Harmony is an ideal. If everyone just got along, the world could be one big campfire sing-along, a Coke commercial writ large, right? But unfortunately that’s not human nature; certainly not as it pertains to our fellow earthly citizens, or to the globe itself. The ‘70s saw the rise of the eco horror film; “Mother Nature’s back, and she’s pissed” practically emblazoned across posters from the likes of Frogs (1972), Phase IV (1974), and Day of the Animals (1977). Australia threw their hat in the ring at the tail end of the cycle with Long Weekend (1979), a fascinating look at environmental and personal disharmony.
Produced by the Australian Film Commission and the Victorian Film Corporation, and premiering at the 1978 Sitges Film Festival, Long Weekend was released in its native land and the U.S in March of ’79, and didn’t do much business at either end. Perhaps audiences were expecting something a little more visceral, as opposed to the encroaching rise of dread that permeates this early Ozploitation horror. It may seem low key, but by the time it’s finished, you’ll feel its unease.
Our film opens with Peter (John Hargreaves – Cry Freedom) purchasing a rifle in the city, before hopping in his sports car and heading home. He’s coldly greeted by his wife Marcia (Briony Behets – Cassandra), as they prepare for a camping excursion on the coast. The night drive out provides little comfort for either, as they continually bicker and fight, their nerves on end. When Peter stops at a gas station for directions, the locals warily inform him that the beach has been closed for many years; this is not enough of a deterrent for Peter, who hops back in the mini-van, and searches through a maze of winding dirt roads until they arrive at their destination.
As they awaken the next morning, the couple briefly hopes that the beauty of their surroundings will help repair their broken marriage; this respite doesn’t last long as strangeness slowly sets in – we have possum attacks, eagle attacks, more possum attacks, a supposedly dead dugong (sea cow) that insidiously creeps up the beach as the film goes on, and a harpoon gun with its own twitchy trigger finger. Will the discordant couple end up killing each other, or will Mother Nature do her job and put them out of our misery?
Listen, these two have it coming. And not just because of the way they treat their surroundings; garbage strewn about, trees chopped down for fun, eagle eggs smashed; hell, Peter inadvertently (but not remorsefully) plows down a kangaroo on their way to the beach. Director Colin Eggleston (Innocent Prey) seems to imply that the marital woes of the couple - the ignorance that they share for each another, the total lack of communication - are directly linked to the crappy cosmic energy being blown their way. Not to say that it isn’t present even in the city; as Peter gets home he checks out the scope on his new rifle by zeroing in on Marcia standing on the balcony. But the further they get from the city, the more their true feelings are revealed; feelings of not only regret, but loss, and definitely anger. And all the while, Vincent Monton (Road Games)’s camera swoops, circles, gets in their space, telling us that the danger is always imminent.
It’s to Eggleston’s and screenwriter Everett De Roche’s credit for drawing out the journey; we need to get to the final third of the film to realize that the couple are truly broken. Only then does the environment close in to seal their fate. And that final third is what really sells it, Peter and Marcia having one last conversation before an almost wordless finale. The creatures can’t speak (other than an eerie, childlike wail that haunts Marcia), but they don’t need to; the feral debasement and destruction of the couple is beyond words, much like the state of their marriage.
The really hard sell of the film is the two main characters. Peter and Marcia do not raise sympathies at the start of the film; in fact they’re downright abrasive, caustic, and miserable. Hargreaves and Behets do a great job of finding the humanity in each character – Peter’s feelings of betrayal, Marcia’s deeply felt sense of loss and resentment – ensuring that by the end we’re not necessarily rooting for them, but at the very least identifying them as something more than fear fodder.
This has always been one of De Roche’s strengths as a horror writer; Patrick (‘78), Harlequin (’80), Road Games (’81), even Storm Warning (’07) all have solid characterizations, fleshed out beyond the cookie cutter with quirks and foibles that help place the horror just this side of believable. It’s not an easy thing to achieve; but this, his first produced theatrical screenplay (filmed before Patrick but released after), shows his already burgeoning talent to great effect. Of course, the very limited budget (converted to around $270,000 US) hampers the full scope of his ambitions, but that certainly can’t be held against him.
Long Weekend works because of its proximity to reality; as an abject lesson in lack of harmony, it may seem a little far fetched and overstated. However, it does get at enough simple truths that sadly apply today – besides the obvious, it’s still damn hard to pull off a convincing killer possum.
Long Weekend is available on Blu-ray from Synapse Films.