In praise of Mick Taylor.
It’s not an easy thing to create a horror icon.
Leatherface; Freddy; Jason; Pinhead; Michael Myers; Ghostface; Sadako….
Many films have aspired to add their villain to those illustrious ranks, but rarely have they succeeded.
But in 2005 Australian writer-director Greg McLean offered us just such a candidate, in the Outback horror, Wolf Creek (followed by a sequel in 2013).
Step forward Mick Taylor.
Both films were marketed as being, ‘based on true events’ which was somewhat spurious in that they were only very vaguely inspired by the, ‘backpacker murders’ of the 1990s, along with the abduction of British tourist Peter Falconio and the assault of his girlfriend Joanne Lees in 2001.
The first film throws two British tourists, Liz and Kristy, along with their Australian friend Ben, into the path of Mick Taylor, a rough Outbacker who initially appears to be their saviour when their vehicle breaks down and he offers to help them.
But his depraved nature quickly emerges and the trio awake from a drug-induced sleep to a nightmare of Taylor’s creation.
Liz is tortured and then paralysed; Kirsty is sexually assaulted and then murdered; Ben eventually escapes but only at the cost of terrible injuries and psychological damage.
The second film delivers a similar fate to German tourists Rutger and Katarina, and British tourist Paul.
Here are my thoughts then as to why Mick Taylor qualifies as a truly great horror villain:
He is truly a serial killer
The first film gave strong hints as to how many victims Taylor may have had but the second makes it explicit; as Paul flees through Taylor’s underground dungeon complex, he comes across the bodies of numerous corpses and one emaciated woman, begging for her freedom.
Cleary Taylor has been plying his deadly trade for years, on countless innocents.
He doesn’t look like a monster
Pinhead, Leatherface, Sadako…..all look like monsters, they’re immediately recognisable as such. Part of what makes Mick Taylor so chillingly effective is that he looks….completely normal. He is as much a monster as any but that is concealed behind a mask of utter ordinariness.
He has no code
Many horror villains have codes (especially Clive Barker’s), they have rules and boundaries which shape their behaviour.
Not Mick Taylor.
And this is chillingly illustrated in Wolf Creek 2, wherein he makes a game of sorts with captured tourist Ben. He proposes to ask Ben ten questions about Australian history and if Ben does well enough, he’ll let him go. What Taylor doesn’t know is that Ben is a history major, and when he continues to answer the questions correctly, an annoyed Taylor goes back on his word and cuts off two of his fingers anyway.
Later in the film, Taylor seems to attempt to define his credo, saying to Paul that, ‘It’s up to my kind to wipe your kind out’. But he’s shown earlier that he’s equally as happy killing Australian policemen as he is killing foreign tourists.
There really are no rules nor reasons for him.
He is relentless
Taylor is like a force of nature – in the pursuit of his victims, he will kill random passers by, slaughter law enforcement agents, steal and crash trucks and more.
It is his implacable nature that makes him such a blood-chilling adversary.
And both films stress his unstoppableness by ending with Taylor calmly walking away, rifle, in hand, prepared to carry on his reign of carnage.
He is master of his domain
Freddy has his dream realm, Pinhead the Labyrinth, Sadako her well – all have their lairs.
Mick Taylor has the unforgiving and vast expanse of the Western Australian out-back, and he rules over it like a lord.
He is a sadist
Slasher icons like Jason and Ghostface want to kill you, sure, but that’s not nearly enough for Mick Taylor.
He wants you to suffer, preferably for a long time.
And actually, he may not kill you at all if he thinks your suffering will be greater alive – hence him allowing Paul to escape at the end of the second film, albeit totally mentally broken.
Like some depraved predator hunting his prey, it is the chase and the terror that creates that is as important to Taylor as the eventual capture or killing of his victims.
And his most chilling sadistic moment? Probably the ‘head on a stick’ moment in the first film, where he cuts through Liz’s spine with a knife, paralysing her, and meaning that she will be helpless but conscious for the atrocities that follow.
It is a testament to writer / director McLean and actor John Jarratt – who apparently went to extremes in preparation for the role, spending significant time alone in the isolated outback and going for weeks without showering – that they have managed to create such a memorable and original horror icon.
Finally, it has been announced that there will be a six-part television series of Wolf Creek, set to screen later this month (August 2016).
Mick Taylor’s reign of terror is not yet over, it seems.