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A Love Letter to “Long Weekend” (1978)

Let’s just start by saying this is possibly my favourite Australian film – and that is a mighty big call, because during the 70s and early 80s, Australia really knew how to deliver fantastic genre films. A lot would be loud and brassy exploitation gems, boasting a required healthy amount of sex and violence and everything in between, however there were films from the same period that were subtle in their design and delivery – these films were moody,  stealthily unsettling and incredibly mesmerizing.  LONG WEEKEND is one of those films. What makes this film so memorable is it’s haunting ability to get under the skin – we’re left to not truly understand the tangible mechanics working behind the movie, so we never can secure what it is that actually scares us about it, instead we go along the same journey that the protagonists do and get an increasingly overwhelming feeling of dread as the movie moves along. There is something almost supernatural about this very naturalistic horror film, and in many ways I’ve always seen it in the same light as the equally bleak and equally brilliant Australian classic WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

LONG WEEKEND is essentially about a troubled married couple Peter and Marcia who are practically locked together in hatred – continually fighting, constantly bickering and in a perpetual state of tension. The pair set out to the coast, away from the city and the trappings of suburbia to possibly save their marriage by trekking it out into the lush Australian bushland. During their visit to the great outdoors, they show a blasé disrespect for their environment – shooting off guns, chopping down trees, spraying poisonous aerosols, littering, flicking cigarette butts to the grasslands and running down a kangaroo without stopping. But gradually nature finds a way to bite back, and slowly surrounding animals start to react violently to these careless, destructive and self-involved humans.        

The politics that make up the fabric of LONG WEEKEND are complicated and rich. The film uses ecological warfare as its principal battleground however the true violence that emerges is the violence of the human spirit and the eternal battle between Peter and Marcia (Peter Hargreaves and Briony Behets). Plagued by marital insecurity and burdened by middle class complacency, the couple are devoid of any real sympathetic leanings or even any pathos – their purpose is to be unlikeable and relentlessly destructive. However, as much as Peter is a despicable man who has little to no regard for the surrounding environment, he does however share a loving relationship with his dog Cricket who comes along for the trip. Throughout the film his bond with Cricket is never questionable – it is stable and fulfilling, unlike his relationship with Marcia.

Marcia is an absolute rarity in the eco-horror film, in that for the most part leading women in the sub-genre are sympathiser specialists or women solely connected to the environment or the animal in question – here in this film, our leading lady is a screeching, neurotic, bitter woman completely detached and divorced from the natural world – she is cold to it as much as she is mostly cold towards her husband, and he is much the same. Peter essentially is a left-over cowboy trying to shed his urban façade, ready to conquer the wilderness with gun at hand. His inability to control the balance in his relationship with Marcia is reflected in his inability to have a hold over the environment that he carelessly disregards.  

The film’s eerie opening with the bustling human-occupied city dissolving to birthing saplings in virgin landscape sets the film up with a provocative “us and them” vibe – and then having the image of the saplings dissolve to domestic houseplants being tended to by Marcia in her bathroom brings the natural order and disorder home. Complimented by a news report on TV about birds being deemed out of control, the film is instantly acutely interested in nature being inescapably linked to the human populace, but also willing to be at war just as easily.

Written by the late great Everett De Roche, who honestly has written the best Australian movies to come from the 70s and 80s, LONG WEEKEND presents nature as a self-reliant entity that understands life and death in simplistic terms, uncomplicated by the human condition. In this there is an element of a conservative political angle in the film where abortion is bought up. Marcia’s pregnancy from an extra marital affair with an off-screen character named Mark (someone who has left his mark on the couple’s dire situation) and her eventual abortion is bluntly paralleled with the destruction of an eagle’s egg which sends the unborn cygnet’s mother into a violent frenzy. Some may say the film has an underlying pro-life message embedded here and some might argue that the film is strictly making the bold statement of nature does what it does and humans have choice – that eagles don’t have abortions, and people can if they want to. After watching the film – you can decide on the political agenda here, but for me personally, I see both arguments and think that it adds to the film’s complexity and brilliance. 

Something else that injects the film with both a supernatural eeriness and a superb commentary on the paranoia that cements the couple’s relationship is the creeping dugong that Peter and Marcia think they have killed. I won’t say too much if you haven’t seen it, but it is straight out of Gothic horror – or for a more modern sensibility, EC Comics.

Another favourite Aussie horror flick, and the other essential eco-horror Oz movie, is the visually gorgeous 1984 cult classic RAZORBACK (also written by Everett De Roche). With it’s hyper-realism and vivid colors, RAZORBACK is set up as a monster movie, with the feral boar presented as a leviathan – similar to the shark in JAWS (1975) – while intelligently commenting on masculinity and the piggish nature of machismo – however, in LONG WEEKEND, nature is a force that has had enough with human interference, human selfishness and human influence. Gregory Harrison in RAZORBACK is a “good guy” and a sensitive and cultured American, who we first see cooking his partner’s dinner while she talks about her work, so here Everett De Roche gives us a heroic almost effeminate man, or a new-world New Yorker who is forced to come to brutish male-centric Australia to duke it out with the locals and the wild pig. So the audience can side with Harrison, he’s an attractive ally, but in LONG WEEKEND,  De Roche gives us two incredibly unlikeable people who’s safety and welfare is really not our concern – what we want, and it could be perverse in  a way, is to see them lose their minds as nature turns on them.

Opening in 1978, LONG WEEKEND came out a year after an American film that I have always championed and highly recommend you see if you haven’t already, William Girdler’s DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977). Not only a superb eco-horror film featuring some amazing sequences involving big cats, wolves, vultures, dogs and rats and so forth, and not only is it a brilliant character driven piece, it is also a film that had a campaign that talked about concerns surrounding the state of the ozone layer, which was a central theme of the film – basically, in DAY OF THE ANIMALS the thinning of the ozone layer causes animals in high altitude north America to react violently and turn on the human population. This was a pretty innovative and very responsible way to market the film, because the concept of even having a damaged ozone layer was something that people weren’t very aware of until say the 80s when environmentalist groups really started to pick up – however the decade before it, the 70s, was most definitely the most fruitful in delivering ecologically themed horror. This is something that I really also love about the sub-genre, in that in these films humanity is usually presented as ugly and destructive – there is the concept of neglect chasing up on you in THE PACK (1977), the careless destruction of Florida swamplands in FROGS (1971), mercury poisoning in PROPHECY (1979) and so forth.  The major difference between something like the frenzied DAY OF THE ANIMALS which is gloriously relentless in it’s animal attacks on the likes of Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Ruth Roman and Leslie Neilsen, is that LONG WEEKEND is subtle and moody – but just as horrific. It creeps up on you and refuses to give closure on story spikes and, for that alone, this film deserves to be worshipped. So sit back, always remember to be nice to possums, don’t litter and enjoy Australia’s finest – LONG WEEKEND.

About Lee Gambin

Lee Gambin is a writer, author and film historian. He writes for Fangoria, Shock Till You Drop, Delirium, Warner Bros. and Scream Magazine. He has written the books Massacred By Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film, We Can Be Who We Are: Movie Musicals of the 1970s and the soon to be released The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film. He runs Melbourne based film society Cinemaniacs and lectures on cinema studies, currently working on a lecture series called "Can You Dig It?: Tortured Young Men in Film from 1976-1986 while working on two new books - one on the Stephen King adaptation "Cujo" entitled Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo and another book with collaborator Cris Wilson called Tonight, On A Very Special Episode: A History of Sitcoms that Sometimes Got Serious.

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