Color, 1978, 95m.
Directed by Colin Eggleston
Starring John Hargreaves, Briony Behets
Synapse (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Long Weekend

In the late '70s, the two pop culture fads of anti-pollution messaging ("Give a hoot, don't pollute") and nature gone wild horror films collided in spectacular but contrasting fashion in Long WeekendAmerica and Australia. In 1977, legendary drive-in auteur William Girdler assaulted audiences with Day of the Animals, a delightfully absurd nature-runs-amok outing in which a bunch of litterbugging city slickers meet their comeuppance at the hands of various ticked-off critters. Though most audiences didn't get to see it, the same idea was also used for a far spookier treatment in Australia almost simultaneously for Long Weekend, a nifty little sleeper that didn't really earn a fan following until its TV and video appearances years later.

Stuck in a rapidly deteriorating marriage, Peter (Don's Party's Hargreaves) and Marcia (Behets) decide to get away to the wilderness and see if removing the stress of city life helps their relationship. Along the way they show a casual disregard for their surroundings, while around them birds and other animals begin revolting against human interlopers. Long WeekendSetting up camp for the weekend, they put forth little effort relating to each other; in fact, their self-absorbed attitudes prove to be their undoing as they're tormented by mysterious noises, menacing animals that seem resistant to death, and perhaps something worse...

Directed by Colin Eggleston (Cassandra, Sky Pirates), this compelling, unusual thriller plays for the most part like a staging of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? conceived by some very twisted high school kids. Though the pro-environment message is unmistakable, the film fortunately spends most of its running time working up a succession of quiet, shuddery chills rather than hammering Long Weekendhome its message. Skillfully lensed in scope, the film is aided immeasurably by Hargreaves (one of Australia's most underrated leading men) and Behets, the director's wife, who was mostly used for supporting roles in sex comedies. Fans of the golden age of Aussie cinema will especially enjoy the effective use of the continent's unique landscapes and cinematic style applied to a horror template that could have easily turned into something hoary but instead produced a chilly little gem worthy of discovery. It even went on to inspire a 2008 remake, originally released under the same title but issued widely on video under the name Nature's Grave. Not surprisingly, it doesn't hold a candle to the original.

Apart from a few lucky moviegoers, no one managed to see Lost Weekend in its original scope dimensions until the Australian DVD release, which featured a Long Weekendpassable but unremarkable transfer. On the other hand, Synapse's 2005 release on DVD turned out to be a stunner at the time from start to finish. Audio is presented in original mono and a tasteful, effective 5.1 mix that makes especially effective use of ambient nature noises during the night scenes. Creepy stuff. Both DVDs feature a solid commentary track by executive producer Richard Brennan and cinematographer Vincent Monton, who lay out the film's production in fascinating detail and cover the bases surprisingly well. Sadly Eggleston and Hargreaves passed away before the film could reach a new audience, but the survivors have quite a Long Weekendfew interesting stories to tell. Also included is an archival Hargreaves interview which plays out over an extensive selection of stills and promotional art., plus the original theatrical trailer and concise, interesting liner notes by Michael Felsher.

A decade later, Synapse revisited the title for a Blu-ray release sporting the expected boost in image quality. The 1080p presentation is up to the label's exacting standards and looks great throughout, with the landscape shots in particular really packing a punch. The original mono track is presented in DTS-HD along with a recently remastered version of the 5.1 track, which sounds terrific with lots of subtle but unsettling spatial effects. Apart from the liner notes, all of the preexisting extras have been carried over (commentary, interview with gallery, and trailer, plus reversible cover art with the original DVD design on the back), making it a recommended upgrade for fans of this truly unnerving slice of Aussie environmental horror.

Updated review on April 4, 2015.