In Rod Hardy’s THIRST (1979) we are introduced to Kate (Chantal Contouri), an attractive waif-like young fashion designer with a pet cat and a serious problem. Kate’s the last descendent of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, often cited as history’s first and most prolific female serial killer, and she’s been kidnapped by a group of power-hungry aristocratic vampires known as ‘The Brotherhood.’ This vampiric cult needs her blood so they can fulfill their diabolical plan to turn the rest of us into human cattle. Will Kate outwit her sinister captors and survive her ordeal? Or will she succumb to her baser instincts? Thanks to a new Blu-ray package from Severin Films you can discover the answer to that question for yourself.

Few film subjects have been as exploited, examined and scrutinized as vampires. These blood sucking monsters are a favorite topic of horror filmmakers and fans, morbid romantics and angst-ridden pubescent teens. In recent years the vampire has lost some of its bite thanks to a spat of predictable and under baked films made for kids and indiscriminate adults but this wasn’t always the case. The 1970s was a particularly inventive time for our fanged friends.

During that pivotal decade audiences were treated to an abundance of creative movies and telefilms interested in reimagining, subverting and deconstructing vampire legend and lore such as DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Harry Kumel; 1970), THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (Jean Rollin; 1970), VAMPIRE CIRCUS (Robert Young ; 1971), LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (John D. Hancock; 1971), VAMPYROS LESBOS (Jess Franco; 1971), THE OMEGA MAN (Boris Sagal; 1971), THE VELVET VAMPIRE (Stephanie Rothman; 1971), THE NIGHT STALKER (John Llewellyn Moxey; 1972), BLACKULA (William Crain; 1972), GANJA & HESS (Bill Gunn; 1973), CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (Brian Clemens ; 1974), VAMPYRES (Jose Ramon Larraz; 1974), BLOOD FOR DRACULA (Paul Morrissey; 1974), ALUCARDA (Juan. L. Moctezuma; 1975), MARTIN (George Romero; 1977) and SALEM’S LOT (Tobe Hooper; 1979) just to name a few.

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One of the best and most unusual vampire films to emerge from this ripe period was Rod Hardy’s Australian thriller THIRST. Although it’s currently being touted as an “Ozploitation classic” THIRST is a smarter and more accomplished film than that all-purpose label might suggest. This thinking man’s vampire tale mixes elements of science fiction, fantasy, and classic gothic fiction into a heady cocktail that serves the taut script well. THIRST was director Rod Hardy’s first feature film but it feels like the work of a much more accomplished director who was able to easily overcome the constraints of a minimal budget and limited resources. The film forgoes a conventional narrative structure and is rooted in the dreams and anxieties of its female protagonist but the clinical setting and convincing cast keep it grounded. In this respect, Hardy’s film shares similarities with David Cronenberg’s early work such as RABID (1977) and THE BROOD (1979).

Chantal Contouri gives a particularly impassioned and sensitive performance as Kate, a woman who clings to her romantic memories of a well-intended mustachioed man (Rod Mullinar) to keep her sane when her reality begins to crumble. She’s surrounded by a terrific supporting cast that includes a shrewdly subdued David Hemmings as Dr. Fraser, a naturally menacing Henry Silva as Dr. Gauss, and a particularly sadistic Shirley Cameron as Mrs. Barker, who acts like a blue-blooded Nurse Ratched. These three make up the calculating head, cold heart, and black soul of The Brotherhood, an underground organization running a human plasma farm for wealthy vampires who desperately want Kate to join their undead ranks.

The film’s catchy tagline read “This ancient Evil is now a modern industry” indicating that THIRST was a well-intended jab at unfettered capitalism and unscrupulous corporate criminals, which is plainly evident as the film unfurls. But this occasionally heavy-handed and humorously delivered message doesn’t diminish its otherworldly atmosphere. Horror fans can enjoy THIRST as pure horror-driven entertainment and although the violence is minimal it’s a very bloody film. The languid pacing and lack of special effects probably won’t appeal to everyone but the movie does provide patient viewers with some surprising rewards including plenty of visual flourishes and a few genuine thrills and chills.

Thirst-CoverI first saw THIRST on home video in the late 1980s and later on DVD (from Synapse) but Severin’s new Blu-ray was a real revelation. The disc features a brand new anamorphic widescreen HD transfer from the original negative and the film has never looked or sounded better. Colors are vivid and the audio is crisp allowing composer Brain May’s impressive score to really come alive. Severin has packaged their Blu-ray disc with a DVD and the set includes audio commentary with director Rod Hardy and producer Antony I. Ginnane, an isolated music score so you can enjoy May soundtrack’s as a standalone accomplishment, the original theatrical trailer and TV spots. If you’d like to purchase the THIRST Blu-ray + DVD Combo or just want more information about the release you can find it on Severin’s website.

The film is currently streaming on Amazon.

by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally published at TCM.com on March 20, 2014