Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lake of the Dead (1958)


It's rarely you come across vintage Scandinavian horror movies, which is kind of weird because in both Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland we have a rich tradition of myths and legends and deep, dark forests that scared the shit out of our ancestors for many years - and still do, believe me. My fathers grandma died when I was a baby, but she was a witch. A real one. With dark long hair, a wart on her nose and a strong belief in ghosts, goblins, trolls and every other supernatural creature living in the nature. I'm one of those boring atheists that doesn't believe in anything, but I love Scandinavian ghost stories. Lake of the Dead is one of those and probably the first horror movie ever made in our neighbouring country Norway. And it's still one of the best.

Six friends, all intellectuals - writes, critics, doctors - travels far out on the countryside to spend the weekend at a cabin in the woods. The brother of one of them is waiting there - they think. But when they arrive he's gone and when they find his diary it tells a haunting story of a ghost coming back for revenge, a one-legged incestuous man who lures his victims to the nearby bottomless lake. Soon strange things happens and they find traces of a one-legged man around the cabin and they soon understand that their lives are at stake...

Together with Rune Hagberg's ...och efter skymning kommer mörker (Sweden, 1947) this is probably the best genre movie made in Scandinavia before the sixties, even if I hold Arne Mattsson's Lady in Black from 1958 very high. But What makes Lake of the Dead so damn good is how simple it is. The story is very straightforward and the script plays on the ideas of the dangerous darkness that surrounds us in the nature, and the eerie desolate lake where no one can hear the screams of a drowning victim. The story balances right between a murder mystery and a supernatural tale and in the end it's quite open on what really happen. I like that. I hate when it's to clear. The ending isn't perfect, for me they could have kept it more mysterious, but what the hell - that was probably as much as the audience could take at the time.

It reminded me of the writings of Nigel Kneale, with a scientific approach to what's happening, but still leaves open for something more unexplainable. Well, maybe it's more the classic horror tales of the BBC that comes to mind: classy, well-acted and with genuine creepiness all the way through. I also like the discussion how magic is a form of science, close to hypnosis and manipulation of the mind from a distance.

I also need tell you that the dialogue is very important in Lake of the Dead. It's a lot of talk, but nothing is unnecessary and all of it, at proper moments, is also very witty and smart. I can't recommend you to watch this without subtitles, it will lower your experience a lot. Sure, there's stunning cinematography and cool scenes of terror - but this is a movie that needs its dialogue. If you want to see it, and I guess you want after this review, it's out on a gorgeous DVD in Norway with English subtitles! Believe it or not!

A Norwegian masterpiece in horror, there's no excuse to not buy it! 

12 comments:

Phantom of Pulp said...

Sounds great!

What a good Norwegian on-line store for purchasing it?

Jesper said...

Great review, Great movie!

Anonymous said...

Interesting.....are you going to do a review of "...och efter skymning kommer mörker"...?

Never heard of this one....would be curious to read more about it Ninja....

vwstieber said...

Yes, I'd love to know where I can find a copy, please !

Ninja Dixon said...

I might do a review of Efter Skymning... but I don't know when. It's a great, great movie!

I've been checking around, but can't find any store outside norway selling it :/

Anonymous said...

Ninja:Please do that review....as I said...never heard about "Efter Skymning" before.

Jesper said...

Do you know where I can buy och efter skymning kommer mörker? It sounds amazing!

Ninja Dixon said...

It's not available to buy :/

I've seen it because I've done research, but it was a copy I watched from the Statens Ljud och Bildarkiv if I don't remember it wrong.

Anonymous said...

Ninja: Fuck....no wonder efter skymning kommer mörker is so obscure.....well....do you think you could go to Statens Ljud och Bildarkiv and see if you could find a copy of Peter Watkins swedish productions...?

He made some more films in Sweden apart from Gladiatorerna (1969)...

Jack J said...

Hahaha, I've raved about this film on two different blogs, on Facebook, and on various message boards, and nobody gave a fuck. And you write a review and everyone is creaming themselves. Haha. Well, I guess that's alright.

Great review, Fred, and you're spot on it's one of the very best Nordic horror films of yester-year. I have no idea as to why we didn't make more horror films earlier on. I guess they were looked down upon by the "elite".

And even today it's almost as if the companies don't believe in these films. When I learnt about Lake of the Dead (via a recording from tv in Norway) I hassled Nordisk Film to release a dvd and argued they ought to release it all over Scandinavia but, well, you know how it went. They only wanted a limited release for Norway. Nobody in Denmark knows about this film besides me. Such a pity.

Is the "Statens Ljud och Bildarkiv" archive open to the public via the public libraries? Is it possible to borrow "Efter skymning kommer mörker" thru the library do you think?

Phantom of Pulp said...

Jack or Ninja -- is there a website with an English-friendly interface available where the film can be purchased. The price is not an issue; I must see this.

Any recs would be appreciated.

Ninja Dixon said...

It was some years ago, but I remember you could see the movie if you was working with some kind of project related to it. At this time was was working with a documentary about it and then it was easy get access to it.

A doc that never will happen, even if we have tons of great material.