Savage Weekend (1979)

Several couples head upstate to the country to watch a boat being built. Unfortunately, they are stalked by a murderer behind a ghoulish mask.

VHS release pictured: 1982 Paragon Video.

Starring: Christopher Allport, Jim Doerr, David Gale | Director: David Paulsen

Savage Weekend: VHS Review

by Sam Rakestraw

Savage Weekend has it all in terms of a slasher film that cost less than $60,000 to make –a scary mask the killer wears, topless scenes, and a whodunit story. The only difference is that the laughable teenagers are switched out with strange adults, and I mean really strange adults each with their own issues. And we thought teenagers were messes. Surely adults on a weekend getaway in the country can handle a killer on the loose better than they can, right? Don't hold your breath in this almost experimental feeling flick straight from the Golden Age of slashers.

Marie (Marilyn Hamlin) is joining her boyfriend Robert (James Doerr) on a weekend getaway in an upstate New York farmhouse where he is having a boat built for the nearby lake. Marie is fresh out of a marriage after her husband Greg turned out to be a Wall Street scumbag like Bernie Madoff. It's more than taking a toll on her as she feels almost totally disconnected from everything, even herself. Her sister Shirley (Caitlin O'Heaney) and friend Nicky (Christopher Allport) do manage to keep things light, if not weirder. Nicky has a cool intro scene where he fights men harassing him for being gay in a bar.

At the boathouse cabin getaway, there's Jay (Devin Goldenberg) who's building the boat, Mac (David Gale) who is providing the wood for the boat, and Otis (William Sanderson) who owns the farm property and is letting them use it. Otis isn't seen much, but Mac and the nearby town seem to think that he was responsible for the murder of a woman several years ago. In fact, this serves as the opening scene set to a stringy, upbeat banjo. At first, everything just comes together as a bunch of weird people doing weird things with each other. Shirly parties like horror movie teenagers so all the topless shots are courtesy of her as she flings with Jay while something sparks between Mac and Marie –but not in a warm fuzzy romantic way.

The movie actually doesn't live up to its title until about 35 minutes in, it feels, like when Jay becomes the first victim, not counting the poor little bat that was found nailed to the front door when they arrived, when checking on the boat just as Otis was supposed to finish up for the day. The ensuing night sees a killer wearing a mask that looks like someone had acid thrown in his face, which just happens to be the one that Shirley found in a gas station store on their way to the boathouse, terrorizing the group. Jay was the first, but who will be the last? And who exactly is doing this?

Having been filmed in 1976 and never released until 1979, one could make the argument that Savage Weekend is one of the first slasher films that at least tried to follow the formula that we are all familiar with. It does make some sense, given how experimental the movie feels at times. Halloween would come out while it was in suspended animation, while Friday the 13th would come out the following year. But honestly, the characters of Savage Weekend are more memorable than the killer.

You can't help but feel sorry for Marie for the headspace that she is in. Finding out that the person she loved the most is the worst kind of liar and thief, along with willing to do anything to save himself, has really sent her spiraling even with Robert looking out for her and trying to make her happy by taking her there. The best part about mentally detached characters is that wooden acting can really sell them since there's nothing overly dramatic about being dead inside. Re-Animator's David Gale character acts in this one without his British accent as Mac, looking like Robert Foxworth about there. Of course, he still has his creepy moments and times when he really should keep his hands to himself.

Caitlin O'Heaney as Shirley and Christopher Allport as Nicky tend to be memorable too as they are everything that scary movies stand for –sex scenes and that campy feel that has become synonymous with such characters in horror. I non-ironically love the music in that long, drawn-out striptease scene –it's psychotic sounding like a looping retro video game that drills into your cerebellum. Allport and O'Heaney would go on to become prominent TV actors, usually in the drama genre.

Truthfully, if it weren't for Shirley and Nicky, Savage Weekend would probably be rated PG-13 by today's standards considering the content on the more violent side of things. It's not a gorefest or splatter fest with not many memorable kills except for maybe one, but there are some good shots of the killer lurking about that could've influenced Halloween. There are also some scenes involving a staircase, also very similar in cinematography to what happened in the Myers’ house.

Director and writer David Paulsen was working on his second film, Schizoid for a 1980 release by the time Savage Weekend was released. He would also do some significant TV work for primetime series in the 80s. He seemed to never return to the horror genre, but as we all know, it makes for a great career starting point. Savage Weekend would remain in low-quality obscurity until 2015 when 20th Century Fox finally was able to remaster it in HD, which is much needed because I watched the low-quality version and subtitles were needed.

It's cool to see the seedlings of influence that this early slasher movie had on others having now seen it. Savage Weekend came at a time when people were starting to fear the monsters less and people more. When the mid-80s came, the two started to combine. Savage Weekend may have worked better with its alternate title for this reason, but then again, maybe it sounds too true-crime-like. If that is not the case, then this is a really experimental movie by a crew testing the waters with their first project.