Long Weekend (1978)

It's not often that a film creeps me out, but the humble little Australian thriller Long Weekend actually achieved it. It's probably the best "nature strikes back" film I've ever seen, mainly because it plays the attacks straight and offers a degree of ambiguity to the horror. More on that later though, let's meet our protagonists.

For reasons that will remain unclear until later on in the film, our Australian couple Peter (revered and late Aussie actor John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are barely on friendly terms. She's talking to a friend on the phone about the camping trip she doesn't want to go on, and how they are "Not speaking." He roars back through Melbourne and arrives home in his convertible. It's obvious these two have money, but they hardly seem happy for it. After fighting about taking Peter's dog 'Cricket' or not, they take off to the secluded beach spot. Peter has surreptitiously hidden the dog in the back of their land rover. On the way they stop run over a kangaroo, but this barely registers with either of them. They stop at a hotel briefly, but don't interact much with anyone, other than to confirm that nobody knows where their beach-spot is. They'll have to find it on their own.

Eventually they arrive in the back of night after getting lost and driving around in circles. The beach is near an abbatoir, perhaps not a good sign. After more tensions after Marcia finds Cricket, they set up and camp and for a while things are good between them - although Marcia still not keen on sex. We see that she's has stolen an eagle's egg and keeps gazing intently at it. As she watches Peter take a swim, she suddenly screams as she sees a dark shape swimming toward him. Peter returns to the shore, confused but none the worse for wear. At night, they both hear a strange wailing sound echoing throughout the countryside and are spooked by it.

Their brief hours of happiness begin to unravel, both because of their relationship and beacuse of outside events. A harpoon gun brought by Peter discharges accidentally and almost shoots Marcia. Their chicken goes off far quicker than it should. In a drunken moment, Peter fires off round after round with his rifle and kills a mother duck, leaving her ducklings to probably die. Marcia wants to return and holiday at Lake Eildon with their other friends. As the couple fight more and more, Marcia grabs the egg and smashes it against a tree. An eagle immediatly swoops down and savagely attacks Peter. The source of their troubles finally emerges - Peter seemingly coerced Marcia into having an abortion.

They encounter the dark shape in the water again, and this time Peter shoots it. Blood swirls in the water, and later they see just what they've killed. Not a shark at all, but a dugong, a peaceful sea mammal somewhat like a dolphin. Peter remarks that this one is a female, probably the mother of a pup. The wails of a dugong pup are like a human's - probably the frightening sounds they've been hearing constantly. They both find it ugly and show no remorse, throwing sand over it.

After a particularly nasty fight, Marcia locks herself in the land rover. In his tent alone, Peter is viciously bitten by a possum rummaging for food. Finally after an argument about the abortion, Peter agrees to leave the camp with her - they'll go home and get a divorce. Earlier when they arrived, Peter had seen a combi-van on the beach. They weren't alone. As they drive along the beach, he wants to check these other people. Marcia swears he has five minutes or she'll leave. He checks their abandoned camp and finds only an empty tent with a little dog that snarls savagely at him. Marcia sees the dark shape in the water again and snaps - Peter returns to find her wading hysterically in with a club to attack it. He drags her back, calms her and swims in to take a look. It's the other camper's combi-van partially submerged, complete with a dead body in it.

Marcia wants to go straight home, Peter wants to notify the police. They find the Dugong's corpse has moved along the sand. Marcia thinks it's still alive.They realize Cricket is gone. Marcia pretends to look for him and tells Peter he's dead. They fight when Peter doesn't believe a word of it. She locks herself in the car again, and Cricket turns up. Peter goes off to get him and Marcia takes off, driving maniacally. Then the horror really begins. Driving through the night, Marcia is beset by birds. They shriek, crash into the windscreen, shit on it even. She crashes it into tree and flees the spiders all over it the car, screaming into the night.

Peter has stayed in the camp, but is frightened by the evil sounds of nature in the black of the night. Unseen animals hiss and growl, and there is still that unearthly wailing sound in the distance. His fire flares up strangely, almost supernaturally. He hears Cricket barking and follows it to the corpse of the dugong. Frantic, he shoots it and sets it on fire. Later, he shoots all his ammunition into the birds flapping and croaking overhead. Something falls from the sky. It's Marcia's shoe. This has to be one of the most unsettling scenes in film history, folks. Suddenly, there's an unearthly shrieking in the dark and Peter fires his harpoon-gun, the only weapon he has left.

In the morning, as we pan through the ruined camp, we see Peter sitting near Marcia's corpse. She has a harpoon through her throat. He takes Cricket and runs, runs as the sounds of nature pursue him. finding the car near the camp. After a while it starts but he can't find his way out, and only ends up driving around in circles. Finally it gets stuck in mud and he runs, nearly getting bitten by snakes and spiders. Birds lunge out at him as he flees, the bush itself seems to hate him. Peter runs out on a highway, just as a large truck is barrelling down towards him. He laughs as help seems to be on the way - unless that angry cockatoo flying at the truck-driver's face has anything to do with it ...

This is a small masterpiece for building dread and unseen fear. As I quickly mentioned at the start, there's a high degree of ambiguity here. There's no actual massed animal attack. There's a couple of isolated incidents, but they could probably happen to any camper. If you look at the entire film, it could all be due to coincidence. Still, we just get the sense that there is a buildup of crimes against nature committed by these people - until finally nature can take no more. Yet, if the animals are mounting an attack, they don't deal out death themselves. They work though the very humans they're out to destroy, tricking them into killing each other. The abortion storyline could be seen as a bit controversial in this day and age, but does make sense in the story's context. The sound effects contribute a wonderful sense of palpable terror, and growing up in the country I know how accurately frightening these animals sound in the pitch-black night! That wailing - whatever it is - will stay with you for days after the film, I promise. Acting from Hargreaves and Behets is of a high standard thoughout, neither Peter or Marcia are likeable but you still feel some compassion for these bitter, miserable individuals, who only experience fleeting moments of happiness together. You can see their mental breakdowns taking place on-screen even when there's no dialogue. The sinister music and crisp cinematography also contributes to the overall class of the film.

Director Colin Eggleston has done an impressive job on Long Weekend, it's a true pity he didn't lend his talents to more films. If you like subtle, atmospheric horror that makes you think, you could really do a lot worse than this one. It will be interesting to see if it develops any sort of cult in the future, and moves from underrated gem to minor masterpiece.

© Boris Lugosi, 2006.

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