A collection of disparate foreign tourists on holiday in Iceland, find themselves prey to a family of disgruntled, serial killing ex-whalers when a boating expedition off the coast of Reykjavik goes disastrously wrong in this Icelandic ‘body count’ thriller from Julius Kemp and Sjon Sigurdsson.
With a title as provocative and as instantly memorable as “Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre” you’d be forgiven for expecting this movie to develop along the lines of an out-and-out comedy pastiche of Tobe Hopper‘s classic 1974 film; and for the first ten minutes or so it looks like that is indeed precisely the way it‘s going. The hitch-hiker character who tormented Sally Hardesty and her companions at the beginning of Hopper’s film is brilliantly impersonated, right down to his facially lopsided gurning and twisted, lolloping gait, as his Icelandic cousin pursues the film’s attractive blonde Björk-a-like heroine along the harbour front (you’d think all those would-be whale watchers would bail out there and then, but clearly none of them were fans of ’70s horror) as she rushes to catch her boat before it leaves dock; and if that wasn’t enough of a heads up on the upcoming sea-borne bloodbath, Gunnar Hansen drops in as the sightseeing ship’s captain - just long enough to supply what is allegedly Iceland’s first home-grown horror gore-fest with a handy cult name to plaster above the title on the DVD cover … even though he only sticks around for five minutes before being dispatched in a freak “Omen”-influenced accident.
But once a rather large cast of kill fodder is duly assembled, the film doesn’t have that much further direct relevance to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”; indeed, if anything, its most overt ‘quotation’ derives from “Night of the Living Dead”. The lasting impression the film gives is rather that of having a slightly confused remit: is it aiming for arch humour? social satire? or a bravura display of gory, elaborately staged killing set-pieces? It turns out that the film contains all of these things to some degree, but it’s by no means certain that this uneven mixture results in a fully satisfying experience. The tourists are painted in some fairly broad strokes (indeed, there are so many of them that there would have been little choice about that) and the humour comes dangerously close to unreconstructed racial stereotyping: among the cast, we have a trio of middle-aged German ‘cougars’; an annoying Frenchman who seems to be on loan from “‘Allo ‘Allo!”; a cute but selfish American girl; a boorish, sexist Japanese businessman and his ruthless assistant; a ditzy, hippyish Finnish girl; and a gay black man who is flagged early as being the more ‘heroic and resourceful’ member of the troupe.
The naive young Finnish girl would appear at first to be the film’s most sympathetic character, and she certainly pays a heavy price for her innocence. No sooner has she clambered aboard ship (injuring her knee in the process), and blithely followed one of the handsome crew members back to his cabin, than she ends up being brutally raped for her troubles! The American girl interrupts the act, but isn’t the least bit bothered about the plight of the sobbing Scandinavian fellow passenger. Gunnar Hansen has by now bit the dust and the unpleasant rapist crew member makes a quick get-away in a small motorboat (never to be seen again), leaving our bickering cast of foreigners marooned until a whaling ship shows up to rescue them and take them back to harbour.
Except that’s not what happens.
Instead, the gnarled-looking family of taciturn whalers who kindly take them aboard their vessel, don’t waste time on fruitless attempts to pass themselves off as ‘normal’ fishing folk - only making the most cursory attempt to conceal the severed head that’s stored in the ship’s ice box. Minutes after setting foot on deck, one of the family’s two gibbering troglodyte brothers (Stefan Jonsson) is gleefully plunging a pick axe into the soft skull of a very surprised German woman - and the mayhem begins!
These odd folk are Iceland’s answer to the Sawyer clan, off course. Like their American cousins, they’ve taken to killing tourists who trespass in their bleak waters, apparently out of a grudge borne from the declared illegality of their previous trade in whale meat. “You know what I call ‘Greenpeace’?” asks one of the family’s drooling, resentful brothers, at one point - “Green Piss!” The other two members of this murderous family are a hirsute, broadly-built patriarch (Helgi Björnsson) and his cackling, lank-haired witch-like mother (Gudrun Gisladottir); all three spend the rest of the movie individually hunting down all of the remaining tourists, who, after the pick axe incident, quickly disperse themselves inside the darkened, claustrophobic bowels of the trawler, hoping to avoid a similarly violent fate.
The cinematography trades in a dark and icy realism that belies the over-the-top splatter content dominating the bulk of the film; and while it’s happy to mock the selfish and foolish nature of the collection of tourist protagonists most of the time, it’s the most sympathetic of them who get the harshest treatment - although there is little consistency even in this: one minute you’re rooting for a particular character, the next they’re behaving appallingly. This kind of thing rather tends to leave you feeling quite detached about their fates after a while. Even the young girl who gets raped and then later strung up, stripped and smeared in some kind of bloody whale grease, ends up becoming exceptionally annoying when her naivety extends to the conviction that a killer whale that threatens her and one of the others when they attempt to escape in a rubber dingy, would happily tow them both back to shore if they attracted its attention! While it’s diverting enough (and certainly well-made and beautifully shot in a grim and moody kind of way), and despite the cast being slightly more diverse and interesting than the usual bunch of attractive teens who make up the prey in hundreds of similar body count slashers, it never really provides that much more than these films in the end, and lacks sufficient focus and the sheer nerve-shredding intensity of its namesake and inspiration. Indeed, its most inspired moment seems to have come when the director thought up the title.
The DVD from E1 Entertainment provides a decent looking transfer of what is a pretty dark and inky film to begin with. There’s a robust 5.1 audio track though, but absolutely no extras aside from a few trailers.