Death Weekend – (AKA HOUSE BY THE LAKE) (1976)
Cast: Brenda Vaccaro, Don Stroud, Chuck Shamata
Director: William Fruet
Nutshell: ugly exploitation shocker, infamous for being a “Video Nasty” tries hard to emulate Last House on the Left.
“excessively violent exploiter” Time Out
“vicious and quote” Blockbuster Video
“violent ugly thriller” Maltin’s
“uncomfortable to watch” Video Movies
“well made” Splatter Movies
This film earned itself a fairly notorious reputation which was further enhanced when the British censors withdrew its certificate – thus officially banning the film from exhibition in the country. Death Weekend was shown in cinemas in the UK upon release, but has been purged from existence once the Mary Whitehouse crusade against “video nasties” began to take effect. The movie itself is another along the lines of Straw Dogs, Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave (All still on the banned list…though it did precede I Spit by a year or two). It’s basically a Canadian quickie with a c grade cast attempting to cash in on the considerable success of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left.
The film begins with a slimy super rich dentist on the way to his country retreat with a buxom beauty (Brenda Vaccaro) in tow. The dentist has actually deceived Vaccaro into the country weekend foray – the sole purpose of the trip (like so many previous ones) is to “enjoy” his latest conquest. On their way in their souped up sports car the couple come across some low life hillbillies who start harassing the couple and chasing them at high speed in their banged up excuse of a car. Vaccaro, whose driving, steps on the accelerator and leaves the scumbags licking their wounds – their demented male pride seriously undermined.
Don Stroud, in Straw Dogs mode barks “Jesus that broad can drive……That pisses me off!” a statement that perfectly captures the tone of the film. So, as the happy couple go screeching down the countryside to the dentists “debauchery retreat” the enraged goons vow to exact their revenge and teach the rich city folks some respect. They do this by trashing the dentists mansion in an orgy of mindless violence. Then the four goons turn their attention to the good doctor and once they’re through with him, it’s Vaccaro’s turn for the fun and games. Having been raped by the retard among the gang (though they’re all arguably severely mentally challenged) – the fightback begins with the tables being turned and the hunted quickly transformed into the hunter.
Vaccaro uses a shard of glass to good effect on the rapist before taking on the other scum one by one. One creep is lured to a trap and torched, another creep is swallowed up by a quicksand bog and Stroud is run over in a singularly unspectacular and disappointingly tame climax scene for a film bearing such a notorious reputation.
The movie is utterly forgettable, devoid of any tension and plays rather like an uninspired clone of Straw Dogs. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that this movie should have garnered such a ghastly reputation when the violence on display appears decidedly tame by comparison to what we are treated to on the big screen days. Undoubtedly the film is a cheap, derivative exploitationer with little or no artistic merit other than a fairly decent effort by Brenda Vaccarro. It’s a poor distant cousin of Last House but nowhere near as sadistic and violent as the film it draws inspiration from.
Though nasty, violent and decidedly ugly the film is not at all shocking and hardly merits the ban that it has been slapped with – however, let’s keep in mind that Mr. James Ferman (head of the British Censors for what seemed like an eternity) was in charge at the time and he is the very same dolt who banned Sam Raimi’s epic Evil Dead and the 10 times Oscar nominated Exorcist as well as the admittedly awful (but hardly worth banning) Child’s Play 3.
Death Weekend is a sleazy exploitationer unworthy of the reputation it has earned thanks to Mr. Ferman’s efforts. A film as violent as Pulp Fiction can be passed without any major cuts and has been watched unflinchingly by every teenager in the land yet Death Weekend remains on the “nasties” list. Make any sense?
Better sense has prevailed since and most of the films listed in the original “Video Nasties” list have now been released uncut to Video and for theatrical release. Death Weekend still awaits a decent DVD release to date.