The Snowtown Murders (2011) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

WTF Really Happened digs into the disturbing true story behind the 2011 film The Snowtown Murders (a.k.a. Snowtown)

It never gets easier to look up the horrors of what real life humans are willing to perpetrate but some of them are harder than others. Looking into the purported Scottish myth that inspired The Hills Have Eyes for example is a whole heck of a lot easier to do than find out the absolutely abysmal crimes that were committed against a young girl in The Girl Next Door. Sadly, today’s movie The Snowtown Murders, a.k.a. Snowtown (watch it HERE), is a lot closer to the sickening facts that happened to The Girl Next Door. While Australia already got our notorious spotlight shined on the fictional Mick Taylor who was a composite of two backpack killers, today we will look at the man who is known as the country’s worst serial killer and unpack what he did and who with. The movie is hard to watch and the true story was harder to read. Look out for any suspicious looking barrels as we find out what REALLY happened to The Snowtown Murders.

The Snowtown Murders, or just Snowtown, was announced by Screen Australia as an important film that they would be funding in 2010. Screen Australia is the principal government film funding operation for the country that goes for movies about Australia and made by Australia. Two books were the basis of the screenplay with Debi Marshall’s Killing for Pleasure: The Definitive Story of the Snowtown Murders and Andrew McGarry’s Snowtown Murders: The Real Story Behind the Bodies in the Barrels Killings. The screenplay and story for the movie was written by Justin Kurzel and Shaun Grant. Kurzel only has this as a major screenplay but has directed a few notable movies besides today’s powerful story such as Macbeth with Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, the forgettable Assassins Creed adaptation, and The True History of the Kelly Gang. Shaun Grant has written a handful of movies including other collaborations with Kurzel and the Teresa Palmer thriller Berlin Syndrome.

Australia has a fun history with horror including the very successful and still fondly remembered run of Ozploitation movies. Next of Kin, Turkey Shoot, and Road Games are just a few examples of a hell of a run from the 70s and 80s that included slashers, supernatural movies, and even soft-core skin flicks. While they never stopped making movies into the 90s and beyond, they both slowed down in release and changed their approach in a lot of ways. From the fun and fantastic of the nihilistic 70s and excess of the 80s to the gritty realism of the 2000s with movies like Rogue and the aforementioned Wolf Creek and its sequel. Snowtown isn’t your traditional horror movie but just like the true story it’s based off of, its much more horrifying than some of the other movies we talked about.

A lot of the actors used in the movie were locals to add to the gritty realism of the movie. They werent professional actors and even though it comes through on film, it almost adds a documentary feel like Night of the Living Dead. The heart of the movie is Jaime Vlassakis, played by Lucas Pittaway. Pittaway has only done two other feature films to go along with tons of shorts and that’s a shame because he has an intensity and star face that could take him anywhere. If he is the heart of the movie, then the dark soul of Snowtown is Daniel Henshall’s John Bunting. Henshall has turned his starmaking role here into a bunch of other roles including parts in Ghost in the Shell and These Final Hours while also appearing in the nation’s favorite new horror movie; Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.

The movie opens with a voiceover and an introduction to the family and main characters of the movie. Jaime, his mother Elizabeth, and his 2 younger brothers and older half brother Troy all live in the poor area of Salisbury. Elizabeth is dating a man Jeffery who turns out to be a pedophile and takes pictures of the kids and it is alluded that he abuses them as well. She finds out and attacks him. He still lives across the street but a new man by the name of John is introduced to Elizabeth by her cross-dressing friend Barry. John protects the family and terrorizes Jefferey with loud noises, defacing of property, and even mangled kangaroo parts until he eventually moves away. John becomes the missing father figure for everyone except Troy who seems indifferent at best and hates him at worst. John also riles up the rest of the neighborhood to see who is willing to do what to the rest of the alleged pedophiles in town since the police aren’t doing enough.

(Factometer 50%) A lot of this movie is painfully, tragically accurate to the real murders and atrocities that the community went through. they used a lot of the same names with Jaime, Mark, Elizabeth, John, and a few others being names after the real people that were involved. Jaime lived with his mother and his half brother Troy. Bunting moved on to the same street as the family and was very good at being the cult leader type figure depicted on film. He was able to get associates to agree with him and talk them into things that would end up putting a lot of them in jail or in the ground. There doesn’t seem to be a Barry character in real life and while there wasn’t a pedophile boyfriend of Elizbeth, there was a history of sexual abuse with many of the people that lived in the area.

Troy starts a fight with Jaime but shockingly and horrifically, it turns into a sexual assault perpetrated on Jaime by Troy. John has Barry give up all of the names of supposed pedophiles in the area. John shaves his head and Jaime’s to continue to bond with him and then asks him why he allows people to push him around and take advantage of him. He then has Jaime practice shooting a gun by killing John’s dog that he apparently doesn’t care about. Jaime shoots him but is clearly broken up about it and John has to finish the job. We then hear a recording or Barry saying he is going to go away for a while and on screen we see an ominous slow-motion of John and one of his associates looking menacing outside. John and Jaime, who is now fully bought in on John’s beliefs, go and visit another supposed pedophile and his mother even though the mom says he is harmless.

(Factometer 50%) While it happened earlier in his life, Jaime did confide in Bunting that Troy had assaulted him when he was 13. While there wasn’t a Barry in real life to give up the names and instead Bunting would just pick people at random to accuse them of the crimes. He was prejudiced against people with weight problems and homosexuals and the fact that he was sexually assaulted when he was younger only helped to fuel his anger. While I couldn’t find anything in the realm of the dog shooting scene, Bunting definitely had Jaime, as well as a lot of other members of the community, under his spell. He also worked at an abattoir and claimed that killing animals was the best part of the job. Finally, in regards to that chilling voicemail from Barry, that was how Bunting would stay under the radar as he had all of the victims after a certain point create these.

The relationship between John and Elizabeth has become rocky but the hold over Jaime from Bunting is still very strong. Jaime comes home late with Bunting watching the other kids and when Jaime asks what happened to his hand, Bunting casually walks him outside and shows him the dead body of his friend who was a heroin junkie that got Jaime hooked too. He also shows him Barry and tells him to man up when he throws up. Jaime is forced to help cover up and Bunting holds court again but has a meaner steak this time. Things continue to escalate, and Bunting wakes up Jaime to show him Troy and they proceed to torture and murder him with Jaime’s help while also recording another message to explain that he is going away for a while. The scene goes on for an excruciatingly long time until Jamie is the one to deliver the killing blow.

(Factometer 50%) One of the victims was indeed a drug addict who also got Jaime addicted to heroin. Troy also met an eerily similar fate with the men waking him up with an attack and killing him. While Jaime in the movie is seemingly a much more sympathetic person and at times a victim himself, he helped Bunting with a lot more from the actual killings to getting the financial information from the other victims. In a horrifying attention to detail, many of the deaths were as awful as what we see Troy go through, even if that is the only one, we see on film. I think that’s best for everyone making it through this movie. It also adds more shock value when most of the killing happens off screen and then we see a full on murder that lasts a long time.

The cycle of violence continues with now seemingly anyone chosen to be killed. Mentally challenged, overweight, and even just homosexual victims are picked by Bunting and executed. Jaime continues to fall deeper and deeper into either depression of apathy depending on how you look at it. Mark Haydon, one of the main accomplices, admits that he drunkenly told his wife about everything they had done. This leads to her murder and then Jaime leading his stepbrother to the abandoned bank fault in Snowtown where he is killed as the movie ends. The movie draws out the trip to go look at a computer for a long time where Jaime has a chance to change his mind but he doesn’t.

(Factometer 75%) This last section of film is probably the closest to real life. Mark did tell his his wife everything and admitted to that fact. Bunting killed her and Mark apparently laughed when he saw the body, showing how deep into the Bunting cult he was. Jaime also helped get all the financial information from the victims which allowed Bunting to collect money to both support himself and spend on things to keep his followers happy. The lure of a cheap computer in the late 90s was in fact what got Jaimes step brother David out to the bank and he was the last victim. Chillingly, Bunting and Robert Wagner who was Bunting’s main accomplice, cut off, fried up, and ate a piece of David before putting the rest of him in the barrel.

The movie tells us what happened to everyone but when the barrels were found, Wagner and Bunting were given multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole and Jaime would get life sentences as well but with some parole options down the line after helping the police. His mother would die of cancer shortly after the three men were taken into custody. The shock remains the most brutal killing in the countries history and the movie is very close to what actually happened. That fact makes the movie one of those that you should watch once, but may never want to again. Snowtown does an almost too accurate job of showing us what REALLY happened in Australia during the 90s.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To check out the other shows we have on the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel, head over to the channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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