Long Weekend (1978)

*. Long Weekend is usually considered an example of the Ozploitation genre, if that is a genre. All the label means is that it’s an Australian exploitation film from the ’70s. However, I do think they did things a little differently in the Antipodes. Long Weekend is a curious mix of themes and genres that combine to make it a different and memorable — if not, in the end, a great — movie.
*. In the first place it’s a man vs. nature flick, which is itself close kin to the eco-horror that was big at the time. And yet does nature ever really go on the attack aside from the one dive-bombing eagle and the angry possum (who seems to have been provoked)?
*. This was deliberate. Writer Everett De Roche (who also scripted the even better known Ozploitation classic Patrick, which came out the same year) just wanted to show the natural world rejecting the insufferable Peter and Marcia like an autoimmune system protecting against cancer cells. He sought to avoid “a Jaws-like critter film” and instead make the “beasties to all be benign-looking and not overtly aggressive.”
*. On that same point, I love how nature’s first “attack” takes the form of the mundane (but equally threatening and disgusting) mold that grows on their frozen “chucky” (chicken). They’re more likely to die from salmonella than a wombat bite!
*. Another theme being mined is that of the urban dwellers who take a wrong turn and end up somewhere off the main road. Here the young couple do arrive at their intended destination but only after being led through forthrights and meanders that make it clear they’re effectively lost. And all that expensive camping equipment isn’t going to help them in a real struggle to survive.
*. I wonder if it’s just the Australian background that also made me think of Roeg’s Walkabout (1971). Are the messages, in this one respect, all that different?
*. Then there is the domestic breakdown angle. This is actually quite interesting for a couple of reasons.
*. In the first place it’s surprisingly graphic. Peter tells Marcia to go fuck herself and the next time we see her she’s in bed reading one of her “dirty books” (at least that’s what Peter calls it) and masturbating. That was not something you saw a lot of outside of porn in the ’70s. Or today, for that matter. Self-love is a bit of a no-go zone for movies. Later Peter will pick up a copy of Playboy but be interrupted before getting to enjoy himself.
*. I can’t help but add another note here. In the trivia section of the IMDb entry for Long Weekend there’s a note telling us that the book Marcia is reading is The Inheritors (1955) by William Golding, which is a story about a tribe of neanderthals being wiped out by homo sapiens. Not sexy stuff! Alas for whoever came up with that gem (which I did get a laugh out of), the book she is reading is The Inheritors (1969) by Harold Robbins, which is more of a one-handed read.
*. The second thing that makes the story of the doomed couple interesting is that they are both so completely dislikeable. Every time you think they’re about to be redeemed they throw our sympathy away and we’re left to feel they deserve each other and their own little weekend in hell. The only one I felt sorry for was the dog, who I hope someone eventually found and let out of the jeep.
*. I like how Marcia throws the “grotty symbolism” of her smashing the eagle’s egg in Peter’s face (he had suggested it represented her having had an abortion). I guess if a movie is going to go in for grotty symbolism it’s good to show you’re aware of it. And could any symbolism be grottier than that truck heading to the slaughterhouse providing a rendezvous with destiny at the end?
*. Overlaying (or I suppose underlying) all of this is a sense of abiding oddness. What is up with that sea cow? What are all those weird noises on the soundtrack? What’s that dark shape in the water when Peter is out swimming? What happened to the people in the van? Strange things happen when you get lost in the woods.
*. It was remade, not well, in 2008 because that’s the kind of thing that happened in 2008. I began by saying this version isn’t great, but I think that’s mainly because of limitations that made the animal attack scenes all look ridiculous. The leads both perform well and while there’s nothing suspenseful going on it does hold one’s interest most of the time and is hard to entirely forget.

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6 thoughts on “Long Weekend (1978)

  1. Tom Moody

    Thanks for your notes on this. My one-sentence review on twitter in 2012 was “disagreeable yuppies slowly murdered by landscape and creepy cinematic atmosphere.” The strangeness does stay with you, though. What *was* that dark shape in the water? (Shudder.)
    Harking back to your “colour out of space” posts — the Long Weekend is sort of what I want a Lovecraft movie to be (or Jeff Vandermeer — I haven’t seen the one with Natalie Portman): all hints and feints with a cumulative effect of dread. The twist here is we are rooting for the landscape.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      I haven’t heard the DVD commentary for this one so I’m not sure what that shape in the water was. I think the effect was created by a bunch of garbage bags being stitched together, with someone holding on to them underwater. But what was it *supposed* to be? Marcia thinks that it’s a shark, but it clearly isn’t.

      I haven’t seen Annihilation yet either, but I’m sort of worried about it. I liked the Southern Reach novels, but I feel like I’d have to read them again to get some idea of what was really going on. And I’m not a big Alex Garland fan. The previews made it seem as though they really went overboard on the visual effects, which isn’t the direction I would have gone in. Long Weekend does create a nice sense of natural supernaturalism, if that isn’t a contradiction.

      Reply
  2. Tom Moody

    By the way, good spot on IMDb’s risible “Inheritors” theory. Does that count as fake news?
    I rewatched this (YouTube has it) and guess that the “dark shape in the water” was supposed to be the dugong, which Peter shoots, and which then reappears like Banquo’s ghost, in positions closer and closer to the camp. At one point Peter theorizes that the weird human-like cries on the soundtrack were coming from a dugong baby (setting off Marcia again because of her terminated pregnancy — the result of an unfortunate menage a trois — these decadent Australians!).
    What the film lacks in convincingly menacing critters it compensates for with a hyperactive Foley track. A gibbering chorus of shrieks, growls, and electronic synthesizer “stings.” The unhappy couple is slowly being done in by an aural assault.
    One thing I “enjoyed” on rewatching was how listless and wasteful the couple is. The camera pans over their abandoned bottles and package wrappers. Peter attempts to chop down a tree for no reason and gives up. Marcia sprays ants with liberal amounts of insecticide. Peter fires off dozens of rounds of bullets into the air. If ever nature needed to eliminate a threat to its balance, here they are.
    I think Walkabout is a fair comparison. Endless shots of crawling, ambling beasties and critique of the sterility of urban Australians, the main difference being there is no magic aboriginal to mediate between human and nature.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      I think you’re right that the dark shape is supposed to be the sea cow, but it looks much too big in that long shot. And the soundtrack is very weird.

      I didn’t mention in my notes how clever I thought it was that Peter pretends to shoot Marcia at the beginning (putting her in the crosshairs of his rifle), then accidentally just misses shooting her with the spear gun, before in fact killing her at the end (also by accident). I guess it was third time unlucky for her. Not that this is *really* clever, but it shows they at least put some thought into the script.

      Reply
  3. Tom Moody

    Agreed, there are a number of repeating, rhyming motifs. Cars and people going around in circles. The roof of the van floating on the ocean momentarily resembling the earlier “dark shape.” Smashed egg, crying baby sounds. The barking dog and the snarling dog. The unexplained child’s tea set in the woods and the Barbie doll that resembles the nude, sunbathing Marcia.
    About that doll — there are a few Blair Witch moments where you wonder if there are other humans skulking around the camp. At the beginning you have the creepy locals staring out of the gas station window. The sexy Barbie has sand oddly daubed on her and almost looks like she was placed there as a warning. The campers in the van — were they murdered? These suspicions go nowhere but add to the tension.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      The Barbie doll was another mystery. Not so much for what it was doing there (I assume some child playing on the beach lost it and left it there) as for what it might represent. I hadn’t thought of it as being like Marcia. That’s interesting.

      It’s also interesting about that tent in the woods. I always thought that was left behind by the people in the van, but that’s only speculation based mainly on the fact that Peter finds it when he’s looking for them. Now that I think about it some more, they may not be connected.

      The creepy locals at the gas station I think were, if not a horror convention in 1978, already on their way to becoming one. The trip to the gas station is like the last bit of safety or civilization before the van or station wagon full of teenagers ends up at its final destination out in the woods. There’s usually something forbidding about it though, some creepy warning signal. Obviously Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but I think it’s similar to a scene in Deliverance too.

      Interesting movie! Lots to think about.

      Reply

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