Long Weekend (1978) Dir. Colin Eggleston
Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing a litterer get their comeuppance. I love seeing an eco-nerd giving a stern lecture to a butt-flicking pedestrian or a school principal patrolling a pristine football oval, handing detention slips to any pest hiding their left-over chip wrappers in the hollow of a tree. Possibly a side-effect of being forced to take part in many fear-inducing “Clean up Australia” days in my youth, I’ve been known to carry around rubbish for hours before finding an appropriate bin. I don’t want to risk dumping an empty bottle of Sprite. And it is a risk. Bad things happen to litterers and whilst I relish seeing them get their just desserts I wouldn’t wish any irresponsible lout the fate shared by the destructive duo at the centre of Colin Eggleston’s classic Australian thriller, Long Weekend.
It’s 1978 and married couple Peter and Marcia pack their Nissan with $2000 worth of camping gear and their dog Cricket and escape the city for a long weekend at a secluded beach, hoping that a few days break may help repair their fractured relationship. Along the way, Peter treats the land as his own personal waste basket, flicking cigarettes into the scrub, as the dry grass burns behind his screeching tyres. Peter recklessly runs over a kangaroo, throws empty stubbies in the ocean and then harpoons them, sending broken glass scattering across the waves. At the campsite, Marcia is well out of her element and resents her partner, who is mostly absent, exploring the surrounding bushland. She is haunted by a mysterious noise that she believes is a crying baby, although Peter thinks it may be the cries of a baby dugong (having just harpooned a large dugong from the shore). As the fighting between Peter and Marcia escalates, their general disdain for the country and its flora and fauna becomes even more apparent. But as the pair takes their toll on nature, nature hits back and eventually takes its toll on them. From ravenous sea eagles to blood-thirsty possums (yes...possums) to an all-consuming wilderness, the elements combine and conspire against the humans, sending one very strange and gory environmental message.
Filmed in just 27 days on location in and around Bega, New South Wales and with a budget of $270,000 dollars, Long Weekend heralded in a new era in Australian filmmaking. Prior to its release in 1978, local cinema had mostly been dominated by historical, period pieces. However, in the late seventies, so-called “Ozploitation” films began to surge in popularity – “Ozploitation” being the name given to low-budget productions that were rich in sex and violence (brilliantly discussed in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood).
Written by unquestionably Australia’s greatest thriller writer, Everett De Roche (the man responsible for most of the most famous films of the “OzPloitation” genre, including Razorback, Patrick and Road Games) the script is stripped back, unsettling, sometimes formulaic but never, ever anything less than viciously entertaining. One of the busiest Australian actors of the seventies, John Hargreaves (Mad Dog Morgan, The Removalists, Don’s Party) is solid as mania-prone Peter, while Briony Behets delivers some signature screams as his anxious and frustrated wife, Marcia. Surprisingly, the slickest and most memorable part of Long Weekend is the completely haunting sound-scape created by composer Michael Carlos (who previously wrote the music for Storm Boy) and sound editor Peter Burgess, the latter emerging as one of the most successful crew members after the film’s release, working as a foley artist on international productions to this day. Burgess compliments the moody score, effectively turning the sounds of local habitat into the unnerving shrieks and howls that are the norm of a nightmarish thriller. The cinematography by Vincent Monton is deserving of praise too, if only for capturing the twisted, cavernous trees lining the path to the beach, looking ghostly as lit only by the cars dull headlights.
Long Weekend was neither critically or commercially successful in Australia at the time, but went on to screen at the Cannes Film Festival and achieved mainstream success in many countries around the world. On the DVD commentary of the film, Producer Richard Brennan blames the lack of local success on the fact that Australian audiences “didn’t find the landscape as unsettling as Asian and European audiences did”. Brennan also points out that Long Weekend was overshadowed, released in a landmark year for Australian film alongside The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Newsfront. The film was remade by Urban Legend director Jamie Blanks and original screenwriter Everett De Roche in 2008, starring Jim “Jesus” Caviezel and Love My Way’s Claudia Karvan. It went straight to DVD.
Though criticised for its lack of subtle imagery (a mouldy Barbie doll on the beach is an all-too-familiar sign of impending doom) and silly, Stephen King-style ending, Long Weekend remains one of the great films of the “Ozploitation” genre. Its influence extends to the collective works of Quentin Tarantino, HBO’s The Sopranos and, of course, the resurgence of Australian horror in the 2000’s. Cleverly playing on an undercurrent of post-colonial self-loathing, Long Weekend is a prime example of a period in our history when Australian film could be both deceptively smart and enthusiastically bold.
Oh...and next time – throw your rubbish in the bin. You don’t want to make the possums angry.
You won’t like them when their angry.