Long Weekend Review
The first part of this review is a revised and expanded version of my 2004 review of Long Weekend for this site. For an alternative view, Anthony Nield's review of the 2005 UK DVD release is here.
Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) go on holiday to a remote part of the Australian coast, in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. The couple are careless: dropping lighted cigarettes out of their car window, running over a wallaby. But as the weekend progresses, strange things begin to happen: a chicken goes bad, the car won’t start, and Peter is attacked by a sea eagle and a dugong is washed up on the beach. It seems that nature is fighting back…
Long Weekend is one of those films that wasn’t a success at the box office but has a way of staying in the mind of people who see it. It was shot on a very low budget in 1977 (which is the copyright date) but didn’t have its Australian premiere until 1979. At that time the Australian film revival was well underway, and there was quite a lot of competition. It wasn't a particular success on its home turf, pointing to the country's frequent reluctance to see its own films, and particularly its not always respectable genre output. Although it had a British cinema release in 1980, it’s a fair bet that most people reading this will have caught it on a TV showing, at least before it was available on DVD.. That was how I first saw Long Weekend, in 1989 on BBC2, a version that was panned and scanned from the original Scope format and had the film’s several “fucks” deleted. It had a VHS release from Arthouse as part of a series of Australian films in 1994, presumably uncensored but still panned and scanned. (No widescreen master was available at the time apparently, which was also a problem with The Cars That Ate Paris and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.) As executive producer points out, Umbrella's 2005 DVD was the first official release of the film outside cinemas in the 2.35:1 ratio.
The use of the Scope format is unusual but effective, especially for such a low-budget film: A$270,000. (Compare that with Mad Max, another film with a notably low budget shot in 35mm anamorphic, with its principal photography taking place in 1977.) It's effective as the film is basically a two-hander. In fact there are all of six credited actors, two of which are non-speaking parts, plus uncredited radio and television voices. (That's director Colin Eggleston heard over the phone near the start, as Marcia's lover. Eggleston and Briony Behets were a couple in real life.) For virtually all the running time its only one of both of Hargreaves and Behets as the humans on screen. It takes a little while for us to find out what has happened in their marriage, and we see them seesaw between what’s left of the affection they once felt for each other to painful, abusive arguments. Everett de Roche’s script careful balances the marital drama with a slow build-up of tension, and this is ably assisted by Eggleston’s direction and Vincent Monton’s camerawork, which makes the landscape a third character in the film, with the beach scenes shot near Bega, New South Wales. Even before Peter and Marcia have left the city there are hints of wrongness. Birds fly up as Peter starts his car, and a television news item reports cockatoo attacks on Sydney houses. From the outset the wildlife is watching Peter and Marcia, including a Tasmanian Devil which presumably hitched a ride across the Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea to get here. The film has a disturbing atmosphere which is hard to shake off.
Colin Eggleston was born in 1941 in Melbourne, and began his career in television. Like many Australians at the time, he worked in the UK for a time, being credited as a film editor on the now-lost 1966 Doctor Who serial The Smugglers and on the 1968 short Darling, Do You Love Me?. But by the end of the decade, he was back in his home country directing and occasionally writing episodes of such series as Homicide, The Long Arm, Division 4 and Matlock Police. He made his big-screen debut with the sex comedy Fantasm Comes Again, under the pseudonym Eric Ram. Long Weekend, his second cinema feature remains his best film. Working on both large screen and small, his following films made little impression, though the interest in Ozploitation following the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood. His final feature, Outback Vampires (also known as The Wicked) was a favourite of Quentin Tarantino’s.) He died in 2002.
John Hargreaves died of AIDS in 1996, and Long Weekend was one of the films shown in tribute. Rightly so, as he was one of the finest actors in Australia in the 70s. He was possibly too “Australian” a type to sit well in overseas productions, so he didn’t have the international success of fellow antipodeans Mel Gibson, Sam Neill and to a lesser extent Bryan Brown. Long Weekend won him a Best Actor Award at the Sitges Horror Film Festival and you can see why. Peter begins the film as a very macho character, overconfident of his abilities in the great outdoors and completely insensitive to his wife’s needs. Briony Behets wasn't the first choice for Marcia, possibly because she was married to the director. has in many ways a more difficult role: as we don’t know at first the reasons for the marriage breakdown, her character risks being unsympathetic. (A brief scene showing her masturbating after an argument with Peter is the only real point where the film tips over into crassness, particularly as it follows the line “Go fuck yourself”.) Behets, born in London in 1951, had come to Australia in 1972 to act in the television series Birds in the Bush and had stayed. Her cinema debut was as the first victim in Night of Fear and she had had worked in early films for John Duigan (The Trespassers, 1976) and Paul Cox (Inside Looking Out, 1978) before playing this role, one of her few leads and remaining her best.
Long Weekend is very much in the “nature fights back” horror subgenre, of which the best-known examples are The Birds and Frogs. Some of the symbolism is a little heavy-handed (the eggs, for example) though to be fair, de Roche, through Marcia's mouth, does call the film, and Peter, out on it. However, due to intelligent writing and filmmaking, not to mention two superior lead performances, Long Weekend works very well, and has had a much longer afterlife than it would have had, going by its lack of critical and commercial success on its original release. It was overlooked entirely at the Australian Film Institute Awards (now the AACTA Awards), admittedly in a very strong year. With the rise of interest in Ozploitation, inevitably 70s films are beginning to be remade in the twenty-first century, and Long Weekend was duly remade in 2008, directed by Jamie Blanks and starring Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan, the latter's character renamed Carla. Everett de Roche was again credited with the script (and appears briefly propping up the bar) and this new version is largely faithful to the original. As a tribute to the late director, the bar in the film was called The Eggleston Hotel and in another link to the original Vincent Monton acted as the second-unit director.
Umbrella's Blu-ray of Long Weekend is encoded for all regions.
The transfer is sourced from a digital restoration and is in the correct ratio of 2.35:1. Some of Umbrella's Blu-ray transfers haven't been that impressive, for example Roadgames, which was from a 4K restoration though one made from a release print rather than from one or more generations earlier. But this does look very good. There are minor flecks but nothing too distracting. While I haven't seen this film in a cinema, and before now not in HD, I'm sure this is as it would have looked on a cinema screen back at the time of its original release. Grain is certainly present, but grainy filmstocks come with the territory with many Australian films of this time. Screengrabs follow, first the previous DVD and then this Blu-ray.
The film was released with a mono soundtrack on its release. While the previous DVD was in mono, this Blu-ray unfortunately just has a remixed track in DTS-HD MA 5.1. While it isn't too egregious – the music score goes into the surrounds, there are some directional effects such as offscreen animal shrieks and the bass notes go into the subwoofer – it isn't the original track and that really should have been included. There are English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing available, though for large parts of the film – especially the last twenty minutes or so – they are mostly used to subtitle sound effects due to the lack of dialogue.
The previously-mentioned commentary is brought forward from the previous DVD edition. When it was recorded, Eggleston and Hargreaves had passed away and Briony Behets was not available. So the commentary was provided by Richard Brennan and Vincent Monton. It’s a consistently interesting track though may be a little dry and technical for some viewers. But if you want to know how Monton and his focus puller got both Hargreaves and Behets in focus in the nighttime car scenes (answer: split-diopter lenses) then this is a track for you. Monton pays tribute to focus puller David Brostoff (who was sadly killed when a car stunt went wrong during the production of the 1981 film Midnite Spares).The running-through-the-woods scenes near the end feature the first ever use on film of a Panaglide, the Panavision company’s answer to the Steadicam. The company loaned the prototype to Monton and his crew in the last week of shooting. Monton himself operated the Panaglide, as his regular operator had a hernia. Unfortunately it got broken.
John Hargreaves does feature on this disc, as he did on the previous DVD, in an audio interview recorded in 1995. It plays over a stills and poster gallery, which are probably best watched after the film due to spoilers. The stills are the work of David Parker, later to become a writer and cinematographer, particularly for his wife Nadia Tass from Malcolm onwards. The gallery ends with poster designs, from Australia and overseas, including France and the UK. This interview, recorded five months before Hargreaves's death, is more about his approach to acting rather than being specific to Long Weekend, but it’s certainly an entertaining listen.
Not Quite Hollywood has already been mentioned, and this isn't the first disc to include uncut interviews conducted for that film (18:31), here with Briony Behets, the late Everett de Roche and Vincent Monton. This and the Hargreaves interview/stills gallery are presented in SD (NTSC). The remaining two on-disc extras are in HD.
“Nature Found Them Guilty: Exploring Long Weekend” (24:23) is a new short panel discussion on the film, moderated by Lee Gamblin and featuring Sally Christie, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood. This begins by placing Long Weekend as part of the 70s trend of eco-horror that capitalised on fears at the time and since, with the potential destruction of the ozone layer...and nature in its way fighting back. (You could suggest that Australia, like America, is a large untamed natural space colonised by humans from outside, often at the expense of its indigenous population.)
Finally on this disc is the theatrical trailer (2:05) in HD. On the inside of the cover you can find another extra, a reprint of the Variety review from 1978 by “Miha” (Mike Harris).