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Aussie director delivers with Tasmanian horror

  • Story Highlights
  • "Dying Breed" is an Australian horror film set in the Tasmanian jungle
  • A group of researchers go looking for the Tasmanian tiger but find cannibals instead
  • Director Jody Dwyer hopes he has delivered scares while avoiding horror cliches
  • Dwyer: "I wanted to present characters that were credible"
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By Mark Wickstead
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Cannibalism, Tasmanian tigers and a good dose of Australian humor: These are the ingredients of the latest film from down under, the intriguingly titled "Dying Breed."

Left to right: producer Rod Morris, writer/producer Michael Boughan, director Jody Dwyer, and actors Nathan Phillips and Leigh Whannell

The film is inspired by the story of Alexander "Pieman" Pierce, who, in the 1820s, escaped from one of the most feared penal colonies in Tasmania and survived in the bush by eating his fellow escapees.

"Dying Breed" suggests that "Pieman" Pierce's descendents today live deep in the jungle, feeding off the flesh of innocent travelers.

Director, Jody Dwyer, Australia-born but raised in the UK, hopes that his first feature-length film has managed to steer clear of typical horror cliches.

"You have to acknowledge there is a certain formula [to the horror genre], but at the same time you need a point of difference. I wanted to present characters that were credible, that had depth," he told CNN.

To further break away from convention, Dwyer has tried to make sure that this is not a typical Australian film.

The cast don't "feel" Australian and it is set in lush jungle, not a red desert. The Australian lead sports an Irish accent, while in the jungle of Tasmania there isn't a kangaroo or cork hat in sight.

"I was very conscious of giving it a commercially viable feel by being international without being parochial," Dwyer explained. "I think there is a real danger of Australian films becoming particularly art house because they present Aussies as battlers of the outback."

Dwyer questions whether Baz Lurhman's upcoming blockbuster, "Australia," is doing anything to change this image: "That movie deals with the slightly stereotypical image of Australia being a land of the farmer and the ground and the cattle," he told CNN.

"Dying Breed," as a horror, is already breaking from what most people consider an Australian film. "Crocodile Dundee," "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "Muriel's Wedding" are the films typically associated with the Australian film industry.

But comedy's hold on Australia has loosened in recent years. Since 2000 Australia has produced a series of successful horror flicks, culminating in 2005's "Wolf Creek."

Made for a mere $1 million, it became the highest grossing Australian horror film of all time, making over $16 million at the U.S. box office alone.

Neighboring New Zealand has also had a run of successful horror films in recent years. Before Peter Jackson took over Hollywood with his band of hobbits, he made his name in his homeland with 80's classic gore-fests, "Bad Taste" and "Braindead."

A huge success internationally, the films have since spawned a whole generation of new horror directors in New Zealand.

Even after nearly twenty years, Jackson's films remain hugely influential. 2006's "Black Sheep," a film about genetically modified killer sheep, owed much to "Braindead" and used Jackson's special effects company, Weta Workshop.

Horror has also seen a revival globally. "Saw", written by Dying Breed's own Leigh Whannell, grossed $55 million in the United States and has since spawned three sequels.

The popularity of the series generated numerous other torture fests that seem to develop increasingly elaborate ways to mutilate hapless teenagers.

It is a tough ask to make your film stand out in such a saturated market, and you have to wonder how a film that in essence deals with four adults going out into a haunted wilderness can really be unique.

Dwyer believes he's done that by focusing on the film's characters: "A community that seems normal but has some twisted alternative philosophy, which makes a much more horrific film," he grins.

And Dwyer believes the setting has helped. Tasmania, an island that has rarely featured in films, has a rich history and a varied landscape.

Would Dwyer, after spending so much time on the island, recommend it as place to visit?

"Bits of Tasmania are phenomenal in their beauty," he said. "With that hanging mist, steep gradients and valleys, it's truly mythical."

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