WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!
As stated in my review of MONSTER SHARK, I’m still relatively new to the world of Italian Horror cinema. Though I’ve seen quite a bit, I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Italy’s fright flick offerings. But when it comes to Australian Horror and “Ozploitation” movies, I am a total virgin! Aside from the MAD MAX films, I’ve only seen maybe a half-dozen other cult and exploitation films from the Land Down Under. (e.g. LONG WEEKEND, RAZORBACK, and DARK AGE.)
Which leads me to KADAICHA, a rare Aussie Horror title that has attained a level of obscurity unseen in this day and age. Initially intended to have a theatrical release, this Ozploitation title went straight to video instead! Then soon after its release in November of 1988, KADAICHA sort of faded into obscurity. But that all changed this past October when Umbrella Entertainment gave this film a new lease on life with their double feeature DVD (pairing it with the also rarely seen INNOCENT PREY)!
KADAICHA (more commonly known as STONES OF DEATH) begins with a nightmare sequence in which a girl named Tracy Hocking (Natalie McCurry) is handed a “kadaicha stone” by a skull-faced Aborigine. When she awakens, the stone is in her hand. The following day at school, she tells her friends about her dream and shows them the strange crystal. They all write it off as mere coincidence, but begin to worry when Tracy has her throat ripped out by a wild dog later that night.
Shortly after her death, the nerdy member of their group, Franky (Nicholas Ryan) has a bad dream, and awakens to find a kadaicha stone on his pillow. Less than a day later, his body is found in the school’s library, the victim of a Funnel Web Spider bite to the eye! The curse then claims another victim named Felicity (aka Fizz – played by Fiona Gauntlett), but this time a large eel is the culprit! After this trio of deaths, the police are baffled, and only young Gail Sorensen (Zoe Carides) seems to understand what is happening.
Gail receives important expository information from her teacher Mrs. Millhouse (Deborah Kennedy) and a local shaman named Billinudgel (Steve Dodd), that leads to the discovery that her father has been carelessly building homes on cursed tribal grounds that were once the site of a cruel massacre. Because of this past event, the vengeful spirit of “The Kadaicha Man” (or Kurdaitcha Man) is now claiming the lives of white teenagers in true “eye for an eye” fashion.
As the film reaches its climax, Gail, having dodged previous attempts on her life by the aboriginal spirit of vengeance, finds herself fleeing from her possessed boyfriend Matt (Tom Jennings). While she fights for her life, Billinudgel enters the lair of the Kadaicha Man, and uses his own magic in an attempt to break the evil spirit’s power. Will he succeed?! Will Gail survive?! The only way to know for sure is to watch KADAICHA!
Taking some inspiration from 1982’s POLTERGEIST (e.g. homes built upon burial grounds and/or graveyards) and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. (e.g. an evil spirit terrorizing teenagers in their dreams), KADAICHA avoids becoming a pale imitation of either film, and thankfully does its own thing! I particularly liked the film’s concept of a shape-shifting spirit turning into various animals to murder its victims! Unfortunately, we only get three supernatural animal attacks throughout the film (which are all preceded by what I call the “DidgeriDOOM“), and they leave much to be desired.
With the exception of Franky’s demise (which features some surprisingly cool POV shots from the spider’s vantage point), the other two animal attacks disappointingly consist of vague close-ups, and choppy editing. However, the makeup effects in the film, courtesy of Deryck De Niese, are top-notch, and the corpses that the “Kadaicha Man” leaves in his wake are fairly impressive. In particular, Franky’s spider venom-infused face is awesomely gruesome!
The cast of KADAICHA is decent, but no one really delivers a stand-out performance. That being said, Zoe Carides is good as Gail Sorensen, and proves to be an acceptable central character. I should also note that she does the most ingenious thing in the entire movie. As she’s having the same exact nightmare that her deceased friends experienced, Gail actually attempts to flee the Kadaicha Man’s cave and refuse to accept his kadaicha stone. But in the end, her struggle is all for naught as she finds that she is not in full control of her dream.
But what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of KADAICHA is how it handles the relationship between the film’s (mostly) white cast, and its main aboriginal character, Billinudgel. When the unexplained murders occur, the authorities immediately decide to track down Billinudgel for questioning, even though lead investigator Detective Rose fully admits that no one can train a spider or an eel to kill someone. As for Billinudgel himself, he initially stays out of things despite pleas of help from Gail and her boyfriend, because he doesn’t fully trust them.
This racial divide becomes even more understandable when the dark history of Kangaloola is revealed. Taking a cue from Australia’s sordid past of aboriginal mistreatment, the curse in the film stems from Alex Sorensen’s development of sacred burial grounds. What’s worse is that the plot of land he built his own neighborhood on was the scene of a terrible massacre over a century ago. And naturally, the Kadaicha Man that is plaguing the town’s teenagers was part of the tribe that was eradicated!
Most of this backstory is obtained from Mrs. Millhouse, a local historian and (seemingly) the only teacher at Kangaloola High. After filling in some plot gaps, she begs both girls to be careful about what they tell authorities. You see, Mrs. Millhouse’s biggest fear isn’t that the two terrified “teens” are being targeted by a shape-shifting magician from beyond the grave, but that history will repeat itself, resulting in scared white people senselessly killing some natives. So not only do Gail and Fizz have to contend with a supernatural threat, but they also have to be careful to avoid stirring up renewed violence against the innocent Aborigines.
Overall, I must say that I dug KADAICHA: Its pacing is slow, but the film never becomes boring. (In fact, the first half of the film averages one death every fifteen minutes or so.) And though it lacks nudity and contains very little gore (which are typically standard in 80s Horror fare), KADAICHA manages to be an effective low-budget chiller with several memorable sequences. (e.g. Gail getting spooked in the girl’s lavatory at school and Franky’s death chiefly among them.) This film is an interesting piece of Ozploitation history, and I’m happy to give James Bogle’s directorial debut a rating of:
Packaging: KADAICHA comes in a standard amaray DVD case. Its cover art appears to be a slightly altered poster design from the film’s original (non-STONES OF DEATH) VHS release. You can view the artwork at the top left of this review.
Audio & Video: I’m sure that 35mm prints of KADAICHA are super rare, so it is not too surprising that Umbrella Entertainment had to source this fullscreen (4:3) transfer from a tape. (VHS? Betamax?) The picture quality is fairly decent, but at around the seventy-seven minute mark there are a bunch of tracking issues. (Luckily this doesn’t happen during anything of consequence.) This is definitely a case of “we did the best we could with the materials we had.” The audio for the film (Dolby Digital 2.0) is surprisingly good, and all of the screams, dialogue, and didgeridoo music came through clearly on my speakers.
Extras: 1984’s INNOCENT PREY is included on the disc, featuring P.J. Soles (HALLOWEEN) as a woman who attracts the wrong kind of men. The DVD also contains trailers for both films, as well as a twenty-two minute Looking Back on Innocent Prey: A Conversation with P.J. Soles interview.
Final Verdict: Perhaps one day we’ll see an HD transfer of KADAICHA sourced from a 35mm print, but until that happens, this release is most likely the best presentation of the film we could ask for. And the inclusion of INNOCENT PREY, trailers, and P.J. Soles’ interview definitely makes this a worthwhile purchase in my eyes. Therefore, I deem that Umbrella’s double feature disc is worthy of: