Tag Scandinavian

Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

Hunting humans in the cold Icelandic waters

A group of tourists take a whale watching trip off the coast of Iceland but when the captain suffers a freak accident and is mortally wounded, they are forced to take refuge aboard an old whaling ship that responds to their distress call. However this ship is home to a family of disgruntled ex-whalers who now take to hunting and killing humans since their previous past time was outlawed.

 

If there were awards for the film with the greatest title ever, surely this has to be up there with them! An Icelandic take on your ‘backwoods’ slasher featuring a family of retarded and mentally unstable psychopaths, Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre gets billed as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set aboard a whaling ship but it’s a lot more straightforward and less demented than that. It’s Iceland’s first foray into modern horror (the country made a few in the 80s but this is their first take on horror since Hostel and Saw turned up the notch of nastiness). Given their fellow Scandinavian countries have been making some decent horror films of late, it’s only right that the Icelandic nation gets a claim to horror fame. But despite having plenty of style, Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is just a European version of the same old stuff that the Americans have been making for years.

It’s a pity because the set up itself is excellent and the bizarre sequence of events that set the tourists aboard the whaling ship is nicely strung out. The Icelandic cinematography is splendid and really gives you a sense of isolation that it going to be needed later on. The whaling ship itself looks creepy and rather desolate. To say that it’s a big ship is an understatement but, for some reason, the characters only tend to hang around the same parts and thus the scale of the ship is downplayed. There’s little in the way of hide-and-seek as most of the tourists are dispatched within a few minutes of realising they’re all screwed. The ‘turn’ in the film where the psycho family attack the tourists is awesome, complete with a hammer-to-the-skull moment. But it’s at this point that the film unfortunately loses steam and instead of delivering another bloody European horror blow, it turns itself into a derivative American slasher. The tourists all separate aboard the ship and each of the family set off to hunt and kill them. The tourists all attempt to save themselves without thinking of anyone else and the rest of the film is just a rather lacklustre series of scenes of stalking and killing.

Most of the kills are by-the-book – not counting the awesome death-by-whaling-harpoon – but we don’t get a really good look at anything. Either the kill happens off screen or the camera is facing in a way so that you can’t see much at all. Very disappointing indeed especially given that there’s more blood and guts in the titles as real life footage of whales being hunted and killed is shown. The whole thing doesn’t really have an urgent sense of dread or an uncompromising atmosphere – it’s got little atmosphere at all which is a crime given how kick ass some of the parts of the ship were.

The villains are bland and try a little too hard to play to type – the domineering mother, the thuggish older brother and the dim, runt-like brother. The tourists themselves are a motley bunch of stereotypes – the Japanese guy with the camera, the French guy who says “oo la la” a little too much (get him some onions and beret as well why don’t you!) and the butch German women. In fact the most interesting character is the Japanese girl, Endo, who turns from being a servant girl into a rather ruthless killer, out for herself and no one else. It’s a really weird character and one that hangs around in the background at the start when some of the other characters are getting more exposure and development.

This is the film’s worst problem – there’s no real main character. At first we think its Pihla Viitala’s character that is nearly raped and then caught and stripped by the religious nut brother. Then the film switches focus to Terence Anderson’s Leon who again looks like he’s going to be the saviour and save the day. But towards the end of the film, it’s Endo who is the main focus and her cold-hearted approach to everyone else’s life remains frustratingly unexplained. Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) makes a small cameo and is clearly only top-billed because of his infamous horror legacy. He hardly has any lines, isn’t in the film for long and is cast as the unfortunate captain so don’t expect much in the way of in-jokes towards anything chainsaw-related. It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

I really wanted to like Harpoon: The Rekjavik Whale Watching Massacre but maybe I was expecting the whole thing to be a little more grim, distasteful and brutal than it ended up given the more recent Scandinavian horror films I’ve seen (Cold Prey, Dead Snow, etc). Disappointing but still not without its own merit.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Snow (2009)

Dead Snow (2009)

Ein! Zwei! Die!

Eight medical students head into the snow-covered mountains of Norway to stay in a cabin for their Easter vacation. The group are visited by a mysterious stranger who warns them of a curse about a Nazi brigade that ran into the mountains with their stolen loot and were never seen again. The students then find a box of coins and gold hidden under the floorboards in the house. Naturally this peaks the interest of the Nazi soldiers, now flesh-eating zombies continually searching for their cursed Nazi gold and who want their stolen property back.

 

Nazi zombies. Come on, that’s enough to make me pee my pants in excitement. I’ve been a big stickler for the Nazi zombie sub-genre ever since watching the grossly underrated Shockwaves and when I first heard about this and saw the trailer a few months ago, I was bristling with anticipation. It’s the entire film sold in two words – you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in for. If you can stomach the subtitles (and a surprising amount of people are too lazy to watch and read them) then you’re in for an absolute treat! Dead Snow is a total throwback to the likes of The Evil Dead and Bad Taste and you can clearly see the director trying to channel the same sort of comedy-horror energy that both Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson harnessed for their genre classics. The results aren’t quite the triumph that one was hoping for but it’s still a riot of a film.

If there is an underlying problem to the film, it’s the fact that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The film sets off to be mean-spirited and has some truly unnerving moments which would have worked well if they’d continued along this theme of being all serious to the bitter end. The scene with the crazy, old Norwegian drifter investigating a noise outside his tent in the pitch black is superbly shot with literally only his flashlight illuminating the snowy terrain. Some of the daylight scenes look spectacular in the glistening Norwegian snow and it’s clear that these teenagers are miles from help.

Director Tommy Wirkola has also clearly seen Shockwaves as he features a scene with the zombies rising up from their snowy graves. The zombies also look striking, complete in authentic-looking German uniforms and sporting some pretty slick make-up effects as the charge across the landscape. Even the characters are well developed and likeable enough to warrant you supporting them and wanting to see them survive. But despite all of the build-up and some reasonable moments of tension and atmosphere to begin with, the gears are changed midway through the film and it’s pretty unexpected and a little unwarranted if you ask me. The film was doing well as a serious horror film up until this point.

The film then goes down the path of comical visual horror akin to The Evil Dead and Braindead. There’s plenty of wit from the dialogue including a character who has watched too many horror films (that cliché has overstayed it’s welcome I think), silly situations that the characters find themselves in (a girl hiding in a tree from a bunch of zombies is attacked by a crow trying to protect her eggs) and lots of sight gags involving plenty of blood and guts (the film gets messy). The gross-out quota is upped to the maximum and instead of genuinely being a little creeped out by the zombies, we just laugh at them and the characters as they fight to the death with chainsaws, hammers, sleds and such like with lots of severed limbs and free-flowing entrails from human and zombie alike. There are people dangling off the edge of cliffs using intestines as ropes. There’s MG42′s mounted onto snowmobiles. There’s a guy running around with no arm. And in probably the film’s best gore moment, some unlucky dude has his head ripped apart. It’s not really a case of ‘we’ve seen it before’ though as there are a few unique selling points here but the overall effect of turning the film into a cheese fest isn’t one you’ll be uncommon with.

How hard is it for horror makers to just stick to making decent horror flicks and not have to rely on the splatter and gross-out factor. And given the two word selling point – NAZI ZOMBIES! – it is slightly disappointing that they are just turned into such generic monsters. They could have been any type of zombies looking for treasure – pirates, gypsies, you name it. But given that the Nazis are widely recognised as the most evil bastards ever to walk the face of the Earth and liked to dabble in the occult, then the combination of the two is always a mouth-watering prospect. But here the zombies are just taken down easily with bullets, hammer shots to the head, etc. – certainly not the all-conquering war machine that we are usually led to believe.

 

Dead Snow is a difficult one to sum up. I wasn’t expecting the second half of the film to be as silly and cheesy as it was and it’s a bit of a shame because the first half promised a lot of proper chills and scares. But on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with the gore and splatter and it’s certainly entertaining enough. The Nazi zombie sub-genre lives on to fight another day…..