OnePageWonder stories to read alone at night

Savage Weekend

the movie somnambulist


Otis isn’t bad, he’s just selectively edited in the opening to make you think he’s the bad guy. Okay, Otis is easily agitated, and word is he did kill some fellow who was having sex with his pretty cousin. Oh, and he dragged his pretty cousin into the barn and used a T brand to brand an H for “whore” (a joke the movie knowingly embraces) on her chest. He talks to the grave of the recently deceased Clarence about how Clarence would kill all kinds of people if he were still alive. Otis is played by William Sanderson and he seems to be wearing the exact wardrobe of his NEWHART character Larry. Going only by what you see in the opening, he gleefully chainsaws Marie to death, setting up the movie as a how-we-got-here deal. That kind of approach often disappoints; but the payoff here is a fight between a dude with a machete and a dude with a chainsaw. No matter what, they lose and we win.

Marie is the lightning rod of all the crazy in the movie, and she’s not too stable herself. The sanest people in the movie are two children with minimal screen time. One of the kids is played by Yancy Butler, the WITCHBLADE and HARD TARGET lady. Anyways, Marie: she was married to Greg, who is her out-of-work ex-husband. He is cold and distant, except when anyone touches his boy Jeremy. Otherwise, he’s a self-diagnosed depressive who can’t even get a job at the FDA. See, Greg is (or was) in Government. This is important later. Here he picks up Jeremy, shouts at someone for touching the boy, then leaves. Marie and her sister Shirley, as well as Marie’s new boyfriend Robert and Jay his stockbroker pal, along with the extremely fabulous Nicky, the gayest of gay pals, are all headed out to the backwoods someplace where Robert is having a boat built. Robert is your classic capitalist; while it would have been impractical to have his boat outsourced to China, he did outsource it to Hicksville, USA. His lust for cheap labor will cost him his life.

This is so unquestionably a 70s movie that you could show it to a dog and it would know. The colors, the shots, the music (including an awesome riff off of the IN SEARCH OF theme over a near-sex scene), the body types, the weird obsession over 1920s dress-up, everything here makes it a flick I would love to see at an actual drive-in. It has everything, including a plot you can either choose to pay attention to or not. You’ll like it either way. It’s also a very sleazy movie. There are three sex scenes, and they’re all pretty odd. Shirley sunbathes nude and alone and Jay just wanders up, takes off his clothes, sexes her up, dresses, and leaves with neither saying a word.

Marie has some odd fascinations, too. I kept writing down her dialogue because it was so over the top. “Life happens all around me, and I don’t have any control!” “Pain. Jealousy. Anger. Regret. Love. Fear, oh I feel fear.” “Robert is not corrupt; he’s warm and he’s human and I’m going to try to love him.” When she has sex with Robert, she imagines it’s Greg with a smile on his face. When she ignites the flame of local caretaker Mac and he starts kissing her neck, she imagines a smiling Greg looking on. Marie strokes the shocks on some construction equipment; she fondles a cow’s teat sexually; she’s not in a good place, man.

For the record, we see every adult female in this move fully naked at least twice; well, except the lady in the background of the bar fight scene, anyways. It’s really for the best. The bar fight happens early in the movie to assert the killer cred of the fabulous Nicky. He boldly goes into a redneck bar and wipes the floor with a couple hefty goons who think they can slap some Mary around. After a few scenes of loud and proud, Nicky gets quiet, because he’s strangely fascinated with Marie’s sister Shirley and Robert’s buddy Jay’s coupling. He witnesses most of them. From the point in the movie where we see him all rapt and in that special place, he has almost no dialogue at all until just before the killings get going. He watches one sex scene so intently that he absently grips some barbed wire and twists it in his hand.

Which brings me to Shirley: turns out she was the singer/secret agent on TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY. My fervent wish as a 13-year old had already come true three years earlier; who’d have thunk it? She gets the best bits of the movie, really. Jay is the first victim, hanged by someone in a mask in the boathouse. Since Jay and Shirley had a fight that day, no-one thinks much of it when Jay doesn’t turn up for dinner. On a lark, everyone decides to dress up for dinner, fancy-dress. Robert and Marie go off to look for Jay (which is adult talk for “go have sex in a barn”), and Shirley decides to see if she can get Nicky worked up. She puts on a record and starts dancing around the house. She is very, very good at this. She puts some makeup on Nicky and we can see he’s definitely intrigued by her. Shame about the plot, though, as it requires the masked fellow to jam a hat pin into Nicky’s brain via ear. It’s on like Megatron.

Now, a word about the basement: it’s very dark and full of dangerous things. Basements are like that. What’s interesting about this basement is that it’s just like mine in one respect: it has two light switches, one of which does nothing. Actually, I have three switches and one does nothing, but anyway. Early on, after the group first arrives at the house, they find a dead bat nailed to the front door. This is never explained, but is a nice way for Nicky to show how he’s manlier than the straight men by being the only one who will remove it. It also telegraphs the quirk with the light switches. There’s an old rule of mysteries that if you show a knife in one scene, it will be buried in someone’s chest later on. This is that knife. Later, when mask-guy kills Nicky, he goes up after Shirley, who’s still dancing upstairs. She initially thinks mask-fellow is Nicky, but is quickly disabused of this notion when he attacks her. She runs to the basement (durr) and is caught but not immediately killed.

The mask-dude gags Shirley, then ties her face-up to a table saw. He plugs the table saw into one of those plug-ins that you can also screw a lightbulb into. He hits the switch. Nothing happens. Meanwhile, Robert and Marie have found Jay and return to the house. They find Nicky’s body and Robert goes to get a shotgun. Maskatron hears this and abandons Shirley to go kill Robert. This he does, and Marie runs off, The Masked One in pursuit.

Now before I get to the lightswitch punchline (90% of which you can guess already), there’s another fun gag that needs set up. Mac the caretaker is a gruff, older, virile fellow. He wouldn’t mind having a bit of Marie himself and says so a few times; one of these times he also warns her by striking a match near her face and saying “See that? That’s what you’re playing with!” Before the dinner where Jay’s already dead but no-one else is yet, Mac comes by to borrow Robert’s car to take his little girl to the movies. Robert says sure, and everyone berates him afterward for loaning their only mode of transport. Ultimately they laugh it off, because people in horror movies are like cats; they’re petty and vindictive, but if they’re comfortable they’ll forget everything. On the way back from the movie, Mac and his little girl talk about returning the car early; the killings are well underway now. They mull it over and say ah, they won’t need the car until morning. And they go home.

Well, now Marie is still running around. Actually, she’s frozen with fear as the mask guy approaches. Amusingly, he’s pretty tired from all the activity tonight, which is nice to see. When will Hollywood admit mass murder is actually hard work? Then he removes his mask to reveal that he’s Greg, the depressed ex-husband! Get this: Greg’s so depressed all the time because he was an aide to Governor Beech. The Governor was so corrupt that he ruined the careers of all his staffers and then committed suicide. Greg’s unemployable and he’s had his ideals shattered. He launches into a speech about how it wasn’t the governor’s fault; it was all those dogs outside his door and his window. The dogs wanted their power, so they ruined Greg’s and the governor’s lives, see? So we have a bitter Ayn Rand acolyte (is there any other kind) as our bad guy? Frankly, this movie should serve as a blueprint; we should keep an eye on Scott Walker’s staff, going forward.

This talk apparently lasts until dawn. Marie makes a run for it and Greg pursues. Mac shows up to return the car and finds Nicky’s corpse. He looks around the house. We get a jump-cut of Shirley still tied to the table saw to remind us she’s still around. Mac opens the door to the basement, hits the switch and…nothing. Initially he seems satisfied with this, but then he flips the second switch. We get a closeup of the bulb that the saw’s plugged into turning on, and no real saw noise and no scream. Huh. Mac finds a machete just inside the door and leaves. This seems such a lame way to get rid of Shirley, who did yeoman’s work in this feature; she carried her share of the nudity load; she was putting some effort into her character; and she was ultimately the most memorable character in the movie. Anyways, that’s the lightswitch story.

Stayed awake for the whole thing because this is a by-the-numbers drive-in biscuit (to borrow a term of approbation from my pal Jim Musser); it delivers on everything you need to make it to the second feature and then some. Six wide awake eyes for this one. (One eye equals 15 minutes of runtime.)

John Ira Thomas writes graphic novels for Candle Light Press. His crush on Caitlin O’Heaney has returned with a vengeance.

March 22, 2011

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