The Film: 4/5
No matter where we travel, we human beings love to think of ourselves as the masters of all we survey. It never occurs to us that in a world where there are still many places we have yet to set foot in, we believe that some misguided sense of personal manifest destiny will allow us to conquer those uncharted regions and their corresponding environments at our leisure.
What does the Golden Rule state? Do unto others as they would do unto you? Friends, I'd like for you to meet Peter (John Hargreaves), a seasoned Australian city dweller who would answer that time-honored maxim by jutting both thumbs in his own direction and saying, "Gold. Rules." He's exactly the sort of callous yuppie jerk who answers the call of nature while in the direct vicinity of actual nature, and this weekend he's getting together with his estranged wife Marcia (Briony Behets) to go camping near the ocean in the hope that the two days of alone time will somehow heal their shattered marital bliss. It gets off to a terrific start when Peter accidentally creams a kangaroo with the grill of his car, but I'm sure that's not at all a bad omen.
Colin Eggleston's haunting thriller Long Weekend has long been considered part of the "Nature Run Amok" genre of late 1970's exploitation fare that also includes William Girdler's classic double tap of bloody cinematic cheese, Grizzly and Day of the Animals, as well as Bruno Mattei's utterly bonkers Rats: Night of Terror. In retrospect, that seems more than a tad unfair. Taking full advantage of some lush Australian locations and a cracking script by Ozploitation's top scribe Everett De Roche (Patrick, Road Games), Eggleston crafts Long Weekend as a blistering parable about the disintegration of a marriage and our shoddy treatment of this beautiful planet we've been gifted that carefully ratchets up the tension with precision and intelligence. Clearly, the director has taken a cue from the great minimalist horror films of past decades, the ones that valued the establishment of atmosphere and character over a Grand Guignol heaping of graphic visual effects.
The primary focus on the story is kept wisely on the crumbling relationship between the characters played by Hargreaves (The Odd Angry Shot) and Behets. There is a visible sense of unease from their first scene together, and though there is a brief interlude in the story where it seems like their love might actually survive after all, it isn't destined to last. These two clearly despise each other's guts and for reasons that I don't want to spoil because Eggleston and De Roche take their time revealing them to the audience. Anyone who has ever heard or witnessed first hand the disturbing secrets behind a failed marriage could probably guess why Peter and Marcia are practically on the verge of getting into a knife fight every time they share the screen. Marcia appears to be the only one willing to give reconciliation a chance because she's prepared to expose their mutual exposed emotional wounds, but Peter doesn't seem interested in anything but satisfying his own libido. They're both terribly flawed individuals and they picked the wrong place to officially dissolve their matrimony.
Okay, the mauling of the kangaroo in the first ten minutes could be forgivable because accidentally running down an unsuspecting animal, though still a shitty thing to done, is a miserable experience most of us share. It hardly makes you a bad person. But from the moment Peter and Marcia arrive at their camping destination in an isolated forest with convenient access to a nearby pristine beach, their disrespect for nature and all of its inhabitants great and small doesn't endear them to us any more than the opening scenes failed to do. They treat the gorgeous grounds as if it was their own unkempt flat back home. Garbage is left all over the place. Peter brings along a scoped rifle but for survival purposes. No, he just feels the need from time to time to assert his dominance over those he considers to be his inferiors. At one point the bastard shoots up the trees with unhinged abandon.
That's when the attacks start, and they start slowly with ants crawling over the food the battling marrieds foolishly leave unchecked. Then a eagle swoops down and tries to claw out Peter's eyes after the dope pilfers one of the poor bird's eggs, which Marcia later smashes into a tree into an explosive orgy of blood and yolk that we can all be fortunate Eggleston didn't film in super slow-motion. To add to their mounting misery, the couple is being methodically terrorized by a mysterious creature that dwells beneath the surface of the ocean and always seems to be watching them. Things aren't always as they appear, but most times they are exactly as they appear. The real accomplishment of Long Weekend is that it cleverly leaves its audience wondering if the random animal attacks are part of a coordinated revenge plot by nature against Peter and Marcia or if they aren't really anything out of the ordinary and the couple's misfortunes are merely their own damn fault. It's that sense of ambiguity that separates Long Weekend from other films of its kind.
Long Weekend premiered at Spain's Sitges Film Festival in October 1978 and opened the following simultaneously in both its native Australia and the U.S. The rest of the world would have to wait another year to see it. Eggleston makes splendid use of the widescreen frame with the help of cinematographer Vincent Monton (Road Games), capturing the impressive vistas of the Australian coastline with richness and color and employs minimal lighting to create quiet terror for the night scenes. Hargreaves and Behets are equally good on their own, but the chemistry they share allows for the two performers to convince as an embittered married couple at the end of their rope with each other. Their verbal sparring is viciously witty and occasionally reveals the heartache and disappointment they feel for their respective spouse.
The final ten minutes of Long Weekend are a master class in Hitchcockian suspense that are played out with almost no dialogue and ramped up to unbearable heights of pulse-racing dread as the civilized become panicky and savage. De Roche's original ending is only slightly different from what Eggleston decided to film, but it is the only conclusion that I feel is appropriate for a story like this, where all that the animal kingdom has to do to destroy the human race is to give it a little push, then just sit back and let the rest take care of itself.
Long Weekend gets a handsome 1080p high-definition upgrade courtesy of Synapse Films, who had previously released the film on Region 1 DVD for the first time in September 2005. Framed in its original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, Synapse's AVC-encoded transfer sourced from original vault elements is gorgeous and positively bursting with vibrant color reproduction and vastly improved details. Grain is considerable but balanced and consistent in every scene and it never becomes a distraction, helping to maintain the earthy texture of the cinematography. Minor print damage remains, but is acceptable. The 2005 DVD sported Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo and 2.0 mono audio tracks and Synapse has upgraded each channel in crystalline DTS-HD Master Audio with remarkable clarity in the dialogue that makes the absence of English subtitles hardly regrettable and gives the immersive sound mix - an often deafening cacophony of woodland ambience and mysterious, brain-crawling noises that only adds to the harsh atmosphere of terror - a much welcome boost. The low-key but effective score composed by Michael Carlos (The Odd Angry Shot) is also presented here without distortion.
The only extras offered here were retained from Synapse's 2005 Region 1 DVD release and they kick off with an affectionate and informative audio commentary with producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Monton. The two of them combined recall much of the film's production, working with the actors, wrangling the animals and insects for the shoot, capturing some of the more gorgeous visuals on display, and much more. It's a good track. An audio interview with Hargreaves recorded in August 1995 (almost half a year before he passed away) is played under a full motion gallery of still photos (5 minutes), and though it is brief, it is interesting to hear his thoughts on the acting process and working on Long Weekend. Lastly we have the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes), and this Blu-ray comes with reversible cover art that contains the image used for the 2005 DVD on the alternate side.
Long Weekend is both a chilling and intelligent thriller and a sterling example of Australian independent filmmaking in the 1970's. Thanks to Synapse Films' restoration efforts for this excellent new Blu-ray release, maybe now more viewers here in the States will be able to recognize that as well. Highly recommended.