Saturday, February 14, 2015

Savage Weekend (1979) [filmed in 1976]

... aka: Killer Behind the Mask, The
... aka: Upstate Murders, The

Directed by:
David Paulsen

Leaving her young son behind with her bitter, depressed ex-husband Greg (Jeffrey David Pomerantz), Marie (Marilyn Hamlin) decides to accompany her wealthy new stockbroker boyfriend Robert (James Doerr) to his upstate New York vacation home to watch some guys build a boat he's just commissioned. Marie's easy-going sister Shirley ("Kathleen Heaney" / Caitlin O'Heaney), Robert's sleazy married co-worker Jay (Devin Goldenberg) and the ladies' flamboyant gay third wheel of a friend Nicky (Christopher Allport) all come along as well. Ignoring a bat someone has nailed to the front door as soon as they get there, everyone gets to relaxing, nude sunbathing and pairing off to have sex. Little do they know but disturbed redneck Otis Crump (William Sanderson) in lurking around with his trusty binoculars. Years earlier, Otis was involved in a violent assault that involved beating a guy's head on a rock and then tying up a disinterested girl he had a crush on and branding an "H" right in the middle of her chest with a red hot iron. The "H" was meant to be a Scarlet Letter of sorts for "Whore" but Otis, well, he's not too bright.

Otis, who's in charge of building the boat, pays frequent visits to his father's grave to talk to the tombstone and gets enraged when he learns that Robert has brought Jay there to oversee construction because Otis is working too slow. Jay spends most of his time trying to get into Shirley's pants, which proves to be easier than he probably ever imagined. Richard tries to express his love to Marie, who's been numbed by a few rough turns in her life and finds herself instead drawn to gruff lumberman / single father Mac Macauley (David Gale), who seems to have a violent streak himself. All these people mix and mingle for nearly an entire hour before someone finally decides to slap on a creepy, bloody skull mask and kill everyone off. Though it takes awhile, there's death by strangulation / hanging, getting thrown out a window and impaled, a long needle jammed into a brain through the ear, table saw and chainsaw... and yet these prove to be the least interesting aspects of the film.

It's hard to imagine a less sympathetic group of characters than the ones featured here. Everyone casually cheats on whoever they happen to be with, poke fun at "Odious" right in front of his face and are all rather self-absorbed and elitist. The gay character beats up a couple of hick homophobes in a bar earlier on and later watches a couple have sex while mangling his own hand with barbed wife (?!) Marie is troubled by distracting violent and sexual visions throughout, with her former hubby acting as a sort-of mental cock block any time she finds herself in a sexual situation. During one scene, she suggestively fondles a milk cow's udder (?!) while trying to repress her urges to jump one of the guys. Bizarre as all this is, it's these offbeat character quirks that leave a greater lasting impression than the rather ho-hum horror scenes. It doesn't function all that well as a mystery either as the killer's identity is painfully obvious early on. However, inventive use is made of flash-forward in the misleading opening scene to try to throw viewers off. So while this isn't exactly good, it is at least somewhat interesting in spots.

Filmed in 1976 under the title The Killer Behind the Mask (a title it kept for some of the overseas releases) this wasn't released until three years later by Cannon Group under the Savage Weekend title. In other words, it's one of several dozen proto-slashers made in the 70s that managed to beat HALLOWEEN (1978) to the punch. The photography is pretty good in a dream-like / soft-focus kind of way but because it was shot open matte, the boom mic is often visible in the current full frame presentation (something a properly formatted DVD release could conceivably remedy). The soundtrack is comprised mostly of folk music and there's a decent amount of nudity in the uncut version. I'd say most fans of low-budget 70s flicks should get something out of watching this.

This was the film debut of not only Sanderson, who'd find his greatest fame a decade later playing yet another redneck ("I'm Larry. This is my brother Daryl and this is my other brother Daryl") on the TV sitcom "Newhart," but also of 7-year-old Yancy Butler, who would go on to some high profile film and TV work herself as an adult (like playing the lead in the short-lived series "Witchblade"). It was also one of the first films for Gale, who'd become a cult horror figure in the mid / late 80s after giving a memorable performance in Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator (1985). Director Paulsen also made the slasher Schizoid (1980) with Klaus Kinski and then spent most of the rest of his career working on prime time soap operas like "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "Knots Landing."

Issued several times on VHS throughout the 80s and 90s, this made its video debut here in America on the Paragon label in 1985, It has since fallen into the public domain so now it's easy to find online to view for free or on DVD for cheap through various companies like Cheezy Flicks and Mill Creek.

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