I have been on a bit of a down under film kick of late after discovering wonderful Australian film Wake In Fright (Ted Kotchett 1971) recently. Where has this tale of hard drinking in an outback town been all my life? Thankfully this stunning picture has been rediscovered courtesy of Eureka, my advice is see it now! This has led me to re-view a few others such as ‘Felicity’ – John D Lammond’s 1978 coming of age saga as the director had just died (any excuse with this steamy little softcore skin-flick), John Hillcoat’s stark and brutal look at the Australian penal system Ghosts Of The Civil Dead (1988) a film crying out for a hi-def release and Brian Trenchard Smith’s whacky Turkey Shoot (1982). I have always loved Australian films, they seem to go the extra mile, the scenery allows the cinematography to really step out of the lens and then the stunts and action sequences and car chases also take things well and truly beyond the limits, unions and safety be damned especially in the 70’s-80’s. I guess this makes up for never having been there, mind you most of the films I watch set in Oz kind of make me rather not want to either, I mean Wolf Creek hardly sold itself to the Australian tourist board.
This brings us neatly onto another complete gem of a movie Long Weekend directed by Colin Eggleston in 1978. Australian films veer wildly from those that are socially accepted and have the “classic” tag and those that get looked down on by the highbrow as Ozploitation. Long Weekend kind of sets itself up in both camps (that word being very fitting as it is about a camping trip going very wrong). The premise is quite simple and one that has been told many a time. Disrespect the great outdoors and you are screwed, or to quote the tagline ‘Their crime was against nature… nature found them guilty.’ I had watched this many times on DVD but from the moment I played the Blu-Ray and saw a scene of a crab scuttling across a rock face in gorgeously defined colour I knew this upgrade was going to take the film to yet another dimension.
It tells the tale of a couple at war with themselves. We don’t at first know what has occurred between Peter and Marcia (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets) but to say things are pissy between them would be an understatement. His solution is to get away from it all and go to a beach far off the beaten trail and hopefully relax and build some bridges. Unfortunately Peter can only really be viewed as a bit of a vulgar man (the Australian stereotypes of the time come out in spades) and his idea of getting to one with nature include, setting things on fire, chopping them down or blowing the living shit out of them. Weather is ominous, flashes of news reports on TV and radio seem foreboding and ecologically strange and the trip is tense especially for poor old Skippy. The locals don’t seem to have heard of the beach but apparently it is near an old abattoir (ulp) and eventually against the odds amidst much driving off the tracks down eerie night-lit scenery accompanied by blood curdling calls of the wild our warring couple somehow arrive at their destination. The beach in the light of morning is amazing and rugged Peter is in his element, whilst his wife wants to do nothing but stay in a hotel. Paradise is just about to get poisoned and nature turn more than a little bloodthirsty.
Food rots, possums and eagles turn out very protective of their domain and unexplained events like a locked spear gun firing itself off almost nailing Marcia to a tree occur. What is thought to be a shark and is shot by Peter turns out to be a Bunyip, a harmless sea cow which washes up on the beach and starts to rot as its pup mournfully cries like a human baby. Then there’s the case of another jeep just up the beach, what is going on? With pretty much a cast of two, not forgetting their dog cricket and various other animals in the menagerie of the outback it is left to the pair of actors to drive the narrative. This they do admirably and really do a remarkable job as a bickering couple on the very verge of disintegration. The nature and scenery here is as remarkable as you will ever see in a film and really comes to life, the barren abandoned isolation is the sort of place that anyone who loves nature would yearn to find, until it all goes wrong of course. Naturally once you have found it, leaving is far from easy as the denouement of the film proves. Long Weekend is a film that once seen will haunt you forever. Indeed there may well be people even reading this who saw it originally on TV and who are suddenly finding an unwelcome bead of perspiration running down their back.
As director it is without doubt Eggleston’s masterpiece and as for the two convincing main players apart from vaguely remembering Briony in Prisoner Cell Block H, their history and later life is something I had not considered. Having relived this Long Weekend I was hoping the extras were going to fill in some gaps and provide some answers on cast, crew and those involved in making this startling picture. Before I watched them I did consider seeing the 2008 remake but as I did when it originally came out dismissed that idea; the original is such a great film it could only sully its memory.
First up we have a feature courtesy of cult Australian label Umbrella entertainment with various film historians talking about the ecological paranoia and films such as this and Day Of The Animals (William Girdler 1977), Frogs (George McCowan 1972), which sprung up in the 70’s. Plenty of good points are made here including the fact that the film is quite hysterical in execution especially as there is very little dialogue in the last half. I guess that is partly due to the atmosphere conjured up by the eerie soundtrack by Michael Carlos. There are some fantastic lines delivered by the two main characters and yes I agree they will stick with you too and as for the relationship between Peter, Marcia and the dog Cricket which turns into an almost jealous love triangle is another aspect that sets things out from being quite normal. It is a clever film and there are lots of elements to dissect from the overall message to the awfulness and loathing that you cannot help thinking in regards to the characters. It’s a film that can’t help but make you think, well if you don’t there’s no help for you. To quote another film, “who are the real monsters?” As for links between this and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) I completely thought this on 1st viewing and who is to say one is a classic movie and the other is more defined by the exploitation tag?
Speaking of which, your one step shop of all things of such a nature is Mark Hartley’s documentary on Ozploitation movies Not Quite Hollywood (2010). He filmed so many interviews that didn’t make the final cut there is hardly a film coming out from Australia recently not including some extended ones as extras. Some pertinent to Lost Weekend are included here and it’s cool to get some insight from Behets (she does like dogs) about the film and her “outrageously gay co-star Hargreaves. This and the fact she was in a relationship with the director for 18 years takes some of the themes in the film into a whole different dimension. Apparently the film didn’t go down very well at home when it came out. No huge surprise as the portrayal of the characters could easily have hit a nerve. A true outing to a secluded beach spurred screenwriter Everett De Roche who also scripted the excellent Patrick (Richard Franklin 1978) to the subject matter. Amazingly it was the same beach in New South Wales that was chosen for the shoot. He mentions the limited budget too and says it was pretty huge achievement. There were also around 15 minutes cut out, apparently the ending was changed. Vincent Monton the cinematographer also has a brief chat and he and executive producer get in on the audio commentary as well so you can get more insight there. Finally there’s a brief posthumous audio interview with Hargreaves giving you everything you need for a short, creepy and highly enjoyable weekend’s viewing.