Produced by future Hollywood royalty Ivan Reitman and purportedly based on a real-life incident, William Fruet’s DEATH WEEKEND (1976) is just one of the many Canadian productions to take advantage of the government’s generous ‘tax shelter’ incentives during the ’70s and ’80s, which not only saw an increased level of film production in Canada, but also opened the door for a number of ‘up-’n’-coming’ new filmmakers as well, of whom David Cronenberg is undoubtedly the most notable. In spite of its stellar reputation among fans of Canadian genre cinema (affectionately known to some as “Canuxploitation”!), DEATH WEEKEND has proved difficult to see during the digital age—until earlier this year, that is, and for those dedicated enough to venture across the pond (either figuratively or literally!) to grab a copy, Germany’s NSM Records have premiered a very nice, uncut edition of the film on Blu-ray.
Harry (Chuck Shamata), an affluent-but-conceited dentist, has, under false pretenses, invited Diane (Brenda Vaccaro), a self-assured fashion model, for a weekend getaway with friends at his expansive ‘cottage’, situated out in the bush just north of Toronto. After Harry espouses the merits of his convertible Corvette (“When I cut into the supercharger, I can get it up to 140!”), Diane also reveals her love of cars thanks to a former boyfriend who was a (quote) “Formula Driver”. Although apprehensive at first, Harry half-heartedly agrees to let her drive (“This car is fantastic! Can I open her up?!”), but she quickly proves her mettle when they are accosted by a group of men in a souped-up Camaro; like Harry, they’re also put-off by the thought of a woman out-driving them. “I’m gonna ram that supercharger up her ass!” exclaims Lep (Don Stroud), the undisputed leader of this ragtag bunch of miscreants. After an exciting, well-choreographed car chase, Lep and his buddies get ingloriously sideswiped into a creek. Vowing their revenge, this eventually leads them to Harry’s isolated lakeside house…
Because it follows a fairly predictable pattern, while it would be easy to dismiss Fruet’s film as yet another imitative offshoot of either Sam Peckinpah’s incendiary STRAW DOGS (1971) or Wes Craven’s highly-influential LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), DEATH WEEKEND is actually far more thought-provoking than you might initially anticipate. Simplistic in its approach, yet impressively-mounted, the film never waivers in generating suspense, this mostly care of a trio of committed, multifaceted performances highlighting the disparities of the so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, as well as gender inequality too. Ever-resourceful as Diane, Brenda Vaccaro is superb as the husky-voiced heroine, whose sex appeal lies in her confidence and ability to level the playing field or—even outright outdo her male counterparts; which is what triggered this whole unfortunate chain of events to begin with. Diane’s strong disposition is seen as a threat by all the male characters, including Harry, who at one point even flippantly remarks, “I’ve never met a woman that can fix a carburetor and drive like you can!” In Harry’s mind, Diane is merely another conquest, and even though he equates success with money and power (“That’s what it’s all about!”), he can’t win her over with his flashy car, expensive home and fine art pieces, empty material possessions which he uses to mask his own insecurities. Women are merely objects to Harry, and in one of the film’s many uneasy moments, he even uses a specially-designed two-way mirror to spy on Diane as she takes a shower, snapping photos along the way to add to his ‘collection’. Unlike Harry, whose insecure demeanour is no match for Diane, Lep on the other hand is also threatened but equally as impressed—and even turned-on—by Diane (“That bitch can drive!”), but since he only knows how to relate to people using intimidation and fear, his only outlet is to take Diane by force (“Nuthin’ gets me off quicker than a bitch who fights!”). When she no longer resists his brutish advances, however, he confusedly asks, “Why did ya stop?”; simply not knowing any other way to interact sexually with a female.
When released onto VHS / Beta videocassette by the mighty Vestron Video all the way back in 1985, this was the slightly-edited U.S. version, whose master removed a couple of instances of violence: namely a vicious throat-slashing, and the after-effects of a gruesome immolation. Never released on DVD in North America, it did get a belated DVD release in Sweden from Studio S Entertainment, but it was apparently taken from a full-screen master. Then, earlier this year, Germany’s NSM Records surprised everybody with their unexpected Blu-ray of this highly-requested film, and, while it is a very nice release indeed, don’t go expecting a brand new 2K or 4K restoration. Unfolding under its rather ridiculous, in-your-face German title, PARTY DES GRAUENS—DIE VERGEWALTIGUNG (trans: “Horror Party – The Rape”) and presented in the now customary 1.78:1 aspect ratio, NSM’s Blu looks pretty good for the most part, nicely emphasizing the autumnal colours of the rural location’s surrounding areas. At the same time, though, the image suffers from a tad too much contrast (as evidenced in a couple of shots from the film’s opening car chase) while some dirt and occasional vertical scratches are also noticeable from time to time; nothing too distracting at all, really, so until some intrepid Blu-ray label puts up the cash for a new-and-improved scan of the film, this will do just fine in the interim. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is available in both German and English, and thankfully, the English audio is far punchier than the rather tinny German track. NSM have also included both German and English subtitles, so for a completely oddball and surreal viewing experience, it can also be watched in German with English subtitles (which, alas, are simply translated verbatim from the original English audio itself).
Other than for its U.S. theatrical trailer by A.I.P.—who, for their American release, retitled the film THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE (“A house of secrets! A house of evil! A house of pain! A house of death!”)—the limited extras are not English-friendly. Just for the record, they include a feature-length audio commentary from Marco Erdmann of Wicked Vision magazine, and, in DEATH WEEKEND’s Mediabook packaging, a 16-page booklet with liner notes from Lars Dreyer-Winkelmann; but no matter, it’s just great to finally have this terrific film back in circulation, as it remains one of William Fruet’s grittiest and best. Order it from DiabolikDVD.