A few months back our own Black Gloves sent over a region 2 DVD review of an Icelandic film entitled Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre. I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud when I read that title, but, despite the fact that Black Gloves essentially summed up his review by saying “the most inspired thing about the film is its title”, it all sounded goofy enough that I knew I just had to see it for myself. I recently had the opportunity, as Image has released the film stateside under the slightly shorter moniker, Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre.
The film opens with a nauseating bit of newsreel footage showing the whaling industry in its heyday, prior to all of those pesky government restrictions and tree-hugging ecological advocacy groups that popped up in the 70's and 80's. We are then introduced to Annette (Pihla Vitala), a whale-loving tourist whose hipster friend has ditched her in favor of a local rock band, forcing her to go solo on a whale watching excursion. Annette races to the docks to join a disparate group of fellow travelers, including a bitchy trio of middle-aged German women; the demanding Japanese businessman, Nobuyoshi (Carlos Takeshi), his wife, Yuko (Miwa Yanagizawa), and their “assistant”, Endo (Nae); alcoholic Frenchman Jean Francois (Aymen Hamdouchi); and the newly acquainted “couple” Marie-Anne (Miranda Hennessey) and Leon (Terrence Anderson) aboard a whaling-vessel-turned-sightseeing-barge helmed by Captain Petur (Gunnar Hansen).
As the boat heads out into open water, Annette catches the eye of the ship’s first mate, who lures the gullible girl into his cabin and rapes her. Meanwhile, above deck, Jean Francois makes a scene by climbing up into the crow's nest, forcing Captain Petur to intervene, but he’s mortally wounded when the drunken Frenchmen accidentally triggers a spear gun making his descent. Marie-Anne rushes to find the first mate, barging into his quarters where she finds him forcing himself on Annette. She tells him that he’s needed above, but, once the mate sees what’s happened to Petur, he smashes the ships controls, boards the lifeboat, and motors away, leaving the tourists stranded at sea. It isn’t long, however, before help arrives in the guise of a mysterious fisherman (Helgi Björnsson), but, rather than take them back to the docks, he brings them to a derelict ship floating in a remote harbor. Once onboard, the fisherman introduces his guests to his family, and, before you can say “hammer to the forehead”, his true intentions are revealed.
Harpoon is an obvious homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, borrowing several elements from the classic film (not the least of which being Leatherface, himself) and retrofitting them to fit into a sort of pitch black eco-spoof. Here “the family” are former whalers suffering from the economic impact of the death of their chosen profession, while their victims are animal lovers and eco-advocates; the very people who helped champion said profession’s demise. Much of the humor is subtle – so subtle, in fact, that many of the negative reviews I’ve read about the film question as to whether or not it’s meant to be taken seriously at all. I think the title, alone, should be a dead giveaway, but, once the carnage kicks into high gear, it becomes pretty obvious that director, Júlíus Kemp, and screenwriter, Sjón Sigurdsson, made this one with tongues firmly planted in cheek. Sure, there are some disturbing bits, such as Annette’s rape and subsequent “baptism” in blood, but they’re balanced by a lot of chuckle-inducing death scenes, a few wry one-liners, and an absolute howler of an ending that is the textbook definition of irony. It’s all shot in a gritty, grainy style reminiscent of Hooper’s film, but Kemp flexes enough of his own horror chops to keep it from being entirely derivative.
Harpoon sets sail on Blu-ray, sporting a somewhat grimy 2.35:1 transfer that’s a bit rough around the edges, just like the film, itself. This is a movie that’s meant to look “ugly”, however, with perpetually overcast skies, a desaturated color palette, and an emphasis on drab blacks and grays. The dark aesthete and abundant grain make for an occasionally soft image, but there are moments of surprising clarity, where fine detail is evident. While I’ve obviously not seen the film in theaters, I think it’s safe to say this transfer is pretty much what Harpoon is meant to look like.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track boasts crisp, organic sounding dialogue (despite being an Icelandic production, most of the dialogue is in English, while the Japanese, German, French, and Icelandic languages are subtitled), but is otherwise uneventful. Surrounds get an occasional workout with ambient noise, but, for the most part, the film is mixed up front and center, with less than aggressive activity in the sub.
Extras include a short featurette entitled Behind-the-Scenes with Gunnar Hansen, which features the actor discussing what drew him to the film, as well some raw footage, and sound bites from other players. I found it a bit odd that Hansen took center stage here seeing as how his role is little more than a glorified cameo, but, then again, he’s also probably the only name in the cast viewers will be apt to recognize. Rounding out the extras are a few trailers for this and other Image releases.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre is entirely predicated on how you view the film. If looked at it as a straight horror flick, many will probably dismiss the film as entirely unoriginal (if not wholly unnecessary). However, if viewed as the pitch black spoof/homage that the filmmakers seem to have intended it to be, it’s actually a pretty slick, smart, and funny (not to mention exceptionally gory) little film, and definitely worth a look.