A very eerie coincidence occurred for the second unit crew sent out to get footage of the Wolf Creek Crater. Since the location was many hours from any town the small crew decided to camp out in their car at the site after shooting. During the night a mysterious stranger showed up in a truck to investigate. The stranger indeed looked very much like the character of Mick Taylor, right down to the rustic truck. The stranger left, but the crew was so spooked that they drove an hour down the road before finally stopping to camp for the night.
Unbeknown to the crew the abandoned mine where they chose to film had actually been the site of the real life murder of a woman. The filming prompted a protest from locals who erroneously thought the film was about those events.
At one point during the shooting of the scene where Mick (John Jarratt) is torturing Kristy (Kestie Morassi) whilst Liz (Cassandra Magrath) looks through the window, director Greg McLean wanted to get a shot of Cassandra's POV, so he cleared the crew out of the shed in which the scene was being shot, leaving only the two actors inside. When he called action, they began playing the scene, however, after a minute, Mclean became convinced that Jarratt had gone too far and that Morassi's cries for help were genuine. He burst into the shed only to find both actors stunned at the disruption. Morassi was fine - it had simply been the intensity of her performance which had fooled Mclean.
John Jarratt is a method actor and spent weeks living in the Australian desert preparing for the role of Mick Taylor. In addition he also avoided bathing before shooting so he would have a much more rugged appearance. Furthermore, the idea for Mick to have a creepy laugh was Jarratt's own (he says it took him four months to get it just right), and he also created a detailed biography for the character (although he wouldn't reveal the details to anyone).
According to stars Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi the scenes shot on the beach early in the film may look warm on screen, but were actually freezing. It was so cold that for the scene where Mcgrath runs out into the ocean, all of the crew were behind camera in hats and gloves. According to Magrath, when she got out of the water, she was so cold, she literally couldn't remember her own name.
Even though writer/director Greg McLean did not write the role of Mick for anyone in particular, John Jarratt was the first and only actor to audition for the part. Jarratt was well known in Australia at the time as the host of a gardening show, but he was also a recognized actor. Mclean invited Jarratt to audition after he had seen him in a play called Dead Heart. Ironically, Jarratt was only working as a replacement for the regular star Brian Brown, who was ill the night Mclean attended.
As it was originally filmed, the scene in which Ben (Nathan Phillips), Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are sitting around the campfire, and Ben is telling the story about the alien lights, was over seven minutes long, and shot entirely in one take.
The film was shot by doing a couple of takes sticking rigidly to the script, and then allowing the actors to improvise. Many of the scenes in the final film include the improvised material. For example, the scene between Ben (Nathan Phillips) and the mechanic (Phil Stevenson) checking out the car, the party scenes, the bit where Ben plays with the flashlight after being stranded, and the camp fire belching contest scene. In addition much of Mick Taylor's colorful dialog was improvised by John Jarratt.
The film originated as a standard slasher movie set in the Australian outback. Writer/director Greg McLean wrote it in 1997 but never liked what he'd written. When the Ivan Millat case came to light, it inspired Mclean to rewrite the script and introduce the concept of the nice guy who seems to be there to help you out, but is in reality, a murderer.
There had been no rainfall for ten years in the area where the backpackers park their car before setting off for the crater, but it started raining as soon as the crew arrived. In the end, director Greg McLean was happy it rained, as it added to the ominous atmosphere of the scene.
For the scene where Liz and Kristy hide from Mick, after pushing the truck over the cliff, Cassandra Magrath and Kestie Morassi were in a harness clinging to the side of an actual cliff. Additionally director of photography Will Gibson was also put in a harness to capture the scene.
The Director of Public Prosecutions in the Northern Territory asked the film distributor to delay screening the film until after the trial of Bradley John Murdoch, accused of murdering British backpacker Peter Falconio. Murdoch's trial commenced 17 October 2005.
Although the advertising for the film claims it was based on true events, this is not entirely accurate. The film was influenced by the Ivan Milat and Bradley John Murdoch cases, but it was not based specifically on any one event, and the four principal characters are all entirely fictitious.
According to director Greg McLean, the film is full of subtle hints that all is not going to turn out well for the characters. For example, during the title sequence, there is a shot of a map with Broome circled. Written just to the right of the circle is 'DI'.
No scenes were written specifically for cloudy or wet weather, neither was it a directorial decision to have such scenes. The film's shooting schedule was simply so tight that the crew had to film at all times, regardless of conditions. As such, when it was realized that they were going to have to shoot in the rain, the script was hastily rewritten to include references to the fact that it was unexpectedly raining.
Director Greg McLean originally wanted to shoot the film on MiniDV but director of photographer Will Gibson persuaded him to shoot it on HD instead, as it was felt that HD would capture more of the background landscape than MiniDV would.
Although widely believed that John Jarratt did not bathe during the filming of Wolf Creek (2005), Jarratt himself debunked this rumour in May 2016 on Mornings (2012), stating that the truth was he stopped washing only his arms. The reason behind this was that because the tattoos that were applied in makeup each morning took so many hours to complete, it was easier to not wash them off than continue reapplying them.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
At the end of the movie Ben is rescued by a young couple in an orange and white Kombi van (in the US this is known as the Volkswagen microbus). This pays homage to the real-life Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees on whom this story is partly based. Peter obtained an orange and white Kombi van for the couple's planned trip through Northern Territories. Peter has never been found after Joanne claimed they were assaulted in their van by a mysterious Outback traveller.
The film was released on DVD in the United Sates in both a rated and an unrated version. Two new scenes were added to the unrated version: a scene where Kristy (Kestie Morassi) wakes up next to Ben (Nathan Phillips) after the party, and a scene where Liz (Cassandra Magrath goes down into a well in Mick's yard and discovers decaying bodies. Both of these scenes are contained on the rated DVD as deleted scenes.