June 2, 2014

Movie Review: Savage Weekend

These days, you never know where you may uncover a hidden gem. Now, that gem may not be all that shiny, it probably doesn't have a nice cut, but there is still something about it. You know that beneath the surface, underneath the dirt and the grime is something of value. This is what a lot of movie aficionados, and horror lovers in particular, are looking for. We know that you have to get your hands dirty and wade through a lot of garbage to find those hidden gems. That is what we have here, a movie that is far from perfect, but still does things right and is certainly watchable. The movie is called Savage Weekend.

The movie was shot in 1976 under the title The Killer Behind the Mask. It had a minuscule theatrical release before sitting on shelves until The Cannon Group picked it up and released it under the title most know it by, although I have seen reports that it has been called The Upstate Killer, as well. In addition to the multiple titles, there have been a variety of cuts. Anywhere from the mid-70 minute range up to 88-minutes, which seems to generally be considered the uncut version. The version I saw ran 83 minutes and felt complete, I am not sure what is missing there.

Savage Weekend was written and directed by David Paulsen, who squeezed this in between his writing for Dynasty. It seems his predilections outside the mainstream ran along the exploitative and kinky with this and Schizoid (starring Klaus Kinski and Angel's Donna Wilkes). This movie was made very early in the slasher cycle and a few years before Halloween put its stamp on the formula. While this is certainly a slasher, it does have some similarities to the Italian giallo. I wonder if it was his intention to make a backwoods giallo? No, I guess not.

The film begins with a chase through the woods, a woman in a blood spattered white dress is trying frantically to get away from someone. A chainsaw is seen running on the ground and we see a redneck look directly at the camera, give a creepy half smile, pick it up, and move towards the camera. The credits then role before picking up the story in a New York City apartment. We are introduced to the major players, Rob, Shirley, Marie, Jay, and Nicky, I believe. They are all headed upstate for some rest and relaxation while also checking in on the oat Rob is having built. Staying behind is Marie's ex-husband, Greg. He was recently released from a mental hospital and will babysit his daughter. Yes, you read that right.

Well, they arrive upstate. Once there, we see the redneck from the opening, a crazy little fellow named Otis (William Sanderson, best known as Larry from Newhart). We are also introduced to the handyman, Mac. With the introductions out of the way, everyone essentially pairs off and let their sexual kinks play out. At nearly an hour in, we get the fist kill, which continues until the big reveal of who the killer is, which should be pretty obvious. Still, it remains effective.

The movie is fairly straightforward, implementing elements that would become slasher staples, as well as the whodunit mystery elements of the giallo. However, it is not those elements that ultimately make this as watchable as it is. The movie has more than its share of unique, or at least strange elements. There is the way the characters are defined more by the sexual activity than anything else. Then there are more specific moments like the random romp in the middle of the field while Nicky watches, gripping barb wire until he bleeds. We watch Otis rant at tombstones about boats. Then, I'm one of the most bizarre sequences I have seen, the erotic cow milking. Yes, you did read that. It is an utterly (udderly?) bizarre and inexplicable moment. Oh, and don't forget the woman tied to the table saw that everyone seems to forget about.

Then we have Nicky. In my experience, this character is anomaly for 1970's low budget horror cinema, an openly gay character. I have no problem with such a character, it is just not something that I expect to see in 1976 horror film. On top of that, he seems to be a bit self loathing, evidenced by a sequence in a bar where he engages locals in a fight, or the scene mentioned above where he grips the barb wire. Them we have the odd sequence of Shirley delivering a Moulin Rouge-style strip tease for him, I guess she forgot he was gay? In any case, it is a bit of forward thinking on the part of Paulsen, who may have been using this movie to work through some personal issues? I don't know, but seems a possibility.

In the end, Savage Weekend is a solid horror feature that is rough around the edges, far from perfect, but has plenty going in its favor. It has the randomness of odd scenes, the presence of Sanderson (who is quite good on his supporting role), the creepy mask of the killer (which is found similar to Michael Myers and the clown mask), and the relatively brisk pace. It moves well, it entertains, and is odd enough to be memorable. Certainly worth a watch. Also, if you watch closely, you will see the movie debut of Yancy Butler (Hard Target, Witchblade, Kick Ass)


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