A fishing line budget didn’t stop “Savage Weekend” from bringing the blood, guts, and sex; an impressive effort with little to no resources.
Wealthy metropolitans head upstate to check on a boat being built, but it’s not all fun games and fornication as a masked killer stalks them for unknown reasons. Let’s dig into 1979’s “Savage Weekend”, directed by David Paulsen!
As I See It
Distributed by the action heavy Cannon films, this was originally filmed in 1976 under the name The Killer Behind the Mask. Writer/Director David Paulsen made the best of a paltry $58,000 budget to make an effective yet exploitative slasher flick at the dawn of golden age.
“Upstate” in my mind can only refer to New York, and after the opening scene, I’m proven correct. The wealthy Marie (Marilyn Hamlin) makes an exchange of custody with her Ex-husband Greg (played by Jeff Pomerantz). Greg takes their son for the weekend so Marie can head north to check on a boat with her new stockbroker boyfriend, her sister, and some friends — all from the view of a swanky Jersey City apartment overlooking Manhattan.
The premise is not relatable unless you come from great wealth, but that contrast is emphasized when the city folk head to the back woods. It’s odd how “heading upstate” has always stood for a digression into primitive times and base behavior. Reality isn’t so colorful, but the cliché stereotype is used to great effect here.
A few notes on the story telling: it was nice to see a film this old avoid the requisite gay-bashing when openly gay Nicky, played by Christopher Allport, enters the local bar for a drink. The pint patrons instead make passes at Nicky, which evokes a violent response from him, nonetheless.
The filmmakers also follow the principles of Chekhov’s gun, replacing a pistol with a chainsaw. Unfortunately, there is an all too common faux pax committed in the crafting of this story: waiting too long to start the action. The first kill doesn’t happen until 52 minutes in, leaving a lot of fat on the table. Once it does, Paulsen’s initial idea to make a “shootable” film takes hold, as the masked mad man kills the cast off one bloody toff at a time. And, of course, there is a twist ending.
Finally, I leave you with a note that extends beyond horror.
There is a great theme song that plays the film out. The song is titled “Upstate Man”. It was arranged by composer Dov “Dubi” Seltzer, with lyrics from Director David Paulsen and performed by Israeli musician David Broza. It’s a folky acoustic jam, and it has stuck with me since I first heard it.
David Broza, who said at the time of tracking the song he wasn’t even considering a career in music, has gone on to craft a brilliant discography. His 2014 documentary East Jeruslaem/West Jerusalem and its accompanying album are worth the journey, as he set out to make music with Israeli and Palestinian musicians, as well as American legend Steve Earle.
The result is beautiful and transcends political and social boundaries as music is so often capable of doing. SAVAGE WEEKEND served as the antechamber in this dig — the main room opened up into an artistic treasure trove, only in a different medium.
Mac MaCauley is played by David Gale, who you’ll recognize from the shoulders up as Dr. Hill from Stuart Gordon’s brilliant Lovecraft film Re-Animator (1985). Though the mustache will throw you off.
William Sanderson, who plays boat builder Otis, played a similar yet more lovable dolt named Larry in Bob Newhart’s sitcom Newhart. He also played geneticist J.F. Sebastian in Ridley Scott’s epic Blade Runner (1982).
Of Gratuitous Nature
There is a plethora of breasts and a hand full of sex scenes, as well as some full-frontal male nudity (albeit from a distance). That may not quantify as balancing out, but it never feels unrequited. The one scene that really sticks out to me is Marie caressing the teat of a cow in a sexual manner before a confused encounter with Mac. Odd and out of place is what I would call it.
Caitlyn O’Heaney as sister Shirley has the traditional beauty seen in Victorian paintings, with the sex appeal of a post 60’s Woman. She steals the show both in a carnal sense and in her stagecraft.
Ripe for a Remake
This is just the type of hidden horror that can be mined for a contemporary version. Not too big of a following that it will seem rote. There isn’t much that dates the film. The back country still exists. Bring the city folk to the woods and have some fun.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Kino Lorber put out a restored print in Blu-ray format. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime, as well as Flix Fling.