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Horror movies that are marketed as works based on "true stories/events" rightfully result in fans of the genre expressing a healthy skepticism over such claims. Who could expect otherwise, when the “true” aspects of these films are almost always some combination of embellished, heavily edited, or invented entirely?
"Wolf Creek," the notoriously ultra-violent Australian flick released in 2005, is no exception. Despite text assuring viewers that the events depicted within the movie are factual, the truth is that director Greg McLean used elements of a few different crimes to spin a brutal but fictional tale.
Given this, what parts of "Wolf Creek" are actually true to life?
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
The film, set in 1999 in the coastal town of Broome, promptly introduces us to the three protagonists: British tourists Liz Hunter and Kristy Earl, as well as their friend Ben Mitchell from Sydney. The three then embark on a scenic tour of the Australian outback.
At the eponymous Wolf Creek National Park (a real remote tourist spot), the trio's car breaks down. Mick Taylor, a gritty yet affable wilderness expert, arrives and rescues the three, offering them spare parts for their car back at his suspiciously decrepit junkyard lair. After mysteriously falling unconscious, Liz wakes up to find herself bound and gagged.
Liz frees herself from her arm restrictions and escapes a small shed to find Kristy tied to a post, with Mick shooting Kristy in her extremities at point blank range. Mick is sadistically enjoying himself, and makes sexual advances upon her during this torture session.
After Liz pulls off a sneak attack, the girls try their best to escape in spite of Mick relentlessly stalking them. Before they are finally killed, the pair uncovers videos of Mick "rescuing" other tourists with similar trickery, implying he also murdered the others.
Ben, meanwhile, awakes to find himself nailed to wooden boards. He frees himself from the crucifix and runs away, but ultimately passes out in a remote part of the outback where he is eventually rescued by some passersby.
Ending title cards explain that Ben was at first a suspect in the killings of Liz and Kristy, but was eventually cleared of charges. The mystery of their deaths was never officially solved; their bodies were never found.
Kristy, Ben, Liz and Mick are all fictional — despite what the gritty photos of Ben being marched to court shown at the end of the film might suggest. McLean admitted that two stories — the cases of Ivan Milat and Bradley John Murdoch — inspired the movie, according to The Herald Sun, an Australian news organization.
In interviews, McLean has discussed the ways that he took elements of the crimes of both killers to create his critically lauded torture porn. Mick, he says, is an exploration of Australian identity.
"The true story element of it is where he began, in one sense - in the sense that he’s a combination of Bradley Murdoch and Ivan Milat," McLean told Starburst Magazine. "So it’s combined elements of those true characters, and then took a lot of Australian archetypal characters and cultural mythology, like Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin, and wove those characters into a combination to come up with the character. It’s really a combination of what the international perception of the Australian personality is, then also having this hidden side of that personality that’s the dark and negative stuff as well. It’s a kind of an interesting combination of those two things; the iconography and the repressed side of the country."
Ivan Milat (left in the above photo) killed at least seven tourists between 1989 and 1993 in what infamously became known as The Backpack Killings. Milat's first two victims were discovered by runners in the Belanglo State Forest near Bowral in September 1992, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's timeline of the crimes.
Police ultimately confirmed the bodies were those of Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters; Walters had been stabbed repeatedly, Clarke had been shot repeatedly (police guessed she had been used as target practice).
A year later, a human skull was found by a local in a forested area, leading to the discovery of the bodies of Deborah Everist and James Gibson, a couple who had gone missing in 1989.
Roughly a month after that, a police sergeant discovered the corpses of even more missing tourists.
Investigators noted several similarities in the killings: Several of the victims had been bound or gagged, and a sexual element was "strongly suggested" in six of the seven deaths, The Herald Sun reported in 2010.
Police were able to link the deaths to the case of Paul Onions, who had narrowly escaped the clutches of a killer with a similar profile in November 1993, according to The Advertiser.
Milat was an early suspect in the case: He had previously been a suspect in similar abductions and rapes in 1971, although the charges against him had been dropped, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Onions was flown to Australia from the UK to help confirm the identity of Milat, said The Australian. Milat was ultimately found guilty of seven murders on July 27, 1996 and remains incarcerated to this day.
Police are unsure if they've discovered all of Milat's victims: In 2015, police potentially linked the cases of three women who went missing in 1970 to Milat, ABC reported in 2001.
Bradley John Murdoch, the other inspiration for "Wolf Creek," was found guilty for the murder of English backpacker Peter Falconio in 2005.
Falconio, a 28-year-old tourist whose body has still never been discovered, disappeared in Australia in July 2001. The case garnered international attention in the wake of the capture of Milat years earlier. While traveling with his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, the two were stopped by a stranger who indicated their car had been visibly malfunctioning, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Lees said that when the two pulled over to investigate, the stranger brandished a gun. Lees managed to escape from the situation after being bound by tape and sexually assaulted, but Falconio was less fortunate.
Lees was able to identify Murdoch from police photos after they matched his vehicle to descriptions given by Lees, and DNA evidence left on Lees clothing sealed Murdoch's fate. He was found guilty on December 13, 2005, reported The Herald Sun.
"Wolf Creek" has since spawned a sequel and a TV series, both directed by McLean, who is using the motifs of extreme violence to continue exploring the underbelly of Australia. The series investigates the history of Mick Taylor and what led to the events of the original film. It's unclear to what extent the show's forthcoming second season will be inspired by the same crimes.
[Photo: Ivan Milat (left) via New South Wales High Risk Management Unit, Bradley Murdoch via Darwin Police Department]
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