31 Days of Slashers: Savage Weekend (1979)

The tenth film in the 31 Days of Slashers series is the particularly sleazy and low-budgeted Savage Weekend (1979), originally titled both The Upstate Murders and The Killer Behind the Mask. Recently divorced Marie (Marilyn Hamlin) is going upstate for a fun weekend getaway with her new stockbroker boyfriend Robert (James Doerr), her sister Shirley (Caitlin O’Heaney), and their gay friend Nicky (Christopher Allport). Robert has bought a farmhouse in the country where he has hired local Otis (William Sanderson) to repair a large schooner. When they arrive in town, Marie discovers that Otis is under suspicion of having killed a woman a few years ago. As murders begin to happen, Marie finds herself fighting for her life. Is creepy Otis to blame? Or could it be someone even more sinister?

This is a very interesting film in the history of the slasher sub-genre. That being said, it is not a particularly well-made or well-plotted film. Filmed in 1976, two years prior to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Savage Weekend is an oddly bloody and specifically sleazy little picture. Kept on the shelf for years, Cannon decided to finally release it in 1979, following the incredible success of Halloween. Shot on a budget of just $58,000, director David Paulsen was able to feature quite an impressive array of gore effects.

The film is a great representation of the popular town vs. country theme that was featured heavily in horror films and thrillers of the 1970s. Films like The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Deliverance (1972), and I Spit on Your Grave (1978) all feature middle class city folk escaping the city for the wild country. Instead of the promise of parties and family adventures, the characters find themselves tormented by violent and crazed country folk. Savage Weekend is no different, as the New York City protagonists are threatened by the “low-brow” and “simple-minded” country folk of upstate New York. This is best showcased through the town drunks at the bar and their homophobic comments towards Nicky and through the overall crazed characterization of Otis.

The one element that really makes the film stand out, in spite of its rather generic narrative and low-production value, is its shockingly positive queer representation of Nicky. Christopher Allport gets the chance to showcase a depth of character that is oddly not awarded to any other character in the film. When the group arrives in town, Nicky goes into the local bar while his friends buy supplies at the grocery store. Here, he is confronted by the homophobic townspeople who make it clear that he is not welcome. Instead of simply leaving the bar, Nicky gets to attack his tormentors and emerge victorious. While the other characters in the film may be pretty flat, Nicky is shown to be incredibly proactive and engaging.

This film is definitely not for everyone. Narratively, it’s a bit of a hot mess. Visually, the film clearly shows its budget limitations, in spite of its solid use of practical gore effects. It is also particularly sleazy. In spite of all of that, it features a startling progressive representation of gay masculinity in a time when that was exceptionally rare. This is an interesting slice of slasher history and definitely makes a fun addition to your spooky October viewings.

Savage Weekend can be streamed for free on Tubi and with a membership on the Paramount+, DirecTV, and Epix apps. The Kino Lorber blu-ray, which features a solid restoration and special features, can be purchased HERE.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another addition to the 31 Days of Slashers series!

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