Retro Review: Long Weekend

Long Weekend Cinema Australia 1

Written by David Morgan-Brown:

Made in the same tradition as The Birds and Frogs, Long Weekend is a horror film where nature attacks. Unlike the two mentioned films, there’s no specific creature in this, just the outback itself, with its multiple annoyances and critters turning against its human prey. This 1978 horror film has slowly gained a cult following since its release and become one of the real quintessential Australian horror films.

For the four day weekend, Peter (John Hargreaves) decides to take his wife Marcia (Briony Behets) into the outback for a relaxing camping trip, but as this is a horror film, everything is going to go wrong from there. To defend itself from the litter, hunting, aerosol spray, and general destruction of the outback, nature itself begins fighting back by sending its creatures to attack this couple, until it makes them attack each other. As you can tell, this is the perfect film for Greenpeace misanthropes.

Long Weekend Cinema Australia 2

Set behind all the horror is a chilling underlying terror that sneaks along throughout the film until its revelation is made known. Peter and Marcia’s marriage is an intensely hostile one. They spit insults  at each other for a lengthy amount of the film, though unlike even the best of romance films, their relationship actually feels real and authentic because they actually have issues boiling in their relationship that permeates a large portion of all their conversations. However, the last 20 minutes are without dialogue, just the eerie sounds the creatures and critters of the Australian outback make during the hours of the morning while this stranded couple try to escape from the unnervingly twisted and confusing outback area (that sends them in loops similar to the woods in The Blair Witch Project).

The worst you can say about this film is that some sequences shot to terrify audiences end up making them laugh due to some shonky creature effects. But most of the fear in the movie comes from the unsettling feeling of nature itself turning against this couple, and it is expressed in such subtle yet nightmarish ways. It’s peculiar that a horror film doesn’t have a single person or creature as its villain, unless you count the dangerous outback as a single entity.

Long Weekend Cinema Australia 3

Long Weekend also puts other horror films (from around the world) to shame because of how clever it’s revealed to be. Nature turning against this couple because of their littering is an intriguing microcosm of industrialisation taking over natural landscapes, but what is revealed about Marcia’s character explains her vulnerability, expands on the tumultuousness of their marriage, and gives some haunting reason for some of the ominous sound design. Spooky!

Written by veteran screenwriter Everett De Roche (who also wrote the screenplays for other Aussie horror flicks like Patrick, Road Games, and Razorback) in the “mid-1970s during the international boom in eco-terror and animal-attack movies … by the time the film was shot in 1977, the craze was dying down, which may explain why Long Weekend sat on the shelf for two years”. De Roche later claimed he wish he had told the viewers at the beginning of the film that the couple would be killed, as this would’ve shifted the audience’s sympathies away from them and more towards the bush and its critters.

Long Weekend Cinema Australia 4

Long Weekend was filmed in Bega, New South Wales and Phillip Island, Victoria and shot on a budget of just $270,000.  Filming lasted only four weeks and was completed in May 1977, but the film wasn’t released until March 1979. It unfortunately did bad business in its home country, being a critical and commercial failure, but did well overseas, with four foreign distributers picking it up after its screening at Cannes Film Festival. It also picked up some awards and nominations at special horror/sci-fi ceremonies from around the world (when Hargreaves died in 1996, he was buried with his awards, including the Sitges Best Actor award he received for this film) while not getting a single nomination at the AFIs. With its international success, it (along with Patrick) helped convince overseas markets the commercial aspect of the Ozploitation genre, though it’s arguable that Long Weekend is the least schlocky and more subtle than its contemporaries or the ones it helped spawn. Over the years, the film has slowly regained a new-found appreciation enough so that it spawned an identically titled remake in 2008 starring Jim Caviezel.

Long Weekend does for the bush what Walkabout did for our deserts and what Wake in Fright did for our outback towns. Australian films like to occasionally indulge in the fear of our own landscape, and Long Weekend introduced this element to the claustrophobic contained setting of the bush, which scaringly is a more familiar setting to Australians than deserts and towns. This is a must-see if you’re looking for the best in Australian horror, this two-hander from Hargreaves and Behets is strongly acted, the atmosphere of dread is palpable, and the cries of the wounded dugong will haunt you for quite a while after you’ve finished the film.

Long Weekend Cinema Australia 5

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