Monday, May 25, 2015

LONG WEEKEND (1978) Blu-ray Review

Long Weekend (1978) d. Colin Eggleston (Australia)

“A bickering young couple’s weekend at an isolated beach resort turns into a nightmarish struggle between Man and Nature.” With that description, and considering the time-stamp and the genre, one might be forgiven for expecting another run-of-the-mill “When Animals Attack” flick, full of egregiously over-the-top warnings of how the human species has run its course as top of the food chain, thanks to centuries of ecological abuse and neglect. While American ex-pat screenwriter Everett de Roche (Patrick, Razorback) isn’t averse to hammering home the point on occasion through scenes of reckless use of weaponry and thoughtless littering, the casually caustic behavior seems somehow more authentic than, say, Frogs’ opening credits shots of beer cans floating in the Florida swamps. Rather than broadly drawn clichés, with our top-billed hero providing the requisite liberal voice of reason, Roche’s bipedal characters are fragile, careless, bullying, insecure, and genuinely confused as to how their choices led them here. In other words, human.

One of the hallmarks of the Ozploitation wave of the 1970s and early 1980s was its channeling of an eerie and elemental undertone that enabled filmmakers to explore a strange new/old world laced with apocalyptic dread, primeval fear, and unpredictable weather. Nic Roeg’s Walkabout, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, even George Miller’s Mad Max were films that kept the focus on displaced and disoriented characters rather than explicit horror.

Producer/director Eggleston’s low-budget, supernaturally-tinged effort sits squarely in this tradition, and yet manages to demonstrate the visceral values of a genre thriller. Chair-jumping scares are still present, but the majority of the running time is a slow-burn nightmare, watching the couple’s sanity and resolve wither away under the assault of Mother Nature and each other.

Of course, this sort of psychological warfare wouldn’t work without solid actors, and that’s where Long Weekend delivers the goods. The only human characters – not counting a few one-line roles – are Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (London-born Briony Behets), whose bitterness towards one another snowballs as they are sent in circles, trying desperately to escape the Hell of their own making, all while antagonized by elements of the natural world and haunted by the carcass of an unfortunate manatee.

Even for non-fans of “animals attack” offerings, this is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED slice of Down Under cinema.

Synapse Films, who brought Eggleston’s masterpiece to DVD almost 10 years ago (which is where I and many other horror fans discovered it for the first time), serves up a Blu-ray presentation worthy of the upgrade, including a new, personally supervised high definition 1080p transfer of the 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen imagery and a remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Soundtrack.

It’s no lie to say that the film has never looked or sounded better, with the ever-present ambient sounds of wildlife encroaching without respite and the vivid beachside colors popping off the screen. (They’ve also improved slightly upon the ho-hum DVD cover artwork, but for my money, a single stark image would have suited the tone better than the current pseudo-paint job.)

The extras, ported over from the 2005 release are no less potent than they were a decade ago, with exec-producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Monton handling the audio commentary chores with aplomb. They speak with great memory and fondness of cast and crew members no longer with them (Eggleston passed away in 2002, Hargreaves in 1996), and both seem genuinely grateful that their film is being given a second (or third, as the case may be) chance for rediscovery by a new generation.

Brennan points up how certain illusions were accomplished, as well as assuring listeners that no animals were ever in danger or distress. Our late leading man Hargreaves manages to make an appearance via an audio interview about his career in general and the film in particular, with production stills projected throughout. A theatrical trailer caps off the supplemental materials.

Long Weekend is available now on Blu-ray from Synapse Films and can be ordered HERE:

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


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