Berserker: The Nordic Curse 1987 Review
Directed by: Jefferson Richard
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Greg Dawson, Valerie Sheldon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Aaaaah the killer in the woods flick. That popular style of slasher that we saw in abundance for years, but seems to have disappeared for a while now. What a collection of times we spent together, from the superb parties (Just Before Dawn, Trampa Infernal) to the vomit laden hangovers (Camp Blood, Blood Reaper)…
All slashers need a gimmick and here we have an awesome one. A Berserker is a Scandinavian warrior from Viking times that has been listed in Norse literature since the period of Icelandic conquests from as early as 1015. Berserkers were kept tied in chains and used as the first line of assault during raids, because they were reputedly immune to fire and iron and would stride in to battle in a trance like rage. It was these vicious titans in bear like capes -(hence ber (Old Norse for bear), sekr (coat) – who brought the word ‘berserk’ in to the Germanic language family.
History is sketchy on what gave them such a ruthless psychosis, although nowadays it is believed that they were either drugged on hallucinogenic mushrooms or pumped full of alcohol. They were also considered to be the royal guard of the Pagan god, Odin, which is a poo poo to the film’s synopsis, which states that they were cursed by him and forbidden a restful death. The screenwriters also state that they can be awoken from the dead by a member of their blood kin.
Now present day America and a group of fun loving college kids set out to explore a remote woodland. As they joyfully embark on their mission, they have no idea of the horrendous surprise that fate has in store for them…
There are no surprises here and the plot sticks close to the general slasher sense of things for the most part. For example there’s the classic over clichéd ‘camp-fire tale’ scene, where low and behold one of the group jumps out to give everyone a good old scare. Then they all split up to have sex, drink beer and get killed and the movie ticks all the boxes in its effort to stick to the guidelines of Friday the 13th. Jefferson Richard who had worked in cinema for years as a producer and still does to this day, did a fair job with building a horror environment. Some of the stalking sequences in the forest were nicely lighted and the fog helped to add to the feeling of desolation. He pulls off one effective false scare too and in a strange move, he inter-cuts the most graphic killing with a sex scene. In fact on recollection, the film is quite ‘weirdly’ edited. It cuts away from the action in parts with no real rhyme or reason and although it doesn’t drastically have an effect on the runtime, there were some unusual decisions on show.
There’s a couple of hot chicks and a bit of nudity, which in 1987 was the general slasher theme and a few of the deaths were bloody enough to get it cropped by the BBFC. Also, in it’s attempt to be somewhat mysterious, it ends up quite jumbled as the filmmakers overuse footage of a bear during the kill scenes as a red herring. Thing is, by the end, it just gives the revelation a kind of ‘WTF’ feel instead of one of, ‘damn I never dreamed it could be him’. Either the guy in the mask at the end had been talking to Arnold from Psychic Killer fame and had mastered out of body travel (if so why weren’t we informed?), or the bear is the bogeyman. If that’s the case, why call the damn thing Berserker and not Bear Massacre?The second half of the runtime makes sense, but I still have only the vaguest of ideas who was killing everyone early on. Was it you? Was it me? Does anybody know???.
Most of the cast are only here to up the eye candy meter, but one of the better actors was remarkable Hal Holbrook lookalike, John Goff. You might have seen him along with George ‘Buck’ Flowers – who is also here – playing small parts in Carpenter classics such as The Fog, They Live and more recently Body Bags. Buck also earned a role in the late eighties entry Cheerleader Camp and together they wrote the screenplay for the 1976 proto-slasher Drive in Massacre. I was even more intrigued when I found out that another cast member, Joseph Alan Johnson, wrote 1988′s cheese on snow epic, Iced. The six degrees of Berserker, if you will.
Another thing worth mentioning is the soundtrack. It looks pretty obvious that the director had a couple of mates who were in a rock band at the time and he let them record the songs for his film. They’ve done the job exceedingly well. Sorry I’m joking, they’re terrible! Here are a couple of the lyrics from one of the songs that the track listing shows as being called ‘Cool Dude’: “STOP telling me what to do about this, STOP telling me all about that. I don’t wanna hear it, cos that ain’t where it’s at!” It then breaks into the worst chorus in pop history which goes something like: “Cos I’m a coooool dude” – repeat ad nauseum. Lately, if I ever get depressed I’ve simply fast forwarded to that scene and turned my TV up to the max. You’d be surprised how soon it cheers me up.
Rounded up I can safely say that Berserker goes where you think it will, does what you think it might and never tries to add any class or originality to the template. It certainly leaves too many survivors and was in need of an injection of motivation from the maniac. Such a good idea for a story deserved a better slashertastic outing if you ask me. Slow paced, but saved from total disaster by a few nice directorial additions. Perhaps only fans who aren’t that picky need apply.
Final Girl √