I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Death Weekend aka The House By the Lake

tn_deathweekendDEATH WEEKEND, aka HOUSE BY THE LAKE, is a 1976 Canadian rape-revenge movie, and a pretty good one. You know, now that I’ve finished typing that sentence I feel like that description doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as I would like. So let me rephrase that: DEATH WEEKEND, aka HOUSE BY THE LAKE, is from 1976.

Okay, I already told you what kind of movie it is, but let me assure you, the rape part is not long and graphic like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. The woman doesn’t get degraded too much, and neither do you, the viewer. It has a real good setup and a very capable heroine in a world where virtually all men are bastards or imbeciles. (Fair enough.)

mp_deathweekend1It’s a story about a date gone horribly wrong. It’s kind of like DATE NIGHT. If your parents or somebody liked DATE NIGHT, recommend they watch this one. A rich dentist named Harry (Chuck Shamata) brings a raspy-voiced, fur-coat-wearing model named Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) for a drive in his black Corvette convertible. After a while she convinces him to let her drive. He’s obviously not happy about it, and then seems a little wounded when she tears up the road at top speeds and seems to handle the thing better than he did.

Then they run into a car full of yahoos who whoo hoo and throw beer at them and try to run her off the road. There’s a big high speed chase scene and she puts them in their place (a muddy ditch). I know it’s weird to say that a random group of assholes has a leader, but this one guy Lep (Don Stroud from ‘The New Gidget’) is clearly the leader, and it pisses him off to see a woman driving that good. I know because he says it: “Jesus, that broad can drive. That pisses me off!”  When their car is stuck in the mud the other guys laugh about what happened, but Lep is livid and yells, “I’m gonna find that fuckin cunt and I’m gonna ram that supercharger up her ass!”

Harry and Diane are headed for his secluded lake front property where she thinks there will be other guests, and he thinks she won’t be mad that he lied about there being other guests. Both are wrong. She politely shows disbelief at all the oppulence he tries to impress her with while he politely shows disbelief at the skills she keeps revealing, for example fixing the engine on his boat. She has a curious mind and likes to learn things from the men she dates. He sees women as trophies and is confused by them when they’re smart and capable.

mp_housebythelakeThe angry yahoos spot the Corvette, invade the house, and become those other weekend guests. Already the playing field is being set up, creating anticipation. We’ve already learned lots of information, most of which will come up again: she’s a great driver, she understands machines, the property is completely secluded, he has a boat, there’s a hard-to-spot 10-15 foot deep bog nearby, that type of stuff.

While Lep terrorizes Harry and Diane, forcing Harry to pretend to be his buddy, his friends cackle like creeps in a DEATH WISH. The tension isn’t just between genders, there’s a serious class issue going on here too, and we the viewers are stuck right in the middle. See, before the home invasion Diane was playfully poking at Harry about his materialism, kind of making fun of him for having such a huge place full of fancy shit he doesn’t need. He proudly shows her his piano, talks about how expensive it was. “Do you play?” she asks. “No,” he says as he walks over to some other thing he wants to show off. He obviously doesn’t see the relevance.

(To be fair I guess you never know if Prince or somebody is gonna come over, and might need to sit down and write some songs. Or if Clint Eastwood came over it would be awesome to let him sit down and play for a while.)

Harry also turns out to be a world class asshole. For one thing he gets pissed when she doesn’t want to have sex with him, tells her to leave and won’t even call her a taxi. He tries to apologize shortly after, but still.

For another thing he’s a total perv. He has secret rooms behind two-way mirrors so he can take pictures while she’s in the shower. In my opinion that’s not ethical.

But once these guys are are terrorizing them I had more sympathy for Harry. They bust his balls about all his belongings like she did, but when they do it there’s an implied threat and anger. Soon they start destroying the place. They cover the walls in food, tip the refrigerator, smash the entire liquor cabinet, sledge hammer the toilet. I felt bad. Yeah, he’s too attached to his property, but he doesn’t deserve this.

Diane gets to run away and this is her chance to use the skills and weapons that have been set up to pick off her attackers one by one. She’s not as creepily methodical and sadistic as the gal in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, but she does make it personal, in some cases up close with eye contact. And she causes an explosion that sends a guy running around on fire screaming. Good stuff.

The very end is a little disappointing because of what it implies. As she leaves (SPOILER), there are quick flashes from earlier, shots of Lep smiling and putting his hands on her. I don’t know, maybe that’s what creeped her out most and now it’s haunting her, but I think it’s some of that “she said no, but then she liked it” bullshit you get in some of the ’70s movies, or the Japanese movies, or the first CRANK. I realize that she’s surrounded by misogynists (even the elderly witness to Lep’s assault on a park ranger is shown as pretty sexist toward his wife), but I don’t like seeing a smart lady like this ultimately losing the fight mentally. Until that point it’s an unusual rape-revenge story because it’s not that she goes mental and gets revenge, it’s that she knows how to handle them from the beginning. They fucked with the wrong model.

mp_deathweekendI think the weirdest touch in the movie is the doctor being a voyeuristic pervert. It’s the perfect setup for using the secret passages and spying possibilities against the intruders, but nothing comes of it. That’s a big missed opportunity, but since it turns out not to be a set up it becomes even stranger as a character trait. Holy shit, even the victims are not to be trusted, they’re up to some creepy business.

But as a member of today’s remake society I have to admit it triggers the part of my brain that wants to improve it. If it was up to me she’d use the secret rooms and her comment about “you must’ve pulled alot of teeth to afford all this” would be a hint that he’s involved in something more than oral surgery, and that would lead to some more complications.

The director is William Fruet, who did some other movies I heard are semi-interesting like FUNERAL HOME and BLUE MONKEY. Although it came after STRAW DOGS and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT I think it’s interesting that it was before I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, because it also makes an attempt at a feminist point of view and is more clearly sincere about it, at least until that end part I complained about. With the big car chase at the beginning and the woman being so in control for most of the movie (there’s a little section in the middle where she’s in shock and doesn’t know what to do) it definitely made me think of DEATH PROOF and I bet was an influence on it in some small way.

Diane is an interesting character, and could be iconic if she didn’t turn wimpy in the middle and at the end. It’s weird, Vaccaro doesn’t really look like the hottest model Harry would’ve seen, the opposite problem of so many movies that have actresses who look like models playing ordinary everywomen. But they must’ve been going for the best actress they could get, and did well, because she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar in the same year she made this.

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of DEATH WEEKEND before. I guess since it’s not as shocking as I SPIT ON YOU GRAVE, and since neither of its titles are as catchy, it just got lost in the mix. But it’s got alot going for it and deserves to at least be included in the discussion of these types of movies. And it would’ve been interesting if it caught on more because if it had been influential then all these movies would have car chases in them.

I wonder what else Canada has hiding up there?

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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 at 3:20 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Death Weekend aka The House By the Lake”

  1. Would have been a different movie if Clint Eastwood showed up to play on the piano.

  2. Prince is more likely to turn up unannounced, seeing as he’s a Jehovah’s Witness and all. Although if he came to my house, I’d be saying “Prince, if you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knocking on my door.”

  3. Sounds like a great movie. You compare it to Straw Dogs, so might I suggest that the flashes in the end maybe suggests that while she got her revenge, she might still be mentally scared by the abuse? Like a tragic ending, which empathises the traumatic aspect of being a victim of an assault?

  4. TEXAS CHAINSAW 2 would be a totally different movie if Leatherface and Chop Top encountered Diane in the opening race sequence. And, given Diane’s problematic attraction to assault, Leatherface’s clumsy sexual advances might have had a better outcome. In remake terms, it would be BRIDE OF LEATHERFACE.

  5. Vern: Top of the list of Cool Things Hiding In Canada: LAST NIGHT. Also, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN (which, as you know, was actually filmed in Seattle).

  6. In terms of Guy Maddin, personally I’d be much more inclined to steer someone towards SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD or MY WINNIPEG. BRAND UPON THE BRAIN I found a little too difficult and alienating, and kind of an eye sore.

  7. Dan: My choice of BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! was largely strategic (although I think it is a great film): I figure the horror film elements in the film are more likely to snag Vern’s attention during the Halloween sweeps. Also, Vern has demonstrated enthusiasm for films with exclamation marks in the title.

    SADDEST MUSIC, COWARDS BEND THE KNEE and ARCHANGEL are magnificent, though.

  8. Have you seen CAREFUL and do you recommend it? It’s on Netflix’s Watch Instantly, so I could give it a shot.

  9. Boys, if you’re like me and Vern’s review makes you want to check this beast out, I found it for sale on DVD-R very cheaply here: http://www.ioffer.com/search/items/death%20weekend

  10. Dan: CAREFUL is my least favorite Maddin film, but it’s not bad by any stretch; the few Maddin fans I know (and Maddin himself) all prefer it to TWILIGHT OF THE ICE NYMPHS. Fans of films that flirt with pro-incest themes will not be disappointed by CAREFUL. The recent version on dvd is gorgeous and the writer/director commentary is almost scholarly. There’s also a documentary narrated by Tom Waits on the same disc.

  11. I will take Vern’s advice and recommend this to fans of Date Nght.

  12. Our man Vern likes him some HOLY MOUNTAIN and EL TOPO. I don’t think it’s possible for a film to be “alienating” for a man of such tastes. Just sayin’

    And I just watched CAREFUL! . . . how-wee. Perfect German Expressionism redux.

  13. This review is great but I keep hoping that you will one day get around to reviewing “The Burning” and “The Pit”. I know you get plenty of requests, but that would still be awesome and rad. I just have to hear your take on “The Pit”.

  14. Damn, I thought I reviewed THE BURNING, but you’re right, I never finished. I found an old document where I started a review in October of 2006, but this is all I had:

    THE BURNING

    Every October I try to watch some slasher movies I’ve never seen before. But there’s only so many good ones so I’m running out of ones I want to see. But this one is decent. Made in 1981, it’s a blatant FRIDAY THE 13th ripoff. But the first murder takes place in New York City, so it’s also like MANIAC. Which makes it a completely original new take on the summer camp slasher movie.

    I’m surprised I never heard about this before because it’s an all star movie. The effects are done by Tom Savini, so there’s some disturbingly realistic stabbings. It’s also the first movie produced by the Weinsteins, who also helped write the script. So did Brad Grey, another famous producer, and this was his first movie too. In the cast you have a 22-year-old Jason Alexander, with a full head of hair. He doesn’t even play a camp counselor, he’s one of the kids! That’s how young he is. It’s his first movie too. Same with 18-year-old-but-looks-16 Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter. I couldn’t figure out who she played so I couldn’t tell you if she has a full head of hair or not.

    The movie starts with some camp kids pulling a prank on a caretaker named Cropsy who they claim is an asshole. We don’t really know how true that is because the poor bastard is asleep. They light a rotted-head-shaped-candle next to his bed and then bang on the window. Unfortunately, he knocks the thing over and catches his pants on fire. Also he happens to have a big can of gas nearby. Wouldn’t you know that the day you have an open can of gasoline would be the same day you catch on fire? Anyway he burns to a crisp, the kids run off and later we find out that the whole camp burned down, although that is not illustrated visually.

    Later the legend goes that “they never found the body,” but actually they did. We know because he was in a hospital burn ward. But then one day he got up and left, strangled a hooker, and found a new camp to start stalking.

    It’s a little different from
    —–

    That’s it. Sorry guys. I’ll have to watch it again some time, and I’m not sure what THE PIT is so I’ll have to look that up too.

  15. THE PIT is fuckin weird shit! Pretty hard to find though.

  16. I saw The Burning a few years ago, I liked it

  17. Dear Vern,
    Just wanted to let you know that I loved “Yippi-Ki-Yay Moviegoer!” I read it through in two sittings – reading each review was like nibbling on a kernel of popcorn or an eel sushi. I couldn’t stop. It was my favorite of all the birthday gifts bought for me by my wife and extended family, and that includes a new mini-video camera, the new King Kong blu-ray, and chocolate cupcakes. I’m pressing it on friends to buy now. Thanks for your wonderful warmth, humor, and intelligence.

  18. Thanks Lee, that’s awfully nice.

  19. TERROR TRAIN is another pretty good Canadian horror movie. But a big part of why I like it is it’s gorgeous. It was shot by John Alcott, who shot many of Kubrick’s movies like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON and THE SHINING.

  20. The original Paul

    October 19th, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Gwai – I share the “Terror Train” like, if not love. Part of the problem for me is that at the very beginning they do that thing where they give away the historical motive at the very beginning. (Can you imagine if “Friday 13th” had shown the boy drowning and his mother looking on in anguish at the start, for example?) This narrows down the list of suspects so much that it really takes away from the mystery element. Still, it’s pretty tense, very good looking, and some of the kids are better than the average slasher-fodder in these types of movies.

  21. http://www.canuxploitation.com/ is a good site for all the crap we’ve produced up here.

  22. Hi, this can be my initial time visiting your web-site. The write-up was good to examine and full of that means full of understanding. Congrats.youve 1 additional followers now

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