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I’m married, I have gray hairs popping up all over my head, and Wolf Creek came out nearly 10 years ago. Holy shit. I’m officially old. Like, really old.

Yes, it has indeed been nearly a full decade since the release of Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek, which came out back in 2005. In celebration of the upcoming anniversary and release of the long-awaited sequel – due out April 17th, on VOD outlets – it seems only right that we take a look back on the film, which is in my opinion one of the very best horror movies to come along in the last 10 years.

So let’s do that, shall we?

Loosely based on real-life serial killer Ivan Milat, who was convicted of the murders of at least seven people between 1989 and 1993, Wolf Creek centers on the characters of Liz, Kristy and Ben, who backpack across the country and end up at Wolf Creek National Park – where their trip takes a horrifying turn.

After their vehicle stops working, they’re encountered by an outback bloke named Mick Taylor, who offers to fix their car and lets them crash at his place. While he seems nice at first, the friends soon realize they’ve been lured straight into the lion’s den, and they find themselves facing down the business end of Mick’s knife… and it’s a really, really big one.

The most common complaint I’ve heard about Wolf Creek over the years, from those who didn’t quite care for it, is that the movie takes waaayyyyy too long to get to ‘the good stuff’ – aka, the part where Mick reveals his true colors, and starts doing what he does best. True, it does indeed take nearly an hour for the movie to really turn into a horror movie, but if you’re asking me, that’s precisely what makes Wolf Creek stand tall over all the other ‘young people getting killed’ movies that have come along in recent years.

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Filmmaker Drew Daywalt – known for his terrifying short films – recently said something on his Facebook page that echoes exactly how I feel about horror movies, which seems quite appropriate to repeat right about now. “Good horror has to start with a character you care about,” he said. “Otherwise the jeopardy is a lie.”

Characters you care about is one of the single most important qualities for any horror movie to have, and unfortunately so few filmmakers seem to realize that. They push story and character development aside for action and the result is almost always a movie that just doesn’t resonate, or feel like it has any point. If you don’t care about the characters in peril, then their perilous situation means absolutely nothing. Period. End of story.

As Greg McLean has proven with both Wolf Creek and his follow-up film – the killer croc flick Rogue – he understands this better than anyone, and the thing I most appreciate about Wolf Creek is the way McLean takes his sweet time with introducing us to the characters – both the victims and the villain – and really allows for those characters to take precedence over all else. You can call the first half of the film boring, if you so desire, but good storytelling is what it really is.

By the time Mick starts slicing and dicing the ill-fated youngsters, we truly care about them, and that’s what makes their horrifying situation horrifying to us, as viewers. They actually feel like real human beings, rather than two-dimensional horror movie victims, and that’s unfortunately not something I can often say about the characters in most of the horror movies I watch. By taking its time, and allowing us to get to know the victims, Wolf Creek comes out the other end a truly effective horror film, one of the few that still sticks with me, all these years later.

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As effective as the buildup to the horror is, so too is the horror itself, which is largely thanks to an incredible performance from John Jarratt. Jarratt’s Mick Taylor is hands down one of the most memorable and terrifying horror villains in recent years, combining the wisecracks and personality of Freddy Krueger with the relentless brutality of Leatherface. The power of Jarratt’s tour-de-force performance simply cannot be overstated, and Mick Taylor is a reminder that it’s not the masked villains or inhuman monsters that are truly frightening, but rather our fellow human beings. And what’s so frightening about Mick is the way his proverbial mask of sanity obscures the monster that’s hiding underneath.

I made the comparison to Leatherface up above and I feel that’s a pretty appropriate one, because Wolf Creek reminds me of Texas Chainsaw Massacre in many ways, and not in the sense that it comes off like just another knockoff of what Tobe Hooper so effectively did back in the 70s. I have no way of knowing if McLean intentionally channeled Texas Chainsaw Massacre when making Wolf Creek but it very much has that same sense of raw, real terror, to the point that I always find myself forgetting Wolf Creek is a movie, every single time I watch it – I can say the same about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even all these years later.

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Though I of course know it’s only a movie, and that the characters are all actors playing parts, there’s just something so real about Wolf Creek, which is again thanks to the talents of McLean – as both a writer and director – as well as the entire cast. There’s a palpable sense of dread throughout the whole movie, even before Mick Taylor pulls out his knife and exposes who he really is, and when business picks up, boy does it ever pick up. Again, because we care about the characters, and because they all feel so real, so too does the horror, and Wolf Creek embodies the word horror as good as any horror movie ever has.

A perfect combination of top notch writing, directing and acting, Wolf Creek is a powerhouse horror film, and one that manages to do just about everything right. Modern day horror really doesn’t get much better than this, and I for one cannot wait to see what Mick Taylor’s got in store for us next.

Stay tuned for my review of Wolf Creek 2, which will be posted next week, right here on iHorror!