Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rock N' Roll Nightmare

Rock N’ Roll Nightmare (1987) aka The Edge of Hell
Dir. John Fasano
Produced by Jon Mikl Thor
Written by Jon Mikl Thor
Starring Jon Mikl Thor
Music by Jon Mikl Thor




I stumbled across this one because I was searching for a copy of the ridiculously-obscure-but-slightly-less-obscure-than-this ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE, which at least has the decency to star Tia Carrere. Or actually, that’s not even quite true; my original intent was to search for the infamous --to the extent that any variation of the word “famous” might apply-- Canadian Nazisploitation/rock n’ roll opus HARD ROCK ZOMBIES, in which an aged Hitler and a lycanthropic Eva Braun murder a band of mullets in a town called Grand Guignol and end up menaced by the title characters and sexually assaulted by a little person with an eyepatch.* But through the miracle of Chainsawnukah, I misremembered the name, searched for “Rock N’ Roll Zombies” instead, and was led to ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE, the horror debut of bodybuilder/musician/80’s-parody-come-to-life Jon Mikl Thor. He’d previously played a character named “Thunderhead” in a Canadian POLICE ACADEMY ripoff called RECRUITS, which is a sentence so antithetical to reason and taste that I can barely type it and, having done so, it barely even makes sense. Other than that, not a ton of movie experience, but at least enough of a draw to make me pause and consider. ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE proved too elusive a quarry, but ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, having apparently lapsed into the public domain --or at least proved so laughably unprofitable that it’s not even worth a copyright-infringement email to defend-- was streaming on youtube, so I quickly browsed through its runtime looking for tells that it might be worthy of its auspicious title.


This sort of perusal is intrinsically necessary when considering this caliber of film, as you well know. Yes, in a perfect world a movie called ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE would inspire its creators to greatness. But that’s not necessarily the world we live in. Despite my many furiously scrawled missives to the Better Business Bureau, there seems to be no legal recourse for a hypothetical person who sat for 83 agonizing minutes only to discover that despite the promise of the title, the movie mostly consisted of shitty Canadian actors sitting around awkwardly stumbling over lines in someone’s living room, with precious little ROCK N' ROLL and virtually no NIGHTMARE to speak of. I have been burned before by exactly this kind of bait-and-switch. I have had my heart broken too many times to naively go in for something that sounds this great.


Talk about your broken hearts!

A quick browse through the runtime on youtube did not inspire much confidence. Based on a random sampling of every 10 minutes or so, the film looked to be primarily polite Canadian softcore intermittently sprinkled with poorly-recorded scenes of people sitting around staring blankly at each other, presumably shot on days when the stippers were busy. The kind of thing which was powerfully necessary for society to function exactly up til the point where they invented internet pornography, after which it seemed a bit superfluous to go through the trouble of making a whole movie and pretending there was a plot and everything merely as a vehicle to deliver boobs to needy teenagers in a format so punishingly unwatchable there was no possible way their parents were going to stick around and figure out what they were so into about it.


But three things prevented me from immediately disregarding ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE. The first was that I’m getting tired of writing vaguely positive reviews for insanely obscure movies which have some decent things about them but aren’t exactly classics either, and so I decided maybe it was time to watch something richly and unambiguously shitty. The second came in the form of the enthusiastic support this one had from fellow Chainsawnukah-goer Dan P, who was already familiar with Mr. Thor’s work from his musical career playing with “Thor & the Imps”, “Thor” (just Thor), and (you can’t make this stuff up, I swear to you this is seriously real) “Thor & the Ass Boys,” and as such emotionally ready to journey with the man into the dark realm of z-grade horror video quickies.

We live! We live to Rock!!

Those are both good reasons, but it was the third that truly made me pause. While nine of ten random clicks through the runtime led to awkward dialogue scenes and even more awkward sex scenes that looked like they’d been cut out of BOOGIE NIGHTS for being simultaneously too absurd and too tragic, one click struck gold: a bloody monster puppet hand bursting out of someone and grabbing a boob. That’s a good sign. If someone cared enough about this movie to make a rubber prosthetic bloody chest and a monster puppet to burst out of it, that already puts it way ahead of the dull, vacantly professional modern trash we have today where if they don’t have the money for it they just don’t do it. The best shitty movies are the ones that don’t have the budget but go for it anyway, out of sheer love and a misplaced desire to entertain an audience, something godawful modern corporate shlock like FRANKENSTEIN THEORY or HELLRAISER 9: REVELATIONS will never understand.


So I decided to take the plunge and give director John Fasano and Orson Wellsian- writer/composer/producer/star/driver/key grip/best boy/lunches catered by/animal wrangler** Jon Mikl Thor a chance to rock n’ roll my particular nightmare.***


And it’s a good thing that I did, because this is actually a pretty entertainingly terrible movie. It concerns “rock” and/ or “roll” outfit Triton (fronted by the imaginatively named “John Mikl Triton,” presumably because Thor could not conceive of a metal band which does not share his name) arriving at a dilapidated old Canadian farmhouse to record their newest, greatest album in the privacy of a rural area where presumably their inclination to encounter topless women at random will be more tolerated and less frowned upon by puritanical Canadian society. Of course, the isolated setting also makes them sitting ducks for the demonic forces which infest the house and had, prior to the credits, made short work of the dumpy family who were the previous occupants. (Apparently the father is named “Roger Eburt” according to the credits. Sick burn, ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE.). Their nightmare was not sufficiently ROCK N' ROLL, so fuck them, that’s the last we’ll hear of ‘em. Also it’s questionable just exactly how isolated this deserted farmhouse (which also boasts a professional recording studio in the barn, why not?) really is, inasmuch as you can clearly see headlights on a fairly busy road less than a mile away in most of the outside shots, but I dunno, maybe that’s across the border with Russia or something. Anyway it never seems to occur to anyone to try and go there.

This red polka dot dress with the open back may cross that thin line between glam and straight up cross-dressing.

The Tritons quickly set up shop (after a nearly five-minute wordless intro where they drive up to the place and rock out to the car radio), argue about who gets what room (this is entirely decided based upon an earnest discussion of who everyone intends to have sex with and what they will need to accomplish this goal) and discuss their mission. Some members of the band seem confused about what they’re actually doing here. “But why Canada?” the drummer wants to know. “Because Toronto’s where it’s happening, man!” gushes Thor. “The music! The film industry! The arts!” This would make sense, except that he immediately follows it up by saying “the only way to get you guys to rehearse is to lock you in a place you have no distractions.” This fits with the abandoned farmhouse plan but kinda undermines the part about going to the most happening city on Earth, at least as far as I can see.


Anyway, Triton have only a month to come up with 10 minutes of killer material, or else pay the ultimate price: losing their advance. The band is skeptical that this will be possible (maybe they should have discussed where they were going and what they were planning to do there at some point on the long trip, instead of silently rocking out to their own music in the car. But I guess it’s not for me to tell these guys what their business is) and they immediately begin groaning at the prospect of, as one of the girlfriends soberly ponders, “no hot tubs. No Dynasty.” But the bassist quickly realizes “it’s kind of like a vacation! I like it!” and so they begin their journey of sitting around the house occasionally having sex with each other or standing in a barn playing rock songs about how much they enjoy playing rock songs (sample lyrics: “We live, we live to rock/ rockin, rockin around the clock/ this kind of music won’t ever stop/ rock! Talkin ‘bout rock!”)

One thing about the Tritons: they take their practices pretty seriously, even going so far as to have John Triton wear some kind of unbelievable sequin tuxedo suit with no shirt underneath, almost certainly purchased second-hand from a Cher backup dancer in need of coke money. So they got that goin’ for them, which is nice (and also makes it even funnier in later scenes as he slowly walks around in the dark while tense music plays... still garbed in sparkling opulence). But despite their laudable commitment to celebrating the medium of rock songs through the medium of rock songs, they spend a lot of the movie going to separate rooms and getting attacked and possessed by the various rubbery demons of the house. This is enjoyable enough, but starts to get a little repetitive since it seems to really be the demons’ only MO. Plus, from about minute 25 to minute 40, and then again from minute 50 - 61, pretty much everyone stops what they’re doing to have polite under-the-covers lots-of-kissing-and-hugging sex with each other, arguably a little more one-track than even the demons are able to manage. I guess John Triton didn’t really think through the whole “lock you in a place you have no distractions” plan before the girlfriends already made their travel arrangements.

For god's sake, please stop singing about Rock.

Much of this is pretty funny, the script is full of hilariously boneheaded dialogue and the cast is rich with actors who are more than up for making it sound even more ridiculous than it is on the page. And, it has all the usual eccentricities of no-budget films from first-time directors working on rockstar vanity projects, i.e. plot threads that go nowhere, weird pacing, uncomfortable pauses after people have finished talking, inexplicable rambling dialogue about nothing. I like an early scene where a groundskeeper is trying to tell the manager about all the big stars who have recorded here in the past (we learn that Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart have made the pilgrimage here, and I’m gonna guess that Anvil took a pass too). “You know the barn here?” he asks, and the manager looks confused and points at the only building anywhere in sight. “This one?” Yup, that'd probably be it. They go on to have a detailed discussion of something called a “piano bed” which is supposedly on the premise. Unfortunately we never see it, or at least if we do it turns out to look pretty much like a regular bed so I didn’t notice anything special about it.


If you’re in the mood to chuckle at a bunch of terrible Canadian musicians struggling to make it all the way through two lines of dialogue in a row, this one’s got your number. And the intermittent demonic interruptions have an earnest desire to entertain, in fact I think every single one introduces a new monster, that takes elbow grease on a film which was clearly made for less than your average late-night informercial for tampons more technologically advanced than those they would dare sell at retail. But the real reason this film is worth watching is the last twenty minutes. After a brief break to do some dishes and remark to no one in particular how much he enjoys drinking Coca Cola, Thor (now the only surviving band member) basically finds himself in a menagerie of hostile muppets. There’s a cycloptic roasted chicken in the fridge, some kind of slimy lizard crawling around comically failing to destroy its victim, and what may or may not be the resurrected severed penises of the three former male band members, now sporting troll hair and tiny arms. And it ends with nothing short of a final battle between a shirtless Jon Mikl Thor and Beelzebub himself, “Or,” Thor quips, “as the Hindus called you, Shaitan. Or as you are known to answer in Aramic [sic], Belial, Apollyon, Asmodeus!” And suddenly out of the blue there’s a twist which retrospectively makes you wonder if the movie is actually more clever and self-aware than you thought it was. I must admit, at the 45 minute mark I would have guessed there was an extremely low probability that at the 70 minute mark I would ask myself, “Is it possible that ROCK N' ROLL NIGHTMARE is smarter than me?” So hey, this one definitely has the power to surprise you.

I think this one speaks for itself.

I am so enamoured by this sequence of events that I’m going to assume the last five minutes of the film -- which find Thor visiting a mystery graveyard at night and then subsequently going on to a full minute of daytime footage of an unexplained never-before seen Canadian suburb with scary music playing over it-- actually make sense, and I just don’t get it.


Obviously I cannot recommend this film to you enough, but I know one question still lingers in your mind. Obviously, any movie which features a former Canadian bodybuilder-turned-metal-musician wearing metal-studded underpants and wrestling the devil taps into something deep and psychologically rich enough to qualify as a nightmare. But what about the Rock N’ Roll? Just how Rock n’ Roll is this particular nightmare? Well, I’d like to report that it is at least respectably Rock N’ Roll, especially for the era. Despite the dubious presence of a keyboard player, you’ll get your fill of macho guitar noodling in at least two extended concert sequences. Thor plays one of those 80’s basses without a headstock in one of them, so the previous bassist (later explicitly described by the dark lord as “nerdy”) can get in on the double-guitar solo action. And while I questioned Mr. Thor’s musical taste during the opening sequences where he turns off a respectable Scorpions-style hard cock rocker in favor of some bullshit Depeche mode keyboard wankery, I must admit in all fairness that he makes up for it in fashion. The one scene in the movie where he’s dressed like a normal person, we later find out that he’s been wearing a cape and studded leather he-man codpiece underneath. So yes, this movie is Rock N’ Roll enough for ya. It’s Rock N’ Roll enough that sometimes even during tense scenes it just turns down the rock music instead of turning it off completely, so you can still hear it thumping away under the Suspiria-ripoff scary keyboard music. Rock N’ Roll enough that when four groupies show up at the house in skimpy outfits late at night, they act shocked and offended when the manager suggests that sex with the band might be in order (they’re groupies for the music, man, not for your gouche sexual appetites). Rock N’ Roll enough to just intuitively accept that the possessed bandmembers are not only going to keep showing up to practice, but that demonic possession actually improves their musical prowess. Rock N’ Roll enough that in a late-film shower sex scene it's easy to get caught up in tangle of hairless bulging pecs and blonde perms and seriously get confused about if this is a lesbian sex scene or not.


Yes sir, if you see only one Canadian Z-grade DTV horror movie starring a bodybuilding metal singer named after a Norse god, let it be this one. My kinda nightmare.


* Attention Frank Miller: the story you’ve been struggling to write for your entire career already exists.


** OK I can only confirm the first four from the credits, but I think we can safely assume the rest

*** My particular nightmare, of course, being a guy still writing horror movie reviews left over from October well into the next century.




CHAINSAWNUKAH 2014 CHECKLIST!

The Hunt For Dread October


  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: I believe this is a loose adaptation of Jame Joyce's dense autobiographical masterpiece Ulysses, but the credits don't mention it. I think they just changed the names and the location so they wouldn't have to pay for the rights.
  • SEQUEL: Unbelievably, yes. A 2005 sequel also featuring Thor called INTERCESSOR: ANOTHER ROCK N' ROLL NIGHTMARE
  • REMAKE: None.... yet.
  • FOREIGNER: Canadian. Man, this has really been the year of Canada.
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: No, although you know that's what they'd do with it if it were made today, you know in your heart.
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Not even a slumming C-lister.
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: Beelezebub?
  • BOOBIES: Oh yeah, I believe every significant actress in the movie gets naked at some point.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: The manager starts to get a little rapey-sounding with the reluctant groupies, but he stays pretty polite about it.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Thor mutilates a starfish-shaped green muppet at the end in a fit of righteous anger.
  • HAUNTED HOUSE: Yeah, I mean, not by ghosts or whatever, but it's definitely the house that's the problem.
  • MONSTER: Demons galore!
  • THE UNDEAD: Nah
  • POSSESSION: Yeah, lots of it.
  • SLASHER/GIALLO: No
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: No
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: No dolls
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Yeah, at least one of the possessed band members turns into some kind of weird demon bear or something, I dunno, maybe that makes more sense in Canada.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Has to be pretty high, but I guess it was on MST3K or something because somehow enough people remembered it to warrant a sequel 20 years later.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: We live, we live to rock/ rockin', rockin' around the clock/ this kind of music won’t ever stop/ Rock! Talkin ‘bout rock!
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Rock N' Roll confirmed, Nightmare confirmed. Should say something about the sex probably since it's at least as big and maybe a bigger plot point. Also not sure what the on-screen title THE EDGE OF HELL could possibly be referring to.
  • ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: N/A
This is a hard one to review, because it's distinctly and unmistakably laugh-out-loud terrible, but the only people who would ever willingly watch this are in it to see a hilariously awful movie anyway, and on that front it delivers in spades. Barely makes it to two thumbs (and really only by the grace of its many muppets and Canadian niceness) on technical merit, but for those of you in the market for something entertainingly bad, this is a goldmine, a four-thumb effort.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Mill of the Stone Women


Mill of the Stone Women (1960) aka Il mulino delle donne di pietra
Dir.  Giorgio Ferroni
“Dialogue written and directed by” “John Hart” and “Peter MacNamera” (on-screen credits, actually a bunch of Italians according to IMDB) based on a short story by Pieter Van Weigen.
Starring Pierre Brice, Scilia Gabel, Herbert A.E. Böhme, Wolfgang Preiss, Dany Carrel




Here is a lesson horror movies have taught me: people who live in unusual houses are evil, every one of ‘em. Basement laboratories, soaring castles, Scottish manor houses, derelict farmhouses, caves, crypts, cabins, and communes. Anything a realtor might describe as a “unique property!” is bad news. And to that list, we can now add mills, not that we couldn’t have figured that one out for ourselves. This movie finds a handsomely bland young man (Pierre Brice, a Frenchman mostly famous for playing an Apache chief on German TV, why not?) arriving at the unabashedly sinister windmill home of one Prof. Gregorius Wahl (Herbert Böhme, the Christopher-Lee-starring Krimi PUZZLE OF THE RED ORCHID), a renowned something-or-other whose home serves as a kind of wax museum for scenes of historical women being tortured or killed. Cheerful, and totally not suspicious.


Wahl has a lovely Sophia-Lauren-esque* daughter (Scilia Gabel, THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS**) who totally wants to jump the French dude’s bones, but the professor and his creepy doctor assistant (Wolfgang Preiss, who took over as the nefarious Dr. Mabuse in that film series following the death of original actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge) tell him to leave her alone, that she suffers from a strange disease which will kill her if she has any kind of extreme emotion. Sizing up this dorky Frenchman, I don’t think she looks to be in particular danger of death from overwhelming ecstasy, but you know how parents are. The girl is persistent, though, and her prey is French, so after an ill-advised soft-focus tryst leads to her apparent death, our heroic philanderer is plunged into a surreal nightmare of guilt and dreamlike horror involving mysterious statuary. Or… is it a dream at all?!




Obviously this one’s got some thematic similarities to classics like HOUSE OF WAX and EYES WITHOUT A FACE (both of which preceded it by a couple years). But surprisingly, it actually has quite a bit of charm of it’s own. 1960 was just before the dawn of the giallo horror era in Italy (Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY was the same year, but THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH was still three years off) and this one shows all the telltale signs of a horror tradition still firmly rooted in the cinematic language of yesteryear, but perhaps subconsciously extending curious tendrils to the boundaries of something new. It’s consummately atmospheric; cinematographer Pier Ludovico Pavoni (...? TIKO AND THE SHARK? that ring any bells?) paints his images in muted greys and blues, creating a murky, muddy look despite the crisp technicolor. He lingers on the grotesque wax figurines, soaking in their gruesome realism juxtaposed with their waxy affectation of human life. It’s a world of grim fog hanging heavy in a iron gray sky, and populated by standoffish, prickly eccentrics who can almost certainly be counted on to be up to something sinister. Even without being explicit, there’s something recognizably Italian in its prurient implications.




It’s silly, of course, but the atmospheric approach benefits it tremendously, playing off the subtly perverse screenplay and metamorphosing into something eerie and vaguely nightmarish. The youngsters don’t do much with their underwritten characters, but both Böhme and Preiss are pretty compelling villains. Like Dr. Phibes in the series bearing his name, or Dr. Génessier from EYES WITHOUT A FACE, Böhme and Preiss play somewhat complicated villains, dangerous and diabolical, but also sympathetic in a misguided sort of way. They both have serious reservations about what they’re doing (and, realistically, it’s not too hard to figure out what they’re up to given the simplicity of the premise here… in fact, the biggest surprise is that at first it seems to be going in a different direction) but they feel that they have no choice. You gotta miss these old mad scientist type films. I kinda noted the passing of that trope when I was talking about THE DEVIL COMMANDS; seems like horror cinema these days no longer has much space for the complicated villains of yesteryear. Alas, it also seems to have little use for slow-burn, eerie atmospheric horror dreams like this one. All the more reason to treasure these old gems when you happen to dig ‘em up.


*She is especially Sophia-Lauren-esque, having begun her career as Lauren’s body double.

**Oh good, he got some revenge? Finally, closure!




CHAINSAWNUKAH 2014 CHECKLIST!
The Hunt For Dread October

  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: Supposedly adapted from Flemish Tales by Pieter Van Weigen. However, I can find no evidence that such a person ever existed. This is his only credit, and a search online for the name reveals only hits for this movie. According to the Mondo Macabro DVD notes, the inclusion of this detail may have been an effort by the marketing department to tie the film to a classic writer (in this case, though, a fictional one) in the tradition of the many Poe et al adaptations which were popular at the time.
  • SEQUEL: None
  • REMAKE: None
  • FOREIGNER: Italian-French coproduction
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: No
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: None
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: None, although Wolfgang Preiss was known from the last few entries in Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse series.
  • BOOBIES: None, though about the maximum possible amount of cleavage physically possible to show on a movie screen.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: No
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Significant loss of wax statue limbs, which in this case I believe counts.
  • HAUNTED HOUSE: No
  • MONSTER: None
  • THE UNDEAD: There is a theme about reviving the dead.
  • POSSESSION: None
  • SLASHER/GIALLO: No
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): Definitely
  • EVIL CULT: No
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: Hell yeah, finally some creepy mannequins!
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Yes, (obvious SPOILER) women into wax dummies
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: High. Ought to be better known.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: People in unusual houses should be avoided at all costs, and anyone with a collection of wax figures even more so.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: There is a mill. The women are wax, not stone, but the people in the movie inexplicably call it "The Mill of the Stone Women" so I guess it's still accurate.
  • ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: N/A


Monday, December 22, 2014

Marianne

Marianne (2011)
Dir. and written by Filip Tegstedt
Starring Thomas Hedengran, Dylan M. Johansson, Sandra Larsson, Peter Stormare,




What we got is here is an interesting and enjoyable Swedish family drama, with a very, very light sprinkling of horror. Probably in all honesty a little too light, at least for me. The horror is pretty well done when it comes, but cumulatively there’s probably only 10 minutes spread out across the 103 minute runtime. The rest of the time, it’s a quiet and prickly family drama about a father (Thomas Hedengran, FROSTBITE) estranged from his teenage daughter (Sandra Larsson, MARIANNE) following the death of his wife. And it’s a good quiet and prickly family drama about a father estranged from his teenage daughter following the death of his wife. But that’s what you’re gonna get here, so fair warning.


Basically, Krister, the dad, is a very repressed, reserved guy --even by Swedish standards-- trying to deal with his pain over the recent death of his wife and his guilt that he has been a pretty shitty husband and father. The first thing we see in the film is him ruining his family’s vacation by secretly sneaking away to call his mistress. But he’s not all bad; he seems to be trying the best he can to be a good father to his daughter now. It’s just that he hasn’t really earned the right to be taken seriously by her, and she resents him trying to step into her life now that her mom is gone. She’s openly defying him and mostly living with her dorky pothead boyfriend “Stiff” (Dylan M. Johansson, Swedish citizen) despite her father’s obvious need for help caring for his newborn child, her baby brother.

Sittin' Pretty

But Krister has another problem, too. When he goes to sleep, he’s visited by a mysterious ghost, who likes to stand around grinding its horrible teeth almost touching him. This is the horror part, but boy, just like THE CANAL it seems likely there’s another explanation for why he’s experiencing this. When he’s pushed into seeing psychiatrist Peter Stormare (BAD BOYS II, BRUSIER) to help him deal with his stress, he’s gently told that this is a common phenomenon called “sleep paralysis” and that many people suffer from it, particularly when they are experiencing severe stress, hint, hint. Unhappy with that explanation, he turns to his daughter’s boyfriend, who suspects a more supernatural explanation and has some experience in this realm because he once saw an elf. When he was young.


All this raises a very important question: who the hell would ever go to Peter Stormare for psychiatric help? Absolutely guaranteed to leave you more crazy than you began, that’s been his M.O since at least the early 90s.* But also, are we really supposed to seriously entertain the idea that this man is being menaced by a literal ghost? It sure doesn’t seem like it, especially since his best source of information on the subject is the goofy pothead boyfriend. It does have some interesting discussion of Swedish folklore -- the experience of sleep paralysis has long been known as “Mare” in that country’s legend-- but come on, I’m pretty sure we’re not meant to believe this is real just because some Swedish stoner (and not even an acceptably metal one) claims an elf sighting somewhere in his past. I mean, I saw Bjork once too, but I dunno man.


Not that the ambiguity is a bad thing, exactly -- the movie treats the haunting episodes very seriously, and has a nicely creepy aesthetic for them (the tooth-grinding noise is genuinely a bit rattling, expect to hear it ripped off in an American movie soon). You certainly believe Krister is traumatized by the experience, but from our perspective his story is more tragic than terrifying -- he’s a flawed guy grappling with his guilt and subconsciously projecting this turmoil into his dreams. There’s actually something kind of sweet and vulnerable about this closed-off, macho guy feeling so persecuted and cornered that he’s turned to some moron teenager in a desperate attempt to free himself. Yes, he looks ridiculous chanting and throwing seeds around to dispel the evil spirit, but it’s sort of sad, too. He’s so desperate that he’ll submit to the indignity of talking about elves and fairies, but he still can’t bring himself to look inward for an answer -- the stuff inside is just too painful.

No, no, happy trees!

So it’s an interesting and effective character piece, but as a horror movie it leaves a little to be desired. I think writer/director Filip Tegstedt is serious about making a real horror film --he personally financed the film by liquidating his assets and taking loans, in part as a protest to the Swedish Film Institute’s perceived failure to support the genre -- but unfortunately I think this particular scenario doesn’t make for a very effectively structured horror movie. Horror is all about escalation; it’s about drawing the noose ever tighter, forcing the characters into more and more desperate and frightening situations. This one starts off not very horrific, and then actually gets less horrific as it goes along, as we learn more about who this guy is and why he’s probably experiencing these things. An abrupt and mostly unsatisfying ending doesn’t help things -- and trying to shoehorn in one last scare to this mostly dramatic tale only serves to disrupt the genuine pathos that has been building with the family conflict. You always gotta appreciate an attempt at a horror film with real dramatic weight, but this one might have been wiser either focusing more on the scary stuff or just dropping it altogether and contenting itself with being a solid relationship drama.


But even though there’s plenty to criticize here, there’s a lot to like, too. The cast is uniformly strong -- both father, daughter, and boyfriend are smartly cast and expertly craft complex characters who feel quite at home in the movie’s universe. There’s a subtle streak of deadpan Swedish humor anchoring the slightly exaggerated tragedy to an earthy, likeable tone that keeps things from getting too grim and self-serious. And the incorporation of Swedish folklore and mythology into the horror genre gives it something fresh and interesting, even if its anthropological tone is maybe a bit at odds with the movie’s apparent desire to terrify (it also makes it an interesting comparison to this year's other interesting-but-too-uneventful Scandinavian "horror" film, THALE). So It’s not a total waste of time by any means. But I wish it were as sure-footed with its genre conceits as it is with everything else. Then we might really have something here.

*OK, I think he’s pretty normal in his tiny role as “young man” in FANNY AND ALEXANDER. But that movie is 312 minutes long and stars the entire population of Sweden at the time, so not a huge surprise that he didn’t get a chance to do his Peter Stormare thing quite as hard as he would in later films.



CHAINSAWNUKAH 2014 CHECKLIST!

The Hunt For Dread October

  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: No
  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: No
  • FOREIGNER: Swedish
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: No
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: None, although it was nice they could get Stormare for this little movie. he even speaks his native language! But he's not in it much.
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: No
  • BOOBIES: None... I don't think so anyway.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: None
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: No
  • HAUNTED HOUSE: This is a distinct possibility, or at least implied
  • MONSTER: No
  • THE UNDEAD: Yes, the titular characer
  • POSSESSION: No
  • SLASHER/GIALLO: No
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: No
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: None
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: No
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: High. Swedish indie horror.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: When you have a guaranteed living wage, free health care, and lots of easy-to-assemble furniture you have to get creative to find some problems in your life.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Marianne is a character in the movie.
  • ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: Yes

This is pretty borderline, but it just didn't feel right to give it the same three thumbs I've been giving to uninspired genre junk. It has some strengths, just not horror. Call it B-.