Savage Weekend Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
A weekend in the country turns into a nightmare of terror when a killer, wearing a gruesome mask, stalks and kills partygoers in horrific grisly ways. (From Kino’s official synopsis)
David Paulsen’s backwoods bodycount movie, Savage Weekend, was released by an early incarnation of The Cannon Group at the beginning of the original North American slasher boom. Its production just barely preceded Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), so it’s ahead of the curve masked stalk-n-slash antics were technically a reaction to redneck menace proto-slashers, namely John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The problem here is that Paulsen is no John Boorman or Tobe Hooper and the pre-gore era required a more refined brand of filmmaking to convey horror. Minus the geek-show extremes of elaborately staged murderous set-pieces, early slashers emphasized style and, on occasion, narrative substance.
Savage Weekend’s ‘narrative substance’ is sloppily divided between a typical ‘country folk vs. city folk’ survival thriller and a melodramatic softcore porn about a sexually unsatisfied and neurotic woman that struggles to find solace in the arms of rural masculinity. This already mismatched storyline then takes breaks for violent, but not particularly bloody murder set-pieces, one of which stars William Sanderson (fresh off his star-making scumbag turn in Robert A. Endelson’s Fight for Your Life, 1977) and takes place so far apart from the main narrative that it is told in flashback. Sanderson isn’t even the masked killer, but an equally unhinged secondary threat. The lack of focus leads to long boring swaths of screentime that depend entirely on the creepy and unique performance abilities of David Gale (who plays one of the grossest ‘heroes’ in slasher history) and Sanderson, who, again, appears to be starring in a completely different movie.
Outside of these occasional highlights, the film’s value is found in its promiscuous and surprisingly open-minded sexual streak. Besides some genuinely pervy interludes (like a scene where Gale seduces one of the ladies by showing her how to milk a cow), one of the major characters is a very open homosexual named Nicky (Christopher Allport), who ends up stealing the entire movie. Nicky is more or less introduced when he walks into a country bar and flirts with the bartender. When hillbilly patrons make fun of him, he promptly insults them and beats them up. Later, as the protagonists enter the cabin, they find a bat nailed to the doorjamb. As his straight buddy notes that the bat ‘must be dead’ because it isn’t moving, he quips back with the best line in the entire movie:
Well, would you move if someone put a nail through you? I wouldn’t even want to wiggle.
His function is a somewhat regressive mix of comedic sidekick and jealous gay guy, and his death is pretty lame, but his standout scenes are still awfully progressive for a low-budget slasher.
Paulsen, who also directed the more stylish Schizoid (1980), doesn’t quite have the will or skill to achieve anything visually memorable. His future in prime time soaps, like Dallas and Dynasty, is not unexpected, given his penchant for static exposition, foggy sex scenes, and lovingly framed establishing shots of natural splendor. There are some inspired moments, too, such as the tone poem opening titles – which somewhat cleverly frames Sanderson’s character as the killer by showing the audience the climax out of context – but, ultimately, Paulsen’s underwhelming style lands Savage Weekend somewhere between its non-franchise, rural slasher counterparts. The middle, it turns out, is a bland place to be. It doesn’t have the ‘so bad it’s good’ appeal of James Bryan’s hilariously inept Don’t Go in the Woods (1981) or the genuine quality of Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn (1981).
Savage Weekend has appeared on various streaming services and grey market DVDs, but those releases were more or less VHS quality. According to specs, Savage Weekend has been digitally remastered from its original 35mm vault elements for its Blu-ray and official DVD premiere from Scorpion Releasing, via distributors Kino Lorber. It’s such a grimy and dark film that it would be difficult to make it look good or even particularly clean, but the overall image matches the expectations of an older, mistreated 35mm master. That said, there are shots with a lot of grain; enough to turn off some viewers. Some scenes, usually wide-angle, deep-set images, are smeared with vertical sheets of the stuff. Paulsen and cinematographer Zoltan Vidor don’t do the footage any favors by shooting so much of the movie in soft focus. This diffuses highlights, fuzzies edges, and mitigates contrast. The dynamic range and fine detail is underwhelming, but still a big improvement over the version currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Black levels are clean and the earthy palette is consistent. The dual layer disc ensures that the issues inherent in the original footage aren’t worsened by notable compression noise.
Savage Weekend’s original mono sound is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The sound quality is expectedly soft and a bit flat, especially when characters are standing around chatting. Though it appears most of the movie was shot with on-set sound recording, there’s very little ambient sound to fill out the track beneath the dialogue, so the bulk of the mix depends on the music. Dov Seltzer’s banjo-driven score drives home the Deliverance vibe and is met by unexpectedly funky grooves, weird analogue keyboards, and aggressive drums. The music’s volume levels awkwardly jet up and down with the dialogue, but, when they’re set at their highest point, they sound very nice with plenty of dynamic range. The occasional pop/folk songs don’t fare quite as well and tend to be as muffled as the flattest dialogue.
Interview with Actor William Sanderson (18:10, HD) – Everyone’s favourite Deadwood hotel proprietor shares stories of his audition, his affection for the director, his opinions on the rest of the cast & crew (no bad opinions here), and shooting the movie in general – all while wearing a platinum blonde fauxhawk and pink tie with little blue flamingos all over it. His memory for his oddball B-movie roles never fails to impress. He even recalls specific lines of dialogue.
Scoring Points: A Discussion with Actress Caitlin O'Heaney (24:30, HD) – The self-proclaimed ‘old hippie’ is sure to tell us right away that her memory of the film isn’t too sharp and her affection for horror movies is limited (she did it to join the Actor’s Guild). It’s a wishy-washy and dismissive interview, which probably won’t please fans, but her sunny disposition carries it through. And she’s very gracious about the attention Savage Weekend still gets.
Jeff Pomerantz: Behind the Mask (17:20, HD) – The final interview is with another bemused actor who doesn’t remember most of the production. His memories include being furious that someone else acted out the masked murder scenes (spoiler: he’s the killer) and that he didn’t get paid as quickly as he had hoped. He expresses regret for his previous negative attitude. His other memories are more vague niceties.
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps.