Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977) is not exactly a horror film but like his previous film Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), it explores irrational in the rational world, maintaining an atmosphere of mystery and magic as inexplicable events occur that modern science cannot explain. Set in contemporary Sydney, Australia, it stars Richard Chamberlain as an Australian lawyer who takes on the defense of a group of Aborigines accused of killing one of their own. As this rational lawyer is drawn into Aboriginal tribal religion, prophecy, and visions, the elemental dreams and nightmares that have tormented him since he was a child seem to manifest in unprecedented weather events across Australia, from torrential downpours flooding city streets to a sudden hailstorm dropping on a tiny desert town from a cloudless sky.
The initial inspiration for the story, according to the director, came from a trip that Weir made to Tunisia in 1971. “I was suddenly seized with this strange feeling I was going to find something, I even saw what I was going to see. And there it was, on the ground, a carving of a child’s head. I brought it home and thought about it for ages afterwards. What was that experience? Why did I see the head in my mind before I saw it in actuality. And then I started to think, what if a very rational person – a lawyer, say – had had the same experience? How would he cope with it?”
Plays on TCM on Friday, May 9