Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Long Weekend (1978)

Directed by:
Colin Eggleston

Long Weekend opens with the shot of a crab slowly creeping along a cliffside. Once it stops and we start absorbing what else is in the frame, we notice that the crab blends in so well with its surroundings that we wouldn't have even notice it being there had we not already seen it move. There's a lot we probably don't notice in everyday life: so busy in our own pursuits and wrapped up in our own thoughts, feelings, pleasures and problems that we pass by all kinds of animals and bugs and probably don't pay them much mind; granted we even notice them at all. While tending to her plants, Marcia (Briony Behets) takes a brief glance at her television set while a news story about birds behaving strangely and destroying property plays out. Marcia quickly flips that off. She has more important thing to do, like get her house in order. Once her husband Peter (John Hargreaves) gets home from work, the two plan on heading out for a few days to the beach. Not just a regular trip for the miserably unhappy, bickering couple, but a last ditch effort to see if the relationship is even worth salvaging. Perhaps getting back to nature - to a beautiful remote location - is just what they need. Either way, it's going to be a long weekend for both of them.

On the way toward their destination, Peter throws a cigarette outside the jeep window and starts a fire, then accidentally runs over a kangaroo, which doesn't seem to bother him or his wife. The rest of the drive isn't the least bit pleasant either, with the couple repeatedly snapping at each other and Peter's bitterness over an affair Marcia had still weighing on him. To make matters even more complicated, Marcia became pregnant with the other man's child and ended up having an abortion because of her husband's demands. After an hour drive into the brush, Peter can smell the ocean and figures they're close enough to pull over and get some sleep. The next morning, they set up camp, realize they're in a great spot near the ocean and try their best to have a relaxing time while suppressing their animosity toward one another. Marcia makes it quite clear she doesn't even really want to be there, but Peter encourages her to tough it out and give it a shot. It's not really the best time for their surroundings to start turning against them but, going by the laws of nature, the revolt is a much deserved one.

One aspect of this film that's frequently discussed are the two central characters and why the writer chose to make both of them so nasty they border on unbearable. The answer is likely because they embody the self-absorption and arrogance of man and his presumed superiority on this planet. The couple constantly and casually use and abuse their surroundings, with no regard for the animals and plants living there, and no appreciation for the pristine natural beauty of the location they've luckily stumbled across. Immediately out of the jeep, Peter starts chopping away at a tree with an axe. When asked why he's doing so, he can't provide an answer. What is it within us that makes us almost instinctually want to snap off tree limbs or pluck flowers, only to toss them onto the ground when we're done? Or squash bugs when they aren't even really bothering us? Why doesn't it affect us more when we strike down an animal with our car? This film seems to be making a point that a lot of the things we do to muck up the natural world make absolutely no sense, but we do them all the same. I've even seen some people use a biblical quote about how God gave us this Earth and its resources to do as we please with them to justify their behavior.

Peter and Marcia do what many other people do when they're out enjoying the great outdoors. When ants decide to stop by their dinner table, they spray insecticide everywhere. Marcia takes an eagle's egg from the nest just because she thinks it's pretty and later throws it against a tree because she's angry. Peter decides to get drunk, flings his beer bottles into the weeds and starts firing off his rifle at nothing in particular, killing a mother duck in the process. And simply because an unknown black mass in the ocean is making them feel uneasy, Peter shoots whatever it is dead. What floats onto the beach later is a bunyip, a mythical creature of Aboriginal folklore. Though it sometimes is depicted as being a monstrous being, here it is depicted as being a docile, gentle, sea cow / manatee-like animal which they say has been driven to the brink of extinction because of oil drilling. Just like Peter brushed off killing the kangaroo earlier in the film with a "So What?" type of attitude, he likewise doesn't seem to care too much that he's just killed an animal thought to have been extinct. Regardless of being dead, the bunyip keeps moving, slowly creeping its way toward Peter and Marcia's camp; representative of every animal species we've wiped out of existence by our ignorance or carelessness.

The couple receive ample warning to start being respectful of their surroundings, but they don't heed them and pay the price when the natural world around them starts striking back. An eagle and some other furry critter (a possum?) show up to attack Peter, and eventually bugs, spiders, snakes and other forest animals make their presence known. And it's not just animals that are creating problems, but also the vegetation. Mold seems to be quickly spreading over their food and eventually the tree Peter decided to start hacking away at, starts dropping limbs on him. Arrow markings on other trees to lead people to the spot also seem to be changing all on their own to confuse people into driving in circles. Remnants of past human visitors - a van on the beach, an abandoned campsite - are around to act as tombstones for others who clearly weren't very respectful of the area either.

There were many "animal attack" movies made in the 1970s and Long Weekend sits at the upper end of this subgenre. It's well-made, very nicely-photographed, utilizes beautiful outdoor locations and provides plenty of food for thought. Having to endure the risible - or perhaps uncomfortably believable (things can definitely get this nasty in love and relationships) - central characters for an hour-and-a-half proves to be something of a challenge, but you're rewarded for doing so. Pretty much ignored in its home country upon release, the film would do better elsewhere, bringing home awards from Avoriaz Fantastic, Paris and Sitges-Catalonian International film festivals.

Director Eggleston would be involved in many other Aussie genre films, but wouldn't top this one. He'd also write, produce and edit the terrible slasher flick STAGE FRIGHT aka Nightmares (1980), which also featured Behets (who was married to Eggleston at the time) and direct INNOCENT PREY (1983), the mediocre slasher-mystery CASSANDRA (1986), again with Behets, and the terrible vampire comedy THE WICKED (1987).



Stever Neither said...

YES! I can sniff out a bunyip a million miles away! You know how I feel about this movie. I appreciate your assessment of it, esp. how the sea cow sequence fits in w/ the larger context of the movie's message. Kudos.
oh, and PS - I like Outback Vampires.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Ha, I forgot all about your bunyip fetish! I'm going to have to rewatch Outback Vamps / Wicked at some point so I can review it here so hopefully it'll grow on me since last time (which would have been way back in the 90s!)

BW said...

Excellent film this, your review reminds me I need to pick up a decent quality DVD release (the UK one does it little justice). I presume this is Egglestone's best on account of being his only (I think) work with the great screenwriter Everett de Roche, who penned a fine and varied selection of Aussie genre films and had a real flair for character and steadily mounted weirdness. While Long Weekend isn't quite my favorite Aussie horror it's certainly in the top 5 and it's always nice to come across insightful reviews of it (as opposed to the all too common "its too slow and the characters are too unpleasant).

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I'd venture a guess and say this is indeed Eggleston's best. His other works I've seen are pretty mediocre, though I still need to watch "Innocent Prey" and give "The Wicked" a second look. The Synapse DVD I have is well worth a purchase (granted it is still in circulation) and the transfer is excellent.

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