in a bigger way from an early stage.”
Seen in this light, an episodic series — and, more particularly, the immersive genre thrills made possible through the binge-watching of streaming content — seemed the perfect fit. McLean explains: “I had been speaking with the people at [ Underbelly production house] Screentime for a while and when Stan launched we pitched them the concept. They were immediately excited so we all met, and because there was so much enthusiasm it came together pretty quickly. It sounds pretty straightforward and it actually was.” There’s little doubt streaming services have been revolutionary, and House of Cards started the whole thing. When season one of the American political drama was released in February 2013, the idea of binge-watching a 13-hour TV series no one had yet seen was risky. Sure, it had been done before, as far back as the 1980s, though that was a collection of previously aired episodes of a single TV show — a marathon, it was called — programmed by a station to be watched at a set time. Later, the advent of the personal video recorder and DVD box set gave consumers the flexibility of binge-watching at their own convenience such shows as The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad. The problem with that approach was the shows had already been on cable or broadcast TV, so the value was in re-watching a favourite as opposed to experiencing something new.
House of Cards lead actor Kevin Spacey urged television executives during a 2013 lecture to give audiences “what they want, when they want it” — the option to binge. The series gave Netflix, which enjoys a big lead over upand-comers Presto and Stan in the volatile Australian streaming space, an almost immediate hit. The competition noticed.
Stan and Presto have both delivered, albeit slowly, the latter with the Miranda Brown/ Bryan Brown miniseries Up the Duff and one stand-alone Home and Away film, and the former with No Activity, which has already been picked up for a second season.
Worthy as these shows are, the new original series Wolf Creek reveals them to be but baby steps. McLean and company have got the basics spot on in this expansion of that Wolf Creek/ Mick Taylor universe, beginning with the tightly plotted and tersely written framework of the story.
In northern Australia, American teen Eve Thorogood (Lucy Fry) is on vacation with her family, dad Roland (Robert Taylor), mum Ingrid (Maya Stange) and kid brother Ross (Cameron Caulfield). Roland and Ingrid are cops from Omaha, Nebraska, and they’ve headed to the outback in the hope of breaking the surly Eve’s addiction to prescription medication.
When they pull up at a billabong for the night and Ross is attacked by a salty, their saviour is Mick Taylor (Jarratt). As Eve lies slightly drugged in the caravan from raiding the firstaid kit, Mick abruptly slaughters her family in a darkly comic and frighteningly brutal sequence superior to any in the films. (TV veteran Tony Tilse directed the first five episodes.)
Eve escapes, barely, but her tale is greeted with scepticism by the Darwin police. Detective Sergeant Sullivan Hill (Dustin Clare) seems sympathetic, but only to a point: he has piles of missing persons reports on his desk that could explain why her father possibly went a bit mad and murdered his family.
But Eve, even in her slightly addled state, shows enough resourcefulness and pluck to gather some photographic evidence suggesting the presence of Mick’s signature powderblue ute at the scenes of previous victims. She decides to skip her flight back to the US, rents a rattletrap minibus and sets out into the bush.
“I promise you,” she murmurs to her dead family, “I will find him and I’ll make him pay.”
The intensity of the violence in the pre-credit slaughter suggests the series will not downplay the gore that earned the films their genre stripes. And the casting of Fry, who brings an authentic and volatile blend of addictive vulnerability and instinctual determination to Eve, ensures a protagonist whose inner struggle will be just as compelling as the search for her fearsome foe.
Yet the engine that has always pulled this train is Taylor, and the calculating talent behind him — Jarratt. He’s still the jovial, xenophobic psychopath oblivious to the human suffering he causes, and Mick’s killing spree, which so far is limited to the paved roads outside Darwin, has accelerated in frequency and audacity since the films. He’s a man on a mission.
This is in keeping with Jarratt’s interpretation of the character. “Mick Taylor honestly doesn’t see anything wrong with what he does,” Jarratt explains. “I’ve got a backstory for Mick where he was in the pub, lamenting the fact there’s not a lot of money to be made by shooting feral animals any more as the industry was falling flat and the outback was being taken over by all these ‘hippie backpackers’. His mates then suggested that they should start culling the backpackers, as they’re no better than feral animals. Mick liked the idea …”
And Jarratt is adamant about preserving the character’s cheerful nature. “[The filmmakers] wanted to shoot a few scenes depicting Mick in his lair where he was growling, screaming and looking horrible, basically a few fleeting moments for various episodes. But I told them that Mick doesn’t scream or yell or growl. He’s a very happy, easygoing guy and when he kills people he’s laughing. He’s not Freddy Krueger, he’s more like Pepe Le Pew with a manic laugh who has the time of his life.”
The thought resulted in black-and-white scenes of Mick drunkenly dancing around his compound. “He’s having a ball,” Jarratt says. “It’s just his victims who are not having fun.”
In a recent interview, Jarratt rather offhandedly stated that the series “ups the bar for television in this country”. And he’s right.
Given the visceral quality of Wolf Creek the original series and the statistics referenced above, there’s little doubt he’s still out there, and that Mick Taylor will be back. Nothing succeeds like excess. is available on streaming service Stan.
John Jarratt as the menacing Mick Taylor; Lucy Fry as the vengeful daughter Eve, below