A film so daring it goes by two titles, Death Weekend a.k.a. The House by the Lake proves that we shouldn't always be counting down the minutes to 5:00pm on a Friday. Starring Oscar nominee Brenda Vaccaro and produced by Oscar nominee Ivan Reitman (of Ghostbusters fame), this 1970s production from our neighbors to the north is a home invasion flick where young hoodlums terrorize a grief-stricken couple at a beautiful home in the woods of Ontario.
The film opens simply enough. A new couple—an attractive female model and a wealth-obsessed male dentist—take a ride up to the beau's weekend home for some rest and relaxation. What could possibly go wrong? On their way there, they encounter a car filled with some drunken creeps trying to harass them and run them off the road. They are relentless. Due to the woman's apt driving skills, however, the terrorizers receive their comeuppance rather quickly: they haphazardly drive right into a lake. Humiliated (and wet), they vow to find the couple and make them pay.
Death Weekend is very much in line with films such as The Last House on the Left, The Strangers, and in its pitting of class versus class, Michael Haneke's Funny Games. Once these angry psychopaths locate and subsequently invade the supposedly secure confines of the two-story home, the mind games begin. And although it isn't as gruesome as some of the aforementioned films—the implied rape scenes are nowhere near as brutal as the ones in the infamous Craven film or I Spit On Your Grave—the couple's frustration is believable and heartfelt. Some of it is even devilishly cathartic for the viewer: the suave dentist, who prizes his monetary values to no end, has to witness his house ransacked and destroyed. In a strange way, it's highly pleasurable watching his beloved piano get smashed to bits.
As it must, revenge against this gang of misfits does indeed come. That is, after all, why you're here. The journey getting to that point, though, shouldn't go unappreciated. The characterizations are somewhat more complex than you might at first suspect. The dentist boyfriend has some suspicious, Norman Bates-like tendencies of his own (the male gaze is out in full force) and some side characters, such as two drunken gas station attendants, provide some welcome laughs. Humanity is necessary for a film like this to work and, as inhumane as the subject matter may be, it manages to shine through.
Death Weekend a.k.a The House by the Lake
Director: William Fruet
Screens: November 3 at 4:00pm
Scary Movies 7 Official Description:
A sleazy oral surgeon (Chuck Shamata) lures model Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) to his country home with the promise of meeting some good people. Those other "guests" of course never arrive—but some unwelcome ones do: a group of repulsive vengeance-seeking backwoods locals (led by Don Stroud) Diane pisses off on the ride up in a humiliating demonstration that she—yup, a mere woman, one who also knows how to fix a carburetor—can outdrive them. Produced by Ivan Reitman, this film is a cut above the standard home invasion/rape-revenge thriller, most of all because Vaccaro plays it smart and tough—though Diane may have been unwise to accept the invitation in the first place, she’s no bimbo. If exploitation films can have a conscience then let this be an example.