The Eco-Horror Cult of Long Weekend and its remake

*contains spoilers

There’s something about Long Weekend (1978 and 2008). It’s a mystery of sorts and yet it is a man vs. nature type film or eco-horror which first became popular in America in the 1970s with such films as Frogs (1972) and Day of the Animals (1977).

Such films are the original influence but Long Weekend seems to be more original and maybe even far more subtle compared to those movies. It was deemed influential enough to be remade thirty years after the original came out using the same basic script by Everett De Roche (1946-2014 cancer). There are changes though in the remake.

Screenwriter Everett De Roche

The original version was directed by Colin Eggleston (1941-2002 suddenly) and despite the film being made on a budget of (US) $300,000, it was wisely shot on widescreen using Panavision.

“The budget only allowed us four lenses,” said cinematographer Vincent Monton (no info).

Well, they saved money on the cast, as the film is basically a two-hander starring John Hargreaves (1945-96 AIDS) who was chosen over then popular tv actor George Mallaby (1939-2004 congestive heart failure).

Long Weekend (1978) Blu-ray cover

Hargreaves is a handsome hero and his wife in the movie is played by Briony Behets (1951-), who had impressed the producers in John Duigan’s (1949-) The Trespassers (1976).

They play a couple at odds with one another who go on a long weekend holiday to a remote coastal beach where strange things happen…

Director Colin Eggleston

The film opens on the beach and there is a rock face with a crab crawling up it. The astrological sign of cancer and perhaps the symbol of the carcinogenic nature of man and his civilised invasion upon the world… and then we cut to nature and the beauty of a budding fern as it grows… and this leads to Behets keeping an plant prisoner in her bathroom, with an indoor plant being fed water in her bathroom’s bathtub… It is the reverse environment to which the couple will find themselves prisoners within. They will be prisoners of nature as opposed to the plant or nature being a prisoner of them at home. This is the basis of the revenge of the planet.

“We didn’t have the budget to shoot at night,” said Monton, who had made tests to shoot day for night, but the filmmakers decided to pass and make the film the hard way and really shot it at night. It helps immensely in setting the spooky mood of the movie at the beginning and the end.

John Hargreaves in Don’s Party (1976) trailer

The couple drop off at the local pub near the beach and pick up supplies of alcohol and then take a turn-off for the beach and soon follow an endless track where they are lost in the dark, going deeper into the shadows of nature almost like Hansel and Gretel. But these are no innocent children. All there is to show them the way is an arrow carved into a tree which they come across once again.

Finally, they stop for the night – totally lost – and in the morning find they are right near the beach.

Briony Behets got noticed in The Trespassers (1976)

“Every time, viewers, you see Cricket (the dog),” said the executive producer Richard Brennan (no info), “galloping up a sand dune, spare a thought for me.”

Apparently, the dog was an elderly female with a heart condition and there were fears that she would die before production would end. She survived and the dog is the third character.

Hargreaves has a spear gun, perhaps symbolic of one of the first weapons of man, which he loads as he sets up the tent a stone’s throw from the beach.

The filmmakers had good luck with the weather when they made this film although the nights were cold on location as the cast and crew worked and lived in close proximity. The film fits perfectly together as a result and it didn’t go over budget.

Behets sees a large dark shadow in the water near Hargreaves as he is swimming and she cries out to him to come to shore. Is it a shark? A whale? Or even a dugong?

Behets and Hargreaves on the beach in Long Weekend (1978)

Shortly after that, there is a long tracking shot which has the camera behind bushes as it watches Hargreaves and Behets in the bush. It is almost as if nature is watching them, like the dark figure in the water… Things are creepily getting nearer… And the spear gun at the camp shoots accidentally somehow and nearly hits Behets. The safety was on – how could this happen?

It is the turning point of man against nature. Mother nature having been despoiled is also in the form of Behets as, later in the movie, there is the subplot about Behets having had an abortion. The destruction by man’s implements, in this sense, goes far beyond the inhumanity of man killing his brother on the battlefield… He also turns it inward on himself or herself, whether this be de facto or not, as he kills his or her own children… Hargreaves and Behets have committed a crime against nature and live with it within their own home and when they later invade nature, with Hargreaves toting a rifle, there is further hubris which must be, if not avenged, then brought back into balance somehow.

John Hargreaves with his rifle in Long Weekend (1978)

Long Weekend is symbolic of man’s mass destruction of natural eco-systems, of animal species and how, in the end, it will lead to his own destruction – then the planet may find some sort of balance without him/her.

Hargreaves is an environmental vandal who chops down living trees, shoots a duck and leaves behind orphaned ducklings however unintentionally. He has already hit and run over a kangaroo while his wife uses insect spray to kill ants. They litter the bush and constantly kill.

That ‘dead’ Barbie doll covered in lichen

The first scene of slight creepiness is when Hargreaves finds a Barbie doll missing one arm which is covered in lichen. It is nature’s revenge upon man’s use of oil to make plastic which pollutes and it is a reminder of man’s domain – once upon a time – on this beach… Behets looks like the doll as she brushes her blond hair and later in the movie Hargreaves will stumble across a blond child’s body in an abandoned Kombi van sunk in the ocean – the same one they almost ran into the back of on the highway at the beginning… She is that Barbie doll, lifeless and drowned and now a part of the ocean, fish food for nature.

There had been others who had invaded this beach and its habitat and they have been treated in the way that they have treated nature. Nature has already had its revenge and it is about to again as Hargreaves finds a tent that is almost uncannily overgrown by vines…

Quad poster for Long Weekend (1978)

Let us not forget the attack of the sea eagle earlier which is the first moment when nature strikes the vandals who have taken an egg belonging to the bird. It is then that Behets tries to leave but Hargreaves won’t let her as he has switched the alternate power in their Nissan Patrol type SUV. The attack of the sea eagle has been prompted also by the use of Hargreaves’s rifle upon the black figure in the water.

“I think the film is stunningly well edited (by Brian Kavanagh),” said Brennan. “I think he was one of the great Australian editors”.

And it is true, especially at the end section of the film, but in the meantime we have shots moving in and out of tents and around the natural environment with shots of the beach and the bush. All blended with man. It was edited quickly according to producer Brennan.

Cinematographer Vincent Monton

Kavanagh told me that he was contracted to bring in a cut, which he presented to director Eggleston, who objected to some small scenes and moments in the film. Kavanagh said he convinced Eggleston to keep his cut and it was released with some minor cuts later on at the end of the movie due to censorship over a gory death scene. If you look closely, there is a jump cut on the final print.

The cry of the dugong which has been shot by Hargreaves, or the cry of its lost baby, is an eerie sound at night during Long Weekend… The lost child, perhaps as a result of man. It is ghostly. We see Behets suffer the same sort of trauma over the abortion and on a bigger scale this mournful cry haunts her beyond her thoughts.

The body of the dugong the couple find on the beach… a dugong being known also as a sea cow which kind of looks like a grass eating walrus… Dugongs were mistaken by mariners as mermaids possibly after a few drinks. In the movie, this supposedly dead dugong takes on a life of its own.

The ‘zombie’ dugong in Long Weekend (1978)

Driving along the beach later, with classically trained guitarist Hargreaves strumming away unnaturally, he lights a cigarette and throws the match out of the window. He already started a roadside fire on the way to the beach through a discarded cigarette butt…. Is there no end to their destructive ways?! The couple have a screaming match in the ensuing scene in the Nissan about abortion… This unnaturalness has destroyed their relationship and will see it eventually destroy themselves… and they drive off and, symbolically, crush a crab underneath the wheels, possibly the one at the beginning of the film.

Orange eggs seeping from a female crab

It reminds me of being a child and a group of acquaintances stood beside a rock pool full of crabs one seaside holiday long ago. The female crabs were seeping eggs from their nether regions and one of the boys picked up a rock and threw it down mightily and crushed the female crabs. I was outraged but not in terms of physicality of this alpha male child’s crime and cried out: “She was pregnant!”… I feel sorry for that boy’s past or future wife!

There is another dog which growls and snaps at Hargreaves from the overgrown tent where the occupants have been absorbed into the environment not so long ago…

A French poster for Long Weekend (1978)

“It certainly could have turned into Australia’s Heaven’s Gate,” said the producer about the budget of the movie. “Instead of a well-managed low budget film.” And he relates a story about when they used a Panavision camera up to their knees in the ocean and a wave almost wiped out the camera which would have been an expensive proposition. It can be seen if you look carefully in the movie.

The dugong may still be alive as sand covering it falls from one of its flippers and storm clouds begin to appear on the horizon. Cricket the dog later sniffs the dugong which seems to be leaving a trail in the sand behind it… Night time comes and Behets can now turn on the power in the Nissan and she escapes alone along that endless trail.

It is by now that the filmmakers have drained the colour from the movie as the tone grows more serious. The couple have split, the night has fallen and we are without dialogue for a long section of the film as shadows and trees engulf the cast.

The spear just misses Behets in Long Weekend (1978)

Thank god they shot Long Weekend at night during this part of the film… as Hargreaves takes a fiery torch and his gun and shoots the dugong which still seems to be advancing… It is almost like it predicts what the world will become which is some sort of zombie planet without the intelligence of man, or his lack of it, to guide it into the future as man will most probably be extinct. And once man has gone onto his great reward, hopefully, nature will restore itself and leave only the image of man in the form of the Barbie doll, that image being the zombie, or the remains of man, which takes an eternity to decompose and has nature adapting itself and rebalancing in the form of the lichen growing on it…. Hargreaves is terrified of something in the dark as trees fall around him and animal sounds happen in the night as he shoots the spear gun off into the darkness.

Is it alive? The dugong makes the campsite in Long Weekend (1978)

“Colin was a good communicator,” said Monton about Eggleston’s vision in the end. “He had a very strong vision of what he wanted… I’m essentially photographing his vision and he is now… at the end of the film, telling the story like a silent movie. It’s like going back to the beginning, that we have to tell everything without words.”

Man, in the beginning, was perhaps not as much as an environmental vandal before he began to talk and start civilisation. And nature without man is a world without words… Or a man without woman, or a partner, is also a man without words, which can be seen as highly symbolic at the end of the movie… Alone man cannot procreate and the species is doomed! Dawn breaks and Behets is dead by the spear, lodged in her throat or voice box…

Behets is the victim of one of man’s weapons in Long Weekend (1978)

Even the use of petroleum, that perversion of natural elements, which has caused so much pollution on the planet, is used by Hargreaves, or man, to burn the dugong, which has practically made its way to the campsite… And later there is the lack of petroleum for man which threatens his own future as Hargreaves drives in panic along the track only to come across his empty plastic fuel container again.

Behets is the victim of man’s pointed spear as she was victim of the sharp implements of an abortionist… Hargreaves is on foot now as he tries to escape nature as it rings in his ears. But he is killed by a man at the end of the trail, struck by a truck fuelled by the zombie fuel of petroleum, that distillation of fossil fuel, once living matter, originally natural dead organisms brought back to some sort of life to serve man in destroying nature.

Long Weekend (1978) trailer

And we cut to the blunt end of the spear as it protrudes from Behets, as well as the prehistoric fern which was shown at the beginning of the movie. Man is forever at mercy of nature, he relies on it but he doesn’t treat it with respect and the characters of Long Weekend are consumed by, as they consume, nature.

This film was totally ignored by the Aussie Oscars and failed even to score a nomination.

Man kills nature? Or will nature eventually kill man?

Hargreaves and Eggleston would work together again on the undernourished, in terms of budget, but slightly ambitious rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark-type movies entitled Sky Pirates (1986). It’s hokey and cheap, with an anachronistic sea-plane within its 1940s World War Two setting. There is a supernatural element to Sky Pirates with some of it shot on Easter Island and featuring its idols which adds a certain something.

Sky Pirates (1986) soundtrack

But I’m sure most viewers will feel the filmmakers have failed to capture the rollicking adventure that films like Raiders provided. Sky Pirates has some good stunts and uses a bit of imagination and I like its time travel elements and its sense of a maelstrom at the centre of the universe perhaps leading on to something else…

As for the Long Weekend remake of 2008… How do you improve on a masterpiece? It’s kind of like Gus Van Sant’s (1952-) Psycho (1998) remake in that those who have seen the original movie may find it pointless. But for those who haven’t seen the original, or those who would view the film as a companion piece to the original, Jamie Blanks’s (1961-) remake is a slick success.

Director Jamie Blanks

The bickering couple are this time Jim Caviezel (1968-), who most will remember from The Passion of the Christ (2004) and cult film Frequency (2000) and perhaps Outlander (2008), while his wife is played by talented Aussie actress Claudia Karvan (1972-). Karvan is an actress I have longed admired since her appearance as a young teen in Gillian Armstrong’s (1950-) High Tide (1987).

The film begins again with the shot of the fern after obligatory scenes of the coastline using either a chopper or drone which replaces the subtlety of the crab on a rock in the original movie.

Storm Warning (2007) trailer

The couple stop at a pub again and this time the bartender is Aussie actor Robert Taylor (1963-) from the rather good Coffin Rock (2009) and Blanks’s movie from the previous year Storm Warning (2007) which was also based on an Everett De Roche script. The pub is called the Eggleston Hotel in homage to the director of the original.

A young Claudia Karvan in High Tide (1987)

The couple pass an abattoir sign, symbolic of the mass slaughter of nature beyond the original spear of ancient man which would kill only one at a time. Civilisation has peaked! They have already struck and killed an animal on the highway at the moment Caviezel lights a cigarette in the darkness… They ignore the Keep Out sign and enter the trail… and so begins the misadventure that is Long Weekend over again.

Dead reckoning is replaced by satellite tracking but even that doesn’t help lead the couple directly toward the beach.

Long Weekend (2008) poster

I don’t know when De Roche tweaked the script for this version. De Roche is credited and it certainly is not a shot for shot remake of the original – it is generally faithful, although much of the dialogue is different.

“That’s the same tree… we’ve been going around in circles,” says Karvan in a typical line from the original version. It is also highly evocative of how the two versions fit together as well as there is a sense of a time warp and the repetition of man’s crimes against nature.

The couple in this film aren’t possibly as earthy as Hargreaves and Behets, who had a distinct middle-class aspect to them. Here, Caviezel and Karvan live in a mansion in a leafy suburb and drive the latest car. The contrast is more vivid as a result between man and nature but Hargreaves was more ape man compared to Caviezel’s urbane beer swigging and use of certain mannerisms.

The aerial shot which opens the 2008 version

Jamie Blanks has done the music in this film and while he seems to use it sparingly, the score is effective, especially in the scene with the shadow in the water near the beginning. As for the editing of the film, compared to Brian Kavanagh’s 1977 cut, this one adds touches such as when Caviezel shoots the beer bottle just like Hargreaves did as it bobs up and down in the water. The glass shatters in the latter version and we see the polluting shards fall to the ocean floor. Glass is once again man’s by-product from nature and sand mining is mentioned in the movie at the pub… Remember petroleum and the Barbie doll?

Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan at odds in Long Weekend (2008)

In Blanks’s film while the glass is shown to litter the ocean floor, in the original film this is not shown. It is splitting hairs, and may be only a question of style, with the old Hitchcock adage of who would be watching from underwater and so why put a camera there?… But it is true, as I like the fact we see the glass falling and it was something I waited to happen in the original which didn’t. I guess we were left to use our imagination.

The possibly abandoned Kombi makes an appearance in the movie again this time with the bumper sticker ‘Magic Happens’ and in terms of nature I guess ‘Shit Happens’. It’s just that term is used to reflect day to day life and events … as well as the call of nature. Yes, but could Shit Happens be related to nature in that man developed and evolved from the primordial goop that is the ocean, or Magic Happens in that God created us and the universe! Perhaps the real thing is somewhere in between!!

Jim Caviezel is attacked by an eagle in Long Weekend (2008)

“What’s really shitting you?,” Caviezel asks of Karvan.

“I’m bored,” she says and tells him that, when bodily functions do happen, she doesn’t like it without the magic happens of a flush toilet.

The Kombi is symbolic of the magic missing from their marital bed which could be contained within the bed of the van… Anyway, Caviezel wonders at the van. Why and who? It is almost a microcosm of the universe and a sign of impending doom of that universe.

A dugong baby is shown in this version as having been killed by entangling itself in plastic which is a bold and relevant image today in terms of water animals being killed.

A dugong baby killed by plastic in Long Weekend (2008)

“There is definitely something out there in the water,” and Caviezel fires his rifle at the grieving mother who has lost her child due to man either directly or indirectly.

The people In these two movies just don’t care about nature! They ride roughshod over the environment and we know they must pay with their lives. It is the slow burn of Long Weekend which makes it so enjoyable.

The fact that Caviezel holds an eagle’s egg oblivious to the eagle parent soaring above ready to attack is the tip of the iceberg in terms of mans’ mass production and killing of chickens and the robbing of their eggs, symbolised further by the chicken which goes rotten after it is defrosted and discovered just before the attack of the eagle over the egg.

Nature is mass slaughtered by man every day. Time for revenge!

Again, Magic Happens as we could possibly discuss what comes first the chicken or the egg? It is one of the ultimate discussions of nature and although man may think highly on that intellectual plane, he instead neglects the truth about nature and the planet in terms of the present. It is semantics compared to the planet’s present predicament and thus highly relevant to man’s predicament. He must take positive action… Long Weekend tells us it is too late!

The apparently dead dugong on the beach is this time making its way to the carcass of its dead baby. Caviezel explains that the dugong is an endangered species because, like whales, they were killed and exploited for their oil – it’s that petroleum connection again.

“She was after her baby,” says Karvan.

“They say pups sound just like a human baby crying,” says her husband and Karvan is also robbed of her baby through abortion and echoes: “This place is horrible.”

The attack of the eagle on Caviezel leaves marks on his neck like a vampire bite albeit from talons and there is again that unnatural element touching the couple and the idea of a zombie planet inhabited by the ‘living’ ruins of civilisation which was created by fossil fuel and metal alloys which will remain long after man has destroyed himself or been destroyed by global warming and/or other ‘natural’ effects.

The ‘s’ word is brought up again as the couple discuss the abortion dilemma and again a crab is destroyed by the SUV. Will these people ever learn?!

This definitely happens! And a point is made of it in Long Weekend (2008)

As I mentioned, to watch the films back-to-back gives the viewer a sense of déjà vu which is already inherent even by just watching one of the films. But together, each film complements the other and Blanks’s version is by no means a failure despite witnessing reviews and a zero percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing.

Instead of the Barbie doll of the first movie, we have generic dolls, both white and brown, which float about the body of the child in the Kombi. The scene is handled well in both versions and as the action takes place in the latter half of the film, we become aware of just how good De Roche’s script really is.

The 2008 version of Long Weekend is more explicit

Instead of a snapping dog in the overgrown tent, we have the mouldering body of a woman, which seems to add a modern-day shock factor and there is also the body of a man who has committed suicide and is hanging from a tree. It is the tree where the arrow is carved pointing the way and it is almost as though Caviezel has discovered the Keep Out sign again… Naturally, you wouldn’t commit suicide, you would stay alive as long as you can. Does a bird commit suicide? It has always been seen as just another crime against nature! A bird or chicken doesn’t suicide, it is often killed by a predator such as man. But in this environment, nature has the upper hand and the arrow points at Caviezel’s impending death. He has committed suicide by simply ignoring the Keep Out sign and entering the trail.

Long Weekend (2008) aka Nature’s Grave trailer

The beauty of Long Weekend is that we ultimately have an almost eagle’s eye view of events… We know the species of man or womankind has done wrong… and that if we don’t change, it will end badly. When Caviezel is hit by the truck at the end of the film, it is, like in the first movie, a bird which has blinded the truck driver causing him to run down the spooked pedestrian.

Ultimately, as the viewer and as people, we are watching like a bird or an eagle and we know we have crossed the line and caused the death. We are almost accessories also in the fact that we think the characters deserve their fate for crossing that line once too often. That also goes for our own neglect of nature and the crimes we daily commit against it as well! It is that paranoia built into the script of Long Weekend which makes it so magnificent. We can’t escape it!

The car is central to both versions of Long Weekend

“It’s all gone to shit…,” echoes Karvan’s voice towards the end as they had once angrily discussed life or civilization as they knew it, transplanted from their neat mansion to the isolated beach. All that separated them from civilisation and nature is their car and it symbolically keeps them together and also separates them during the movie…. The internal combustion engine, fossil fuel and a bloodied road.

Instead of the fern/fossil fuel being the final image in the second version with the blunt end of the spear, it is followed in Blanks’s version by 8mm film images of the once happy couple.

Man takes aim at nature and, ultimately, himself

I had once wondered if this was in De Roche’s original script and if it was deleted – or was it, like much of the second version, a later embellishment? Editor Brian Kavanagh has the last word on the original script of the first film version: “The script ended as in the film. There was no other material and no scenes were dropped in the edit”.

So, there, De Roche’s second bite at the cherry was an extended rewrite in places despite having a shorter running time than Eggleston’s first movie! The first is the best, but the pair play well as a double bill, as Blanks’s version is not to be underestimated, because magic – or, if you disagree, the other – happens!!

p.s. The second version was released direct to DVD in the United States as Nature’s Grave!

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