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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Death Weekend (1976) review


This is a section devoted to rare, and as yet to be released on legitimate DVD movies. Some films may have been released in some part of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have simply never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other, whether it be on the silver screen, on videotape, or the small screen at home.


Brenda Vaccaro (Diane), Don Stroud (Lep), Chuck Shamata (Harry), Richard Ayres (Runt), Kyle Edwards (Frankie), Don Granberry (Stanley)

Directed by William Fruet

The Short Version: Canadian rape/revenge picture from William Fruet is one of the best of its type. Bolstered by good performances from an incendiary and scary Don Stroud and a resourcefully cunning Brenda Vaccaro, DEATH WEEKEND is a sadly obscure horror thriller that is still unavailable on DVD.

A playboy dentist brings a model named Diane to his lavish country home. On his way there, he incurs the wrath of a group of roughnecks after running them off of the road. The four sadists find his home and force their way inside where they proceed to humiliate their captives. Rape and murder ensues as Diane must fight for her life to escape the clutches of the four cretins.

Exploitation and schlock specialist, William Fruet helms this rape/revenge movie modeled on both STRAW DOGS (1971) and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). The movie itself never reaches the sadistic levels of Craven's seminal excercise in tastelessness, but is unsettling in its depiction of two people violently harassed by assholes. The movie also foreshadows I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1979) with its resourceful heroine who must fight dirty to survive the night against her attackers. It's probably the sole original aspect of the whole enterprise. Meir Zarchi must have seen this movie prior to shooting his infamous rape/revenge movie.

In keeping with its source material, Fruet even includes two drunk and bumbling gas station attendants. This mirrors the goofy sheriff and deputy from Craven's movie. The STRAW DOGS connection sits with the notion that a group of savage miscreants have invaded someone's home resulting in them becoming savage to survive. In this case, Harry tries to just let the guys have their way in his home thinking it will get them to go away. Diane, on the other hand, taunts and stands up to them knowing that these guys have no intention of leaving on their own accord.

Don Stroud totally steals the movie as the wholeheartedly nasty Lep. Stroud creates a character that is equally despicable when compared to David Hess's Krug, only far less sadistic. There's no carving initials into people, severing of limbs and the scene where Lep rapes Diane, he stops when he realizes she isn't resisting him. It's no longer a thrill to him upon realizing he isn't exerting domination over this woman ("Nothin' gets me off quicker than a bitch who fights!"). His character is still disturbing and very much a violent and murderous man. Stroud was an ace at playing characters such as this.

He was great at playing hate inducing bad guys. He was a racist deputy in Ralph Nelson's ...TICK...TICK...TICK...(1970) and an incredibly evil antagonist working for Ed McMahon no less in SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP OFF (1973). He's done his fair share of television roles and even took on good guy roles on occasion such as his turn as a Vietnam vet in William Fruet's SEARCH AND DESTROY (1979).

The gang of four themselves just appear out of nowhere. Once Diane takes over driving and shows Harry how to do it, the bad guys show up and begin harrassing the couple by throwing beer bottles at them and trying to force them off the road. Once the two manage to lose Lep and his goons, they arrive at Harry's house where it's revealed he's a bit of a sleazeball himself. He has a mirror on the other side of the bathroom she is taking a shower in. Harry takes photographs of her naked body while she disrobes and bathes.

William Fruet's career is riddled with exploitation movies that are merely average. Many of them strive for so much more, but for whatever reason, turn out to be disappointingly mediocre. That's not to say his movies aren't enjoyable, just never quite reaching greatness. DEATH WEEKEND is most probably his best, most successful movie in that it doesn't go up and down in terms of quality and cohesion. Not totally a rip off, the film is reportedly partially based on true events.

Not long after his home invasion exploitation classic, Fruet explored similar territory with his 1982 redneck movie, TRAPPED starring Henry Silva in a sleazy role not too far removed from the one Stroud plays. Ivan Reitman, the director of STRIPES (1981) and GHOSTBUSTERS (1984), served as a producer here as well as on another exploitation movie, CANNIBAL GIRLS from 1973. If one scans the credits further, you'll find Jean LaFleur as an editor. LaFleur was the director of the third Ilsa movie, ILSA, THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1977). Also, some of the musical cues (or all of it) are library tracks and can be heard in numerous Shaw Brothers productions.

Brenda Vaccaro is excellent in the role of Diana. A gifted actress, she almost outshines Don Stroud in his scenery chewing villain role. She's a very strong female character. She can handle herself behind the wheel of a fast car as well as hold her own against a motley clutch of thugs. After the second rape and death of Harry, she snaps and switches into survival mode killing her attackers one by one. In addition to numerous television roles, Vaccaro can also be seen in movies like AIRPORT '77 (1977), GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES (1980;the one with Powers Boothe), ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE (1981) and SUPERGIRL (1984).

Long overdue for a legit DVD release (with extras), William Fruet's tale of violence and revenge is an unjustly obscure exploitation classic. Rife with great performances and tense scenes of aggression, DEATH WEEKEND is a getaway worth taking.


Skeme Richards said...

ahh...I think I actually have this on VHS somewhere. Gotta dig it out now.

venoms5 said...

It definitely needs a DVD release. Unless it has one in a European country under a foreign title, I've yet to come across one. I really enjoyed it. Don Stroud plays a bad guy too well.

Mark Hodgson said...

Yeah, not found this on DVD anywhere in the world!

Don't forget Vaccaro was in CAPRICORN ONE a couple of years later...

venoms5 said...

I seen a little bit of CAPRICORN ONE. I tried to record it on my DVR, but it didn't record the entire movie for some reason.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I need to reproach this one, I originally had it open in a minimized window while I answered emails at work, and I wasnt all too interested, but I know it has received a great deal of positive reviews over the decades! It has a high bar to top with I SPIT though..

venoms5 said...

I SPIT is inferior to this movie in my opinion. Far better direction and acting in DEATH WEEKEND. This one more resembles STRAW DOGS with elements of both LAST HOUSE and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE thrown into the mix. But then, Zarchi's movie was still several years away from being made, so judging by the way the movie plays out, I'd say he had seen this at some point.

I got my thoughts on Zarchi's movie coming up real soon.

Da said...

One of the most unintentionally funny movies i've seen particularly the part where they're tearing up the house, the part where Stroud attacks his friends after getting run off the road, the part where the two guys take the motor boat out for a spin, etc, etc. A good old fashion low budget 70s horror movie with some comedy sprinkled in. They don't make them like this any more. Everything now is so sanitized and PC.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, I agree, they certainly don't make quality trash like this anymore. This is one I'd like to see cleaned up on DVD.

Unknown said...

I got this at rare movies worldwide dot com(you can buy an 8 pack for 20 bucks),which is on dvd-R...real good quality...think you can get it at twistedanger dot com and probably at ioffer dot com if you don't want to get an 8 pack...

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