Halloween Scene: Savage Weekend (1976)

savage_weekend If you think that mispresenting horror movies by way of posters or home video boxes is a new thing invented by Lionsgate, I offer you the rad poster for Savage Weekend. Pretty cool, right? That vaguely Skeletor-looking Grim Reaper pointing right at you Uncle Sam-style with bloody scythe and that tag line, “You have been chosen. You are doomed. Prepare yourself for…Savage Weekend.” Hey, SPOILER WARNING: none of that has anything to do with the film, just FYI. I don’t even think there’s a scythe in the background of a scene in this weird little gem of a movie.

To be fair, I wasn’t actually duped by the poster. This is one of 50 movies in a pack I bought years back called Drive In Movie Classics. It’s a mix of thrillers, action, exploitation, horror and other mostly forgotten B-movies. I was looking around for something I could watch on my computer while doing work this morning and a movie about friends spending some time in a remote locale getting offed by a masked killer sounded like just the thing. As it turned out, this is an odd film that wound up capturing my attention a lot more than I thought. 

Here’s the basic set-up: a woman named Marie and her four friends head to a small town in upstate New York to watch her boyfriend/lover Robert’s boat get built (it’s a big boat). The gang also includes Marie’s sister Shirley, their fabulous friend Nicky and Jay who is both a philanderer and also apparently a boat builder. The town itself plays home to Otis, a creepy redneck and Mac, a mustachioed lumberjack who looks tough and likes giving backstory.

One of the things I always wonder about with these films is whether they’re weird on purpose or just turned out that way. The actors in this film have strange quality to them. In some scenes they’re natural and fun to watch while in others, they’re stiff and surreal. Several elements are introduced throughout the movie which left me wondering if they would come back later on or be forgotten, which happens a lot with these kinds of things. This film didn’t seem to have that problem, but it did have a really intriguing energy to it.

A lot of that came from a pretty bonkers scene pretty early in the film when openly gay character Nicky decides to stop in at a local honkey tonk, order a drink and flirt with the assembled townies who all kinda sorta look like they want to see what he’s packing under those short shorts but are too scared to ask. When a pair of them roll up on him and hassle him, Nicky kicks their asses, going so far as to break a beer bottle and hold it up to one guy’s neck. I thought this scene was not only way ahead of its time, but also super awesome for flipping gender and sex stereotypes all over the place. It seemed like an odd scene considering he’s not really that prominent of a character in the rest of the film, but I only later realized it’s there to not only show his radness, but also throw in a few more potential killers for later int he film.

Speaking of potential killers, the movie might have a small cast, but it’s got a good deal of would-be killers. The most obvious one, Otis, is actually shown brandishing a chainsaw and coming after the female lead right in the very beginning. He’s a creepy weirdo who spends his days spying on people and talking to a gravestone, so what else are you supposed to think? There’s also the potential for Mac-with-the-mustache mentioned above as being the killer.

Another aspect of the film that made it feel almost dreamlike and surreal was the intense and complicated way that sexual interactions are presented. Like I said, Nicky seems to attract the entire bar as soon as he walks in, but aside from that scene and one later on where he puts on make-up and dances a bit with the main woman’s sister, he’s chaste tame. Still ,when he sees Shirley and Jay wordlessly hook up in a field (seriously, he just walks up on her, takes his pants off and a few minutes later he walks away with neither of them uttering a word) he gets pretty mad, squeezing his hands around some barbed wire. Marie and Jay hook up again later, but then she gets mad at him for getting all his ideas from skin magazines.

For her part, Marie gets together with her boyfriend Robert while her husband (possibly ex, I’m not quite sure) watches their son back in the city. Yet, while they’re getting down, she imagines its with her hubby instead. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also clearly attracted to Mac, something that comes to a head when she’s with him in a barn sensually touching a cow’s utters. He gets some milk, rubs it on her thighs and after being into it for a second, she hits him in the head with something heavy and leaves. Udders and milk, you guys, that’s what Marie’s into. Also, if your like me and wildly uncomfortable with such things, there are no sexual assaults in this movie, which actually surprised me.

With so much going on, you almost forget that there’s a guy wearing a creepy mask and the clothes of one of the people in the house who starts killing them. I just assumed it was Otis because of the opening scene, but not long after my brain clicked on and I figured it was SPOILER her husband who we saw in the very beginning of the film and heard bits and pieces of throughout. The kills are mostly unspectacular, but I liked the way they were framed. Shirley winds up on a buzz saw, but the switch (which is right below the light switch) didn’t get thrown, so when the guy inevitably comes back to the house to check it out, he accidentally turns it on and kills her. Aside from that and a branding flashback earlier in the film, though, they’re fairly boring.

So, by the end of the movie, pretty much everyone but Marie is dead and her husband’s going to kill her too, but Mac has discovered something’s up. He catches up to them and they start fighting with logs. That somehow evolves into a machete/chainsaw fight which is just so much cooler. At this point I was wondering to myself why Otis was even in this film, assuming he was a red herring that wouldn’t show up again as the film wound down. And then, bam, he appears and helps save the day. At that point, I realized I was watching different sections of the same scene show in the very beginning of the movie. So, we were presented with a look at this guy which set him up as the bad guy only to find out at the end that he’s actually the hero. I think. Things get a little ambiguous at the end, but I think I liked how it finished out.

Looking back at this post, I’m shocked at how long this post turned out to be. It’s not like Savage Weekend is a classic film, but there are so many interesting qualities to it that kept me drawn to this movie. It’s rare that a slasher movie actually intrigues me more when it’s not killing the characters and instead letting them show me and the rest of their traveling companions who and what they are. The result? I was actually pretty bummed out when they did eventually get killed. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

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