Sunday, January 18, 2009

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Long Weekend (1979)

In the last month or so, the terrific movie blog Fantasmo Cult Cinema Explosion by Jim Blanton has surveyed a variety of Australian horror films and I've been joining in the fun from home.

So basically, I have Jim (who plays Arlo on The House Between...) to thank for leading me to the neo-classic crocodile horror movie, Rogue (2007), and also this rather remarkable 1970s effort, Long Weekend (1979).

Directed by Colin Eggleston (from a script by Everett De Roche of Patrick [1978] fame), Long Weekend is a compelling "revenge of nature" movie, all right, yet one very different from contemporaries of the disco decade such as Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Frogs (1972), Day of the Animals (1977), Night of the Lepus (1972) or others.

Where those films determinedly depict an apocalypse hastened by mankind's irresponsible use of chemicals, hormones, the destruction of the ozone or other global-scaled issues, Long Weekend instead implies a very personal, very intimate sort of holocaust. Here, the crucible of a bad marriage -- and the struggle for dominance in that arena -- is the spark that ignites angry Mother Nature.

As Long Weekend opens, we are introduced to a bickering -- and I mean bickering -- married couple. Whisper-thin husband Peter (John Hargreaves) and shapely wife Marcia (Briony Behets) have some real bad blood between them, as the audience quickly sees. Marcia's recently had an abortion; which she blames Peter for. Even though the baby was by another man...whom Marcia was unfaithful with. And Peter didn't want her to have the abortion anyway.

Okay...

Anyway, in an attempt to reconcile (I guess...) this normal middle-class Australian couple decides to embark on a long weekend...camping. They pack up Cricket the dog in the car along with some supplies and a can of gasoline, and then head off for a remote rural beach, one that stands ominously close to an abattoir (just "six hundred yards on the right!") On the last leg of the journey, the couple gets lost in a patch of woods and it takes forever to escape a circular trail. While lost, the couple incessantly trades barbs and insults.

When Peter and Marcia finally arrive at the private beach, matters don't improve much. Ants swarm their food. An eagle swoops down from the sky and attacks Peter. And Marcia keeps hearing what she suspects is the sound of a baby in distress. Turns out it's an infant "sea cow," actually. When Mommy Sea Cow swims close to the beach, probably to help, Peter shoots it about a dozen times with his rifle.

You know folks, in horror movies, there's transgression and then there's TRANSGRESSION. This is an example of the latter.

Here's a short list of Peter and Marcia's anti-social, anti-nature behavior over their three-day holiday. Peter jokingly places his wife in the cross-hairs of his loaded rifle. Later, his harpoon gun misfires and nearly kill her (and yes, both of these incidents have the scent of foreboding about them...). While driving the car, Peter throws a cigarette butt out of the driver's side window and starts a fire in the brush on the side of the road. Later, he runs down and kills a kangaroo that happens innocently across the road.

Hold on, I'm still going.


Peter chops down a tree at the camp site (when asked why, he answers: "why not?"). Peter also kills the sea cow, after littering in the ocean. Then -- let me check my list -- Marcia wantonly smashes an eagle's egg (another reference to abortion and endangered babies...), and Peter gets bitten by a testy marsupial after cruelly taunting it. Their car rolls over a crab too, a flying duck splats bloodily against the car windshield, and the hits just keep on coming.

The amazing thing about these acts is that Peter and Marcia do not care at all. They do not shed tears or issue a single regret about the things they've done. It's an example of supreme human arrogance: Peter and Marcia treat the world like their personal property; and everything out there at the beach is for their use: their amusement and disposal. It's really...sickening.

Effectively shot, well-acted and carefully-scripted, Long Weekend leads us to an inevitable conclusion; that the hatred spewed by Peter and Marcia -- hatred for each other; hatred for nature; hatred for existence itself -- is so toxic, so destructive, so anti-life that nature actually rallies...and rises up to annihilate the couple. You've heard of The Lion King's Circle of Life, right?

Well, this is Long Weekend's Circle of Death.

Peter starts out the movie generating road kill, but by movie's end he's just road kill himself. Peter is the kangaroo. He just doesn't realize it.

In Long Weekend, the natural world and animal kingdom mirror the emotions and behavior of Peter and Marcia with increasing intensity. But despite everything the wayward vacationers do, you may still muster up some degree of compassion for them. They're jerks, they're idiots, and they certainly can't interpret incipient signs of danger, but in the end, they're still human. Groping, awkward, testy, emotionally fragile humans who, for all their flaws and foibles, just want to be loved. Even if they have absolutely no idea how to give love to others, or even nature itself.

And that's ultimately why the horror works so effectively. As Long Weekend nears its heart-pounding climax, you may start to feel your throat tighten up as the "great outdoors" is reduced to an ever diminishing, endless loop for a sprinting, desperate, out-of-breath Peter. Watching him attempt to escape the circular forest but return again and again to the same spot where he violated the laws of nature and of man is surreal, nightmarish and indicative of a hell all its own.

There are some startling and resonant images in Long Weekend too. A barnacled, corroded Barbie doll washes up on the beach (an avatar for Marcia I suggest: her seeming beauty "stained" by a burgeoning interior ugliness). And then there's the dead sea cow: a corpse which mysteriously appears to keep inching up the shore towards Peter and Marcia's camp site.

The ultimate environmental horror film, Long Weekend reminds us that if we treat the environment badly, the environment is ready and able to reciprocate.

Or, to put it another way: It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.

1 comment:

  1. Hey John,
    Thanks for the shout out! Happy to do my part in helping this one (and Rogue for that matter) get some attention.

    Long Weekend was a standout to me for several reasons, but perhaps chiefly because it varied its approach when taken along with other "animal attack" environmental warning films of the 70's. There's some visceral thrills to be sure, but the film relies more on mood than action which was a nice change (although I love William Girdler make no mistake : )

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