- Limited Release
- Director: David Paulsen, John Mason Kirby
- Written by: David Paulsen
- Running Time: 88 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
- Cast: William Sanderson, Christopher Allport, Marilyn Hamlin, Devin Goldenberg, David Gale, Jim Doerr, Caitlin O'Heaney, Yancy Butler, Jeff Pomerantz, Adam Hirsch, Don Plumley, Ben Simon, Geraldine Chapin, Rae Chapin, Claude Paulsen, Robert T. Henderson
Produced in 1976 as The Killer Behind The Mask, the film, despite a short theatrical run, lingered in relative obscurity for a number of years before finally garnering a release through Paragon Video in 1981. Everything about “Savage Weekend” (also released as The Upstate Murders) screams grindhouse, and it's unapologetic about it – from the lack of director/writer credits in some early film prints to the overabundance of boom mics (6, at last check) and the overcompensation of awkward, sleazy sexual situations in place of an actual plot or character development - it all adds up to something seemingly tailor-made for New York's grungy 42nd Street.
And it is these very factors that have lead to the film seeing numerous revisions on video, some with the more graphic sexual elements removed either partially or completely, which in itself has lead to seemingly endless debates amongst cinema geeks about the film's actual runtime (some versions clock in at just under 70 minutes while the Paragon version clocks in at 88 minutes). Most likely it's for that reason "Savage Weekend" has become somewhat of a sensation amongst b-movie enthusiasts forever looking to get their hands on an uncut print of the film. It certainly can't be because it's a good movie because that' is something it certainly is not.
Offering us a quick glimpse into events yet to transpire, (as well as appearing to establish the killer to be), the post-credits opening sequence is probably one of the coolest in my memory, especially when it's placed into it's proper context within the film. So awesome! Anyway, I don't want to get ahead of myself, so, as I did in my last review, I shall digress.
Even though her politician ex-husband's most recent mental breakdown and committal to an institution has been a real bummer, frigid Manhattan socialite Marie ("Shaft's Big Score!" star Marilyn Hamlin) has chosen to move on, finding herself a new ultra-rich paramour in business tycoon Robert Fathwood ("The Journey of the Fifth Horse" star Jim Doerr). For kicks, Robert just happens to be constructing a huge yacht in rural upstate New York. To oversee the boat's assemblage, Robert and Marie gather a group of friends, family and business associates to tag along on their little venture into hick country for the summer. Recently released from the State Hospital, Marie's ex-hubby Greg ("Future Kick" star Jeff Pomerantz) seems the right choice to play babysitter to their child while she's away. Yup, you read that right. Once in the country, it isn't long before trouble is brewing, first in the form of sexual tension, mainly between Marie and a local handy man, Mac Macauley ("Bride of Re-Animator" star David Gale), and then in a wacko in a ghoulish Hallween mask hanging around their cottage. We suspect (thanks partially to that quirky intro I mentioned) that the killer might be Otis (William Sanderson), a creepy hired hand with a penchant for talking to tombstones and riding around the back roads on his little bicycle, but, as we soon discover, everything is not what it seems.
Outside of Marie and Robert, the group also includes Robert's sexually adventurous business partner, Jay ("The Last Horror Film" star Devin Goldenberg); Marie's slutty-but-only-to-a-point sister Shirley ("Three O'Clock High" star Caitlin O'Heaney) and her flamboyant, openly-gay (and possibly self-hating) pal, Nicky ("Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman" star Christopher Allport), a guy whose personal inner loathing seem to boil to the surface anytime someone even looks at him the wrong way. If it sounds like I've gone out of my way to define these characters by their sexual wonks, it's mainly because the film itself only seems to only define these character's by their sexual wonks. We might not know much about them, but we sure know what they like (and don't like) sexually.
Before we get to any of the actual creeping killer stuff, which kicks in at about the 50 minute mark, we're forced to wade through all kinds of fetishistic sexual situations; everything from a long distance shot of Goldenberg's penis; to Shirley and Jay nonchalantly having sex in a field as gay masochist Nicky watches them and pierces his skin bloody with barb wire; to possibly the most awkward seduction sequence ever captured on celluloid, as Marie tenderly fondles and strokes the udder of a cow as Mac watches, and eventually joins in. Ug! There's also a clumsy-looking striptease in which Shirley makes all sexy-like for Nicky, as if forgetting about Nicky's status as an openly gay male. If that weren't enough Mac also relates a weird incestuous yarn about the time Otis, in a jealous rage, locked his female cousin in a vice grip and branded her with an H, you know, in a bid to label her a 'whore'. This sequence, which feels strangely out of place within the framework of the story, and may have been tacked on afterwards to liven up the film's pacing, plays out in all of its ugliness -- and only works to undermine whatever underlying social message (ie stereotyping people based on class), Paulsen might have been at least attempting to convey in the film's final portion.
Paulsen establishes pretty early that beneath all the pomp and circumstance, these city folk are just as screwed up as the locals they love looking down their noses at. And I'm not alluding to just their various sexual peccadilloes either. This is not a happy little group we have assembled here, trust me. In fact, that might be one of the biggest problems people had with the film (myself included) -- the fact that none of the characters are particularly likeable. When the killer (who is obvious to anyone with a functioning brain) does arrive late in the film, and begins to dispatch the yuppies in various ingenious (and sometimes hilarious) ways, it's not as exciting as it should be. I think indifference is the word I'm looking for. Most of the actual blood and gore happens away from the camera, a detail that will most assuredly frustrate those desperate for a little crimson output, especially in the face of the sexual itinerary they've been forced to endure up to that point. Granted, a gimmick involving bad wiring, a light bulb and a woman tied to a table saw, is far more clever than it should be -- and will probably garner a chuckle or two from even the most jaded of horror fan.
The casting of a then unknown Memphis-born actor William Sanderson into the role of Otis proves to be the film's saving grace. In the years following, Sanderson would garner plenty of publicity playing what amounted to a variation of his Otis character. In the role of dimwitted but loveable Larry on the American TV show Newhart, Sanderson worked steadily from 1982 to 1990, becoming a household name in the process. Here, in "Savage Weekend", Sanderson shines as the only recognizable face in the cast. The final shot of him emerging through the bush, coolly assessing the situation and then grabbing the revving chainsaw in a bid to intervene -- followed by his brief but comforting smirk directly into the camera, ah, what a glorious glorious moment. If I had to put together one of those top 50 greatest moments in cinema list, that sequence would somehow find its way in there.
In spite of its caustic grindhousy-feel and an abundance of sex (an element that I'm sure will titillate some), the film is a mostly disappointing affair. There isn't all that much one will take away from it minus one gratuitous cow milking sequence and that cool final shot I mentioned. Oh, "Savage Weekend" also marks the big screen debut of Yancy Butler (2010's "Kick-Ass") in a brief role as Mac's daughter. Director-writer David Paulsen (1980's "Schizoid") might know where to stick his camera (the cinematography here is rather good), but he has a lot to learn about story and character development. I also suspect he was working through some residual yearnings from his youth, which might explain the profusion of awkward sexual situations.
As Savage Weekend is now in the public domain, the film is available online for free over on Youtube. My buddy Drelbcom has uploaded the film for all to enjoy. Check it out.