Released in the UK with the prefix title of Harpoon, presumably to help Brits who can’t spell Reykjavik when searching for it at Amazon, Julius Kemp’s Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre offers something a little different as it presents Icelandic horror to a largely unsuspecting world.
Aside from a few highbrow exceptions, horrors are often cast away as a secondary genre in the scope of critical reception. Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is certainly demonstrative of this trend as its components are often underwhelming, making the explanation of what makes it enjoyable a less than immediate task.
Prototype Leatherface Gunnar Hansen is the main commercial draw here, although his role as the captain of a doomed whale watching vessel isn’t a primary character. The story itself is very simple. Hansen’s boat breaks down leaving his international motley crew of tourists to be saved by the apparently inbred inhabitants of a decaying fishing boat. Soon enough, our tourists – expecting some queasy seasickness at the worst – are faced with a battle to survive against the limited wit of a crew who make Deliverance’s oddballs look like a cultured collection of sophisticates.
Although the Deliverance and Texas Chain Saw Massacre comparisons are obviously permeated in the film’s essence, the use of splattered, almost comic gore harks back to such video nasties as Bad Taste. These effects aren’t always delivered with great finesse – in some cases the stench of Heinz is almost tangible – but the raw, visceral nastiness easily sparks the synapse that embraces black humoured bloodlust.
The performances work on a similar level. Some of the lines are pure kitsch and the delivery occasionally feels consciously hokey, although there’s no over reliance on this style; they’re balanced out reasonably equally with shaper jokes in which cinematic self-deprecation isn’t on the agenda. Better still, it often spills into satire with the fishbilly crew exulting views that are presumably still prevalent among Iceland’s less progressive citizens.
Atmospherically, Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is measured efficiently. Visually it’s very murky with the resulting claustrophobia generally only broken by the grim slayings, while the sound plays on traditional dynamics that heighten the tourists’ growing sense of panic. In contrast to the comic book elements of the dialogue, the sets look real. It’s no Blair Witch style faux-documentary by any stretch, but the world isn’t too far removed from recognisable reality.
Ultimately Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre will prove to be divisive. It’s too resolutely old school to convince non-believers that horror is a genre worthy of investigation. Yet shock fans and those willing to overlook the film’s rough edges will find a hugely entertaining surfeit of grimaces and grim chuckles.
Oh, and stayed tuned for the credits for Dr. Spock’s metallic take on Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet.