SAVAGE WEEKEND (1979) Blu-ray
Director: David Paulsen
Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber

"You can't blame upstate folk for getting crazy in the mind" when you book a SAVAGE WEEKEND, the long-neglected Cannon slasher on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing and Kino Lorber.

Leaving her son behind with her ex-husband Greg (Jeffrey Pomerantz, GROUP MARRIAGE) –a former press secretary just out of the hospital for depression following the suicide of his gubernatorial employer – Marie (Marilyn Hamlin, SHAFT'S BIG SCORE) heads off for the weekend with stockbroker boyfriend Robert (Jim Doerr), his depressed colleague Jay (Devin Goldenberg, THE LAST HORROR FILM), her hot-to-trot sister Shirley (Caitlin O'Heaney, THREE O'CLOCK HIGH), and fey pal "Mother Nicky" (Christopher Allport, DEAD & BURIED) for a weekend upstate at a house he purchased from crazy old sailor Clarence. The weekenders do not ingratiate themselves to the townies – Nick shows some drunk hicks that gay guys from the Bronx ain't no nellies – but least welcoming is handyman Otis (William Sanderson, THE ONION FIELD) who was helping Clarence build his boat and believes it is rightfully his even though Robert bought it with the house. Despite the story told by local logger Mac (David Gale, RE-ANIMATOR) that Otis was fixated on his cousin and branded her "H" for "whore" when he caught her with another man, Robert thinks nothing of the handyman's behavior when he fires him. Robert intends for Jay to stay on after the weekend and finish the boat as a form of therapy, but he is soon working out his issues with a nude sunbathing Marie while voyeur Nick seethes (when he isn't swishing and needling Jay). Marie is determined to love Robert who she sees as a kinder alternative to her ex-husband, but she is drawn to Mac and also hallucinates her ex watching her make love. When someone dons the horror mask Shirley picked up in town as a gag gift and starts picking off the weekenders, there is only one likely suspect… or is there?

Originally titled THE KILLER BEHIND THE MASK, SAVAGE WEEKEND is not really a slasher film; and the latter title is perhaps more appropriate since the "savagery" could extend not just to the violence in during the latter half of the film but also figuratively in the way the characters (jaded and otherwise) treat each other before then from mere needling to various not-so-subtle cruelties. The first half of the film is a somewhat arty, somewhat soapy story of drama of unhappy people treating each other terribly while dreary "final girl" Marie bemoans how her ex-husband's nervous breakdown has affected her ability to love while stroking everything remotely phallic within reach (including a cow's teat). Although not really deserving of their fates, most of the characters are vile with Mac and stockbroker Robert surprisingly the most likable ones (dreary "final girl" Marie almost masturbating to Mac's story of Otis branding his cousin in which she cast herself and her ex-husband as her lover). Gale and Sanderson come off best, with the latter an unhinged variation on his Larry from NEWHART. Although not a gorefest, the film does get pretty nasty once the film decides it is a thriller and someone dons the mask with characters wielding chainsaws, bale hooks, machetes, as well as table saws and other rusty farm implements posing danger to the innocent. The identity of the killer is a bit of a surprise even with the obvious red herring-ness of the "upstate" characters, and the motive not very compelling although logical given the self-involved nature of these characters. Yancy Butler (HARD TARGET) appears briefly as Mac's daughter. Paulsen would work again for Canon during the Golan-Globus era on the slasher SCHIZOID (in which the killer put together poison pen letters utilizing endless copies of the SAVAGE WEEKEND pressbook. The director's wife appears onscreen as a waitress but also worked behind the camera on wardrobe.

Finished in 1976 but not released until 1979 by Cannon and then on tape by Paragon, SAVAGE WEEKEND made it to unauthorized DVD from the usual suspects in varying degrees of completeness (some presumably derived from the UK tape release that ran only seventy-three minutes in PAL). SAVAGE WEEKEND comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that, apart from two frame tears and negative scratches (which probably happened in the camera), the presentation seems faithful to the rough-hewn yet rustically attractive look with autumnal colors, glowing highlights, and prominent grain. Although matted to 1.85:1, a boom shadow I don't recall being able to make out on the unauthorized Mill Creek disc is visible in one scene, and the definition is clear enough to make out the dead killer inexplicably closing his eyes in long shot (inadvertently stealing focus from the other actor in the shot). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track sports highlights the shrill dialogue, chainsaw roars, and the DELIVERANCE-esque banjo scoring of Dov Seltzer (NIGHT TERRORS) along with the Paulsen-penned theme song "Upstate Man".

Three new interviews have been produced for the release. Sanderson (18:12) enjoyed working on the film; being wrapped up in himself as an actor at the time and playing a loner character whose dialogue scenes are mainly monologues, he was unaware of the stresses of the rushed shooting schedule. When he met with Ridley Scott about BLADE RUNNER, the director liked him but needed footage to show the producers and all he had for his reel was SAVAGE WEEKEND. He also admits that he did indeed incorporated the persona of Otis into his NEWHART character. He also discusses his work on THE ONION FIELD and LAST MAN STANDING (and notes that Walter Hill also directed the pilot for DEADWOOD on which he would be cast). O'Heaney (24:32) – billed as "Kathleen Heaney" on the film and "Kathleen Heaner" on the poster – recalls studying at Julliard and doing the film because she wanted to get into the Screen Actors Guild (when she told teacher John Houseman that she was doing a horror film and had to show her breasts, he asked her if she was sure it was not a pornographic film). She blames her old hippie brain on not remembering many of the specifics of the production as well as not liking horror films, but she is more enthusiastic about discussing her "final girl" role in HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE and working with Don Scardino, Tom Hanks, and director Armand Mastroianni (purely because he as Marcello's cousin).

Pomerantz (17:16) recalls doing the film as a favor for his agent whose colleague was the film's executive producer John Mason Kirby (who also produced the film). He did not have a high opinion of Paulsen or Kirby after arriving on set to see Kirby himself doubling as the killer doing scenes he thought that he would be doing but now realizes that they needed to get the film done. He was not paid for his work on the film until several years later. He spends half of the featurette with vague recollections of the film (he admired Allport but, like Sanderson, was enamored of O'Heaney) before briefly discussing work on other films like RETRIBUTION and SOUL HUSTLER. The theatrical trailer (2:50) gives the film a hard sell with clips from every nude scenes and death scene, and also features an alternate (possibly botched) take during the branding scene in which someone can be seen observing over Sanderson's shoulder in the up-angle POV shot. (Eric Cotenas)