Color, 1979, 87m.
Directed by David Paulsen
Starring Christopher Allport, James Doerr, Marilyn Hamlin, Caitlin O'Heaney, David Gale, Devin Goldenberg, William Sanderson, Jeffrey David Pomerantz
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The release of Friday the 13th in 1980 officially opened the floodgates for a decade of slasher fare, and one of the side effects was the release of several films that had otherwise been gathering dust or barely played drive-ins without finding an audience. One title riding that early slasher wave was Savage Weekend, an indie production shot in upstate New York in 1976 but unable to find a marketing hook until Cannon Films decided to promote it as a slasher title with most of its play dates from 1980 through 1981. That's understandable since we do have an isolated cast of characters isolated in the wilderness being stalked by a masked killer, though in tone it often falls closer to more perverse, audacious fare like Rituals or Poor Pretty Eddie.
The promise of seeing a modern boat being built upstate is enough to spur a road trip for a sometimes prickly set of friends consisting of the potential boat's well-to-do owner, Robert (Doerr), his girlfriend Marie (Hamlin), her baby-faced sister Shirley (O'Heaney), piggy Jay (Goldenberg), and catty token gay pal Nicky (Allport, the ill-fated Freddy from Dead & Buried). Hired to do the job is yokel Otis (Sanderson, who shot this back to back with Fight for Your Life), who seems to have a penchant for violent crimes and doesn't respond well when he gets kicked off the assignment, and local farmer Mac (Re-Animator's Gale, sporting a big mustache), hovers around and makes a move on Marie, who's still married to the estranged, temperamental Greg (Pomerantz). By the time everyone's ready to enjoy a fancy dress dinner night, it turns out there's a maniac on the loose intent on bumping them all off one by one with whatever farm tools might be handy, including a buzz saw and a sickle.
Complete with bucket loads of twisted sexual angst, inappropriate cow milking, hat pin violence, repeated kinky use of barbed wire, and copious nudity (mostly provided y O'Heaney), this one definitely stands apart from the pack and has understandably stuck in the memories of many viewers who first stumbled on it via its VHS release from Paragon, which populated the shelves of seemingly every single mom 'n' pop video store in the '80s. The actual identity of the killer isn't too hard to figure out based on the process of elimination, but there's an intriguing twist on the old city slickers vs. backwoods hicks formula here as well as a one of the earlier, non-judgmental major gay characters in a legit horror film (again, shades of Rituals).
Director David Paulsen went on to helm another Cannon slasher(ish) film, 1980's Schizoid, and interestingly, this was one of the earlier English-language projects for one of Cannon's regular music composers, Dov Seltzer, who first made a splash with the hit Israeli stage musical Kazablan (filmed by a pre-Cannon Golan and Globus) and would go on to such films as The Ambassador, Sinbad of the Seven Seas, and Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors. However, he had nothing to do with the folksy theme song, "The Upstate Man," which was sung and co-written (with Paulsen) by Israeli pop fixture David Broza. The soundtrack as a whole is a crazy mishmash of plucky banjos and aggressive, prog-style synth arrangements, giving the whole film a very different flavor compared to the harsh strings heard in other theatrical slasher films around the same time. It's also fun to see the young cast going through their paces before they become more familiar to genre fans, and even a young Yancy Butler (Hard Target) turns up as a young tyke.
The old Paragon tape and cut TV prints have been bootlegged for several rotten cheapo releases from labels like Mutant Sorority and Synergy, but you're far better off with the Kino Lorber Blu-ray and DVD releases culled from MGM's excellent HD transfer. The film's very low budget is evident in a few scrappy-looking shots, but it's such a mammoth improvement over any other video transfer out there it's nearly miraculous. The film also sports a very high, healthy bit rate throughout on the Blu-ray, with the feature and extras taking up just over 37GB of the dual-layered disc. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds very good as well considering the basic nature of the source, and certainly better than the muted, hissy tracks we've heard before.
In addition to the theatrical trailer, the release sports a trio of engaging featurettes. The 18-minute "Rolling Dice" features the always personable and smart Sanderson chatting about his career at the time, getting this gig while he was doing regional theater and scaring people with his in-character audition. Amusingly, he still remembers much of Otis's dialogue and can recite himself to sleep with it! He also touches briefly his other roles including The Onion Field, Blade Runner, and TV's Newhart (for which he adopted some Otis characteristics) and Deadwood, and he even seems to have slightly softened his outlook on Fight for Your Life, too. In the 24-minute "Scoring Points,"O'Heaney (who still has that great voice) explains how she got her role her as a means of getting into SAG (despite not being a horror fan) and reflects on her fellow cast members for what was apparently a fun shoot despite the lack of time and money. Again she shares memories of some of her other roles, too, including her final girl stint in the underrated He Knows You're Alone (which featured a young Tom Hanks, whom she remembers being involved in a useful acting lesson) and the "hot teacher" part in the cult favorite Three O'Clock High, and also has a funny anecdote about telling John Houseman he had to go topless in this film. Her story about the metamorphosis of her TV series Tales of the Gold Monkey is fascinating, too, including an unexpected explanation for the series' demise after one season. Finally, the 17-minute "Behind the Mask" spotlights Pomerantz, who talks about not getting paid for years until the film got picked up, getting some high-profile TV gigs after this, being recognized in public under unfortunate circumstances, and working for decades in show business on the small and large screens in addition to his anti-drug efforts. While major studios continue to mistreat their slasher gems, it's heartening to see a quirky, atmospheric little title like this get the first class treatment.