Death Weekend (1976)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-04-07 13:48

Written and directed by: William Fruet
Produced by: Ivan Reitman

Reviewed by: Brett H.

“You Goddamn fucking cunt! You’ll get yours, baby!”

As a budding Canadian filmmaker, William Fruet had it all. The native of Lethbridge, Alberta had Canadian critics eating out of his hand after directing Wedding in White, a drama film starring Donald Pleasence. Wedding in White involved a woman being raped and impregnated and having her family blame her for the situation, even going so far as accusing her that it was her own fault. The family actually gets their daughter to marry the rapist so as to not diminish the integrity of the family. It proved to be a film that foreshadowed the film that changed his career forever, Death Weekend. Fruet had critics on his side, but that is of little comfort when you can’t afford a pot to piss in. Fruet’s answer was to make a mainstream film, and the drive-in market was thriving at this time, so he decided to fall back on an old script he’d written and had been gathering dust. In Alberta, Fruet had been driving down a rural road when a gang of redneck thugs began chasing and tormenting him and a friend. Thankfully, they made it out fine and Fruet recognized a good thing and penned a screenplay involving this experience, Death Weekend, except with a female along for the ride rather than a buddy. Straw Dogs came out shortly after and Fruet had trashed the script due to similarities. But, when you’re broke, you have to do what you have to do. Fruet pitched Death Weekend to Cineplex and managed to get a decent sized budget and went on to make a movie that’d change his career forever.

Harry (Chuck Shamata) and Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) are a couple of lovebirds cruising down the highway in Harry’s Corvette. Diane is a rare breed, a model who knows a hell of a lot about cars. She dated an F1 racer at one point and wants to take rich playboy Harry’s car for a real ride. Harry brags his fat dental surgeon dollars up (he makes 25% more than the average doctor) and lets her take it for a spin. Diane gets behind the wheel and tears up the pavement. Not too long into her cruise, the rear-view mirror paints the portrait of a red car blazing up from behind them. Full of unruly rednecks, they pull up beside the ‘Vette and begin taunting the couple. Not one to shy away from a race, the ballsy Diane puts the pedal to the metal and eventually blows the doors off of the hicks. They stop in at a rundown gas station, give the attendants some moonshine and pick up an older vehicle to take with them to Harry’s lakeside property.

As obnoxious as the rednecks were, Harry isn’t much better. He has power in his dollars and believes everyone should see this power and fall to their knees before him. Diane is too strong of a woman to fall for this crap and when she turns down his sexual advances, he kicks her out of his house and refuses to give her a ride back to civilization. Not only this, but the perv is sneaking pictures of Diane changing through a two way mirror in her room. At the same time, the rednecks are still fuming after getting outraced by a girl and are hunting the Corvette down. The drunken gas station fogies give the four dim witted country boys the directions to Harry’s mansion and they catch up with the conflicting duo sooner than later. The rednecks are out for blood as they trash the mansion, shoot Harry and beat and rape Diane. Before being raped by a particularly goofy hick, Diane grabs shard of glass and hides it under a mattress. When the stupid schmuck reaches climax, he tilts his head back in pleasure. Enjoy it, you silly prick... because it will be your last.

Death Weekend is rather monumental in terms of Canadian horror viewing. Despite the fact that $250 000 of the film’s $500 000 budget coming from the CFDC (Canadian Film Development Corporation) and being one of the first productions (after Cronenberg’s hit, Shivers) to receive government funding for a b-movie, it’s just downright hard to imagine that there’s a Canadian rape revenge film. And, it’s not like it was some soggy I Spit on Your Grave cash-in, it was released in 1976 and pissed off Canadian critics much like Meir Zarchi would Siskel and Ebert a few years later. William Fruet was destined to be the next great Canadian filmmaker in the eyes of the critics (which in turn meant that today he’d probably be a complete unknown), but entered the world of horror/exploitation filmmaking, where he’d go on to cement quite the b-legacy, especially with his Psychomage, Funeral Home, a handful of other fright-fests and ten Friday the 13th TV episodes.

In terms of rapesploitation trash, Death Weekend ranks pretty highly, if such a statement can be taken as a compliment. It’s not nearly as violent as the famous romps into this forbidden territory (the rape scenes are pretty mild) and there’s no castration to speak of, rather the film works on levels of suspense and on the strength of Brenda Vaccaro’s performance as the likable heroine. Her heart was only half into the role as she had been offered a role in a TV series beforehand and there’s nothing like a greasy exploitation film to ruin your good name. Her sweet character tells Harry that despite his big bucks and gloating, she’s keeping her panties on, thank you very much. I Spit on Your Grave was a cheesy movie, very cheesy actually, and one of the reasons it failed to click on a serious level is the lack of a good villain (and the fact that a mildly retarded man hammed up a lot of screen time). Enter Don Stroud, who plays Lep. He’s up there with Leroy Brown in the mean son-of-a-gun department and he keeps the film grounded as the other three hicks fight, drink, puke, thrash and never shut the fuck up the entire length of the film. I have never been one to find guns scary in a horror film, but watching Lep walk through the woods with his shotgun will curdle your blood. His presence makes him seem larger than he is and one particular jumps care sent me out of my seat. I’d have sworn Jason Voorhees was busting into the place if I didn’t know better.

It’s rare that there’s a respectable rape/revenge film and I’m glad to say that the only Canadian entry into this select group of sleaze is definitely that. Albeit slow in a few parts, when the film picks up it never stops and the last 30 minutes are a thrilling experience in grimy drive-in madness. Misogyny makes its presence known in this one as Lep and the boys have no problems referring to Diane as a cunt on many occasions. The scenes in which the rednecks trash the house go on for a bit too long and dialogue is less than completely polished. In other words, it’s a wonderful drive-in experience. You’ll get your chuckles in here as well as the hicks are constantly spouting off jokes and stupid comments and one is bound to hit home with you. It’s cheesy, but not overly, thankfully. One of the hicks is a straggly haired looking weirdo, another has no top teeth (which I thought to be a great touch, the puckered lips are comical and disturbing at the same time) and the other... looks like a nerd and seems out of place. Lep is definitely their leader and you wonder just how these boys aren’t all in jail, they act upon everything randomly at the spur of the moment and with no thought of consequence. The elderly gas station attendants totally plastered on moonshine are a hoot as well. These old boys tackle straight shine with an even straighter face, they are small town Canucks to the fullest!

The film’s music is sparse, but is great when it’s there, creating suspense during the claustrophobic and damning scenes in the middle of the woods. Shot in Kleinburg, Ontario, the film mostly takes place in the middle of nowhere on a lake, which works so well. It’s not set-in-stone Canadian in terms of references (other than a quick flash of Ontario license plates), but the fact that it takes place in the woods rings clear for the majority of Canucks out there, and the film fits the label of Canuxploitation like no other. There’s no denying the vast forests and open space in this land, and Death Weekend captures this, making it respectably Canadian without coming right out and saying it. Although not overly violent, a potential viewer absolutely must seek out the uncut version of this film, which features an awesome scene in which Diane slices the throat of a rapist and the blood squirts from his neck and splashes on her white shirt, covering the upper portion of her neck like some sort of sick porno-style money shot for a horror fan. Death Weekend is a trend-setting horror film for Canada that helped pave the way for so many others and manages to be a good film in the process and a must see pot of exploitation gold; a true drive-in trash treasure! “Show your tits, honey, I’ll give you the beer!” Buy it!

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