First held over a weekend in 1996, the Night Visions Film Festival in Helsinki, Finland has steadiy grown to become an increasing important force in Scandanavia, expanding to twice-yearly editions in the spring and fall, and expanding its showcase beyond horror to include action thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre films.
Helsinki is a beautiful city, negating the effect of springtime temperatures that hovered in the 30s, and the downtown district is filled with pedestrians and trams, making a daily trip between our accomodation and the festival screening facilities exceedingly pleasant. The festival kicked off with the local premiere of Sean Penn's The Gunman, which might seem an odd choice until it's pointed out that Finnish star Peter Franzen has a key supporting role in the thriller; the audience in the lovely Maxim theater responded very warmly to his personal appearance to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.
We were there, however, to see the latest crop of horror movies as they debuted in the Nordic region. Finns are taught English and Swedish in school, in addition to their native language, so while Finnish subtitles are helpful, English-language fright flicks played quite well, making it clear that horror is a universal language for moviegoers.
Burying the Ex
The latest from director Joe Dante (Gremlins) is a light horror comedy starring Anton Yelchin as a young man who's on the verge of breaking up with his increasingly annoying girlfrield (Ashley Greene) when she is killed in an accident. He is pulled out of his grief-stricken funk by the very appealing Alexandra Daddario, but things get complicated when his old girlfriend comes back from the dead. It's a fun movie, and it played great on a big screeen before a good crowd. It opens in select theaters in the U.S. on June 19.
Talk about cross-cultural horror stories! This comedy pokes fun at American horror movies set at summer camps with a decidedly demented point of view. Here a bus filled with American kids -- played by British and Swedish actors -- stops by the "American Burger" meat-processing factory, only to discover to their dismay that the company insists on making their burgers with fresh Americans of the human variety. The low-brow approach knitted together by directors Bonita Drake (British) and Johan Bromander (Swedish) is very raw but should appeal to those who enjoy Troma-style horror in the U.S., where it's expected to strike a distribution deal soon.
Horror movies have long suffered from a disreputable reputation in Germany, which is probably why so few have emerged over the years. Now comes a trio of short films from the extreme side of horror, filled with disturbing behavior, explicit violence, and exposed body parts. Thus, we can't show you the NSFW adults-only trailer here -- though more adventurous viewers can legally watch it elsewhere -- but we can say that it's an extremely well-made and provocative picture that is sure to stir up discussion. It will play at select film festivals in the U.S. later this year.
Serial Killer Culture
The interview subjects in this documentary are readily aware that their "morbid fascination" with serial killers marks them as strange or different, yet how different are they, really, from those of us who are willing to watch just about any horror movie featuring a serial killer? John Borowski's film quickly becomes an engrossing look into the lives of ordinary people who can't help but be drawn to learn more about murderous figures who have committed terrible crimes. The doc held the audience rapt; the good news is that it's already available on DVD and Netflix in the U.S.
Bonus: I Am Thor
If you've never attended a genre film festival, you might be surprised to see a title like I Am Thor pop up. It's a lively documentary about Jon Mikl Thor, a cheerful fellow whose entertainment career began in the late 1960s, eventually leading him on a bewildering trip through highs and lows, appearing in Las Vegas, making records, acting in little-remembered movies, and, mostly, touring all over the world as a rock singer. His never-say-die attitude is infectious, and the film is filled with his low-key, rioutously funny misfires. It also has rude language and occasional nudity in photographs and archival footage. Thor eventually makes a touring stop in Finland, which drew a loud reaction from the audience. This is the kind of movie that will please fans of horror comedies: a bit rough but tremendously appealing.