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.

Outrage (1950)

... aka: Nice Girl
... aka: Nobody's Safe

Directed by:
Ida Lupino

Outrage was one of the first American films to ever seriously tackle the subject of rape from a female perspective, but its journey from the page to the screen proved to be a censorship battle for director / co-writer Ida Lupino and Co. that was full of unfortunate compromises. After the script (written by Lupino, her then-husband Collier Young and Malvin Wald) was completed, it was submitted to and initially rejected by the PCA (Production Code Administration), an organization in place to enforce the days' strict Motion Picture Production Code (or Hays Code as it would later be called). So what did they object to exactly? For starters, the fact the entire film centered around rape was deemed "unacceptable." And then phrases like "sex maniac" and "sex fiend" and any allusions to what they considered sexual perversity were a no-no. And finally, the word "rape" itself was used far too many times for their liking in the initial script draft. To "soften" the film, the script then had to have all of the more direct wording removed before filming could commence. Paying careful attention to the film, you'll realize the word "rape" isn't uttered a single time. Instead, they had to refer to the act as "a criminal assault" or "a criminal attack."

Secretary / bookkeeper Ann Walton (Mala Powers) has fallen in love with Jim Owens (Robert Clarke), an auto parts supplier. He's just gotten a huge raise (10 bucks a week!) and now feels secure marrying Ann, moving in together and starting a family. Ann even somehow manages to get her mother (Lillian Hamilton) and stern professor father Eric's (Raymond Bond) approval, even though he's not too happy that Ann never went to college to become a teacher. Life's starting to look up for her, but Ann has unknowingly caught the eye of an unwanted admirer in the process. A food truck worker, who sells coffee and desserts outside the factory Ann works, has recently been hitting on her and making her feel uncomfortable with complements about her beauty and inquiries about her love life. He also doesn't seem too happy she's about to be married. Ann's forced to walk home late one night after a long day at work, the man follows her on her walk home and begins pursuing her through the empty streets. Ann's screams and attempts to make noise with a car horn fall on deaf ears, she's cornered in a truck yard and then "criminally assaulted."

Dirty, bruised and in a state of shock, Ann returns home, but the assault itself turns out to only be the beginning of her horrors. The crime is reported and a detective (Hal March) and a policewoman (Lovyss Bradley) show up to get information but, in order to cope, Ann's blocked out the incident to the point where she can't even remember what the rapist looked like aside from him having a deep scar on his neck. After spending some time holed up inside, she decides to return to work and try get back to her normal life. Unfortunately, all she sees on the outside is cruelty and a lack of empathy from a society out to demonize her as if she was the rapist. The assault has made the local newspaper and now everyone knows. Gossipy women point, stare and whisper. People cross the street to avoid her. Casual pats on the shoulder and gentlemanly escorts by the arm from even friends and co-workers cause her to flinch and she now can't go through with her marriage to Jim because she feels so filthy and dirty, so she calls the whole thing off.

Feelings of fear, guilt and shame, rejection from her small town and the internalization of her trauma lead the increasingly more paranoid Ann to run away from it all. She buys a one-way bus ticket to Los Angeles and makes it only so far before hearing a radio broadcast about her disappearance and then fleeing once again in the night. While walking alongside the road, she sprains her ankle and collapses. When she awakens, she's at the Harrison Ranch. an orchard / plant run by Tom (Kenneth Peterson) and his wife Madge (Angela Clarke). where she meets the compassionate reverend and doctor Bruce Ferguson (Tod Andrews) and tells everyone her name is "Ann Blake." After being offered a job there as an orange packer, she proves herself to be a hard worker and moves her way up to bookkeeper, but is so skittish and secretive about her past she begins arousing some suspicion. Eventually, another would-be rapist (Jerry Paris) sends her over the edge and a violent retaliation and trial follow.

After the erosion of the Hays Code in 1968, movies that were allowed to actually pointedly address and visualize rape usually fell into two categories: revenge fantasies and courtroom dramas. Rape was also used as a throwaway plot device simply to up the nudity / sexploitation, ensure gory mayhem and / or to titillate those into 'rape fantasies.' I've noticed in a surprising number of films, the rape itself is even frequently just brushed off by the victim as if it's no big deal. Outrage is not one of those movies and is an earnest attempt to be a thorough account of the crime, the aftermath and, finally, the acceptance and healing process. It not only condemns the act itself but also condemns a society that turns around and victimizes the victim by shaming them into silence simply because they don't want to have to acknowledge the issue. The film is also concerned with the psychological toll on the victim caused not only by the rape itself but also society's warped perception of rape.

Though it veers toward sentimentality at the end and elements are certainly dated (some viewers may even be annoyed by the lead character's lack of fight and resiliency), this still works as a fascinating time capsule view into how a more conservative era dealt with an uncomfortable topic. It's well-made on a shoestring budget, the acting is good (particularly Powers in the challenging central role) and there are some interesting directorial and editing choices here and there capturing the hysteria and delirium of the victim. It was one of several joint ventures between Lupino, Young and Wald's company The Filmakers and RKO, who'd also collaborate on Beware, My Lovely (1952) and THE HITCH-HIKER (1953).

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