Why Long Weekend remains an Ozploitation classic

Colin Eggleston’s 1978 film emerged from one of Australian cinema’s boldest and most productive periods.


Lara C Cory

In the 1960s, filmmaking in Australia ground to an almost complete stop. But in the early ’70s, battle-scarred Prime Minister John Gorton implemented policies that would have a huge impact on this and other important social and cultural aspects of the country. Not only did he implement equal pay for men and women and free health care for the nation’s poor, he also increased arts funding and established the Australian Council for the Arts, the Australian Film Development Corporation and the National Film and Television Training School. This set in motion the most productive period in Australian cinema history.

Between 1970-1985 the so-called Australian New Wave produced almost 400 features and put the Australian film industry on the map with the likes of Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Mad Max trilogy and The Year of Living Dangerously. Within the New Wave was a subgenre that took advantage of the newly devised R rating and featured more sex, violence and horror. In his 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! Mark Hartley coined the portmanteau term “Ozploitation”, which characterises the films made at the time by their low-budget exploitative genres that were inextricably tied in with the stereotypes of Australian culture.

One such film, Colin Eggleston’s 1978 mystery thriller Long Weekend, celebrates its 40th Anniversary with a first ever Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight Films. Notable both within the Australian New Wave and Ozploitation genres, the film described as a “masterpiece of minimalist horror” by the Guardian stars John Hargreaves as the belligerent Peter and Briony Behets as the affected Marcia. In the midst of a crisis they take to the Bush for the long weekend to try and work it out. From the moment they set off though, the couple seem set on a path of destruction – both in terms of their relationship to each other and with the world around them.

While reviews at the time focused on Peter and Briony’s blasé attitude to everything from pet care and littering to the wanton destruction of flora and fauna, it’s their attitudes to each other that packs an equally fierce punch. A combination of karmic justice and Mother Nature’s revenge, the natural powers of the universe take action upon on this caustic couple in series of ‘accidents’ that begin benignly enough but build in intensity resulting in their ultimate demise. The pacing of the narrative and the drip-fed revelations of their personal crisis build a creeping dread to rival the equally latent threat of the Australian bush.

Long Weekend producer Richard Brennan was there at the start of the New Wave and worked on the early films of directors including Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, Brian Trenchard Smith, Fred Schepisi and Phillip Noyce. His fourth collaboration with Hargreaves came to him via Eggleston. “The script for Long Weekend was the first screenplay that Everett de Roche had written,” says Brennan, “I thought that it was quite outstanding and I was very disappointed by the reception for the film at the AFI awards.” It also fared poorly on its commercial release in Australia.

The reception at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival, however, was another matter. Long Weekend achieved better sales than any of the other Australian films which premiered at the festival that year, including Newsfront, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Patrick, The Getting of Wisdom and The Last Wave. It won major prizes at Sitges, Paris, Avoriaz and elsewhere and its success continues 40 years later. “Quentin Tarantino considers it to be one of the half dozen best Australian films,” Brennan happily reports.

The international success of the film, Brennan believes, was down to “John’s magnificent performance and the decision to shoot in anamorphic [2.40:1] ratio.” Shooting in this aspect was uncommon for horror films at the time, although John Carpenter did so for Halloween, released the same year. Long Weekend also utilised the newly-invented Steadicam system, which allowed hand-held camera work for tracking shots to be as steady as a camera mounted on a dolly. With the exception of the night driving scenes, the film was shot entirely on location; the Bush and beach scenes filmed at Bournda National Park in New South Wales.

The mythology and machinations of Long Weekend are only hinted at by a series of portents (like the flocking cockies) and mysteries (the strange geographic loop they seem to have entered) leaving plenty of space for the audience to follow the trail and enjoy the highly anticipated, if a little drawn-out finale. It remains an uncomfortably authentic look at Australian life, challenging audiences’ expectations of what might happen if they didn’t respect the law of the big brown land.

Long Weekend is out now courtesy of Second Sight Films.

Published 5 Nov 2018

Tags: Australian cinema

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