Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Strung Out on Slashers: BERSERKER (1987)

It’s that time of the year again. The weather gets crisp, the leaves are falling and our sofas get even more comfortable. The smell of fir trees and roasted meats; exotic spices and fresh-baked sweets makes our thoughts turn to a subject that is near and dear to our hearts here at VJHQ… yes, it’s time to stoke the Yule logs, whip up a hot beverage and settle in for some really bad slasher movies.

Back in the day when this hit video the box copy did its job and sucked me in with promises of a Viking warrior on a blood-soaked rampage, cutting swath through the scum of the western world… pot-smoking promiscuous teens. Holy shit! This could be the greatest movie ever! Or not.

Opening with a prologue set (as we are informed by a title card) in the 10th century, the front of a Viking longship hits a fog shrouded beach and after a long pause to observe clouds of mist float past the camera, what appears to be a reject from a Man-o-War cover-band audition, in a wolf mask, jumps off the boat. Cut to what we presume is present day (did the title guy fall asleep already?) and a couple, clearly eligible for the silverhair discount at Denny’s, are savagely attacked by what appears to be a bear. You can’t really tell as it is all POV shots with the paw from a cheap bear costume gently wiped across the faces of the victims leaving a smear of blood. Hey, it could get better, right?

Yes, in case you are keeping track, that was two prologues. We finally arrive at the main plot; a group of unsurprisingly obnoxious teens (surprisingly not ethnically diverse), loaded down with beer and pot and books (!), head up to an old camping ground with some of the shittiest cabins you can imagine. When one of the plot conveniences revolves around the renters of one of the cabins not actually staying in the cabin, but preferring to sleep in their tent, it is actually really easy to accept. The camp grounds are run by one “Pappy” Nyquist (George “Buck” Flower in a rare non-transient role), an Amish-bearded old salt with a Swedish accent. Pappy is cousin to the local Sherriff (trash movie veteran John Goff), and spends most of his free time reading books about Viking mythology. One of the tomes is actually the same as the one that the nerd teen, Larry (Rodney Montague, no really), is reading aloud on the trip up to the cabin. The book tells the history of the Viking berserkers, who were cannibals, kept on chains and in cages, and outfitted in wolf skins and wolf masks that they would use to tear up their victims. After the berserkers died it is said that their spirit remains on this earth and will possess its descendants. It is believed that the Vikings landed on US shores and this very patch of woodlands is where their ancestors still live to this day…
Ok, ok, we get it already! Someone’s gonna git possessed by a berserker and shit’s gonna go down! Awesome, bring it!

Or, maybe we’ll just wander around in the woods, hang out in the cabin and bitch, piss and moan about every goddamn thing under the everlovin’ sun. Mostly though, it’s just the obnoxious tool Josh (Greg Dawson) who tells his heart-wrenching tale of how his dad was an asshole who was obsessed with his job, left his mom, but when they came up to the cabin he was, like, totally cool n’ stuff. It’s no surprise that he is the only dude flying solo on this camping trip, as his eloquent mastery of the sublime art of humor is demonstrated frequently. When Larry brings books on the camping trip, Josh leans over to Larry’s girlfriend, Kathy (Valerie Sheldon), and says “does he read to you while you hump? What are ya gonna do? Teach Smokey the Bear to read?” He also tells the group about how the woods are dangerous as a little girl was found “all tore up” in a river. The authorities decided that it was due to the rocks in the river, in spite of the recent bear warning. Oh yeah, that’s great, thanks for bringing us up here Josh!

Naturally all this is a set-up for the impending attacks, but first we need to hit some of the important highlights from the ‘80s Slasher Movie Checklist. The highlight of this pawful of clich├ęs grueling montage with the “teens” goofing off to an awe-inspiringly cheesy rock tune “Cool Dude”. Since words cannot do this justice, here’s the video:

And yes, we ticked off another one on the list, the skinny dipping scene in which the writer-director Jeff Richard decides he is a rebel filmmaker who is going to buck the system by having the girl start to take off her clothes and then decide not to. Hmmmmm… Let’s see, Jeff doesn’t want to see boobs, but does want to see two men greased up and stripped to the waist grappling and rolling around on the ground. Uhhh, Jeff? Is there something you would like to share with the group?


When we finally hit number 14 on Kasey Kasem’s top ‘80s Slasher Hits (which as we all know is the girl going off to go pee while camping at night), the perpetually giggling Mike (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Shelly (Beth Toussaint) go look for our pee-girl, Kristi, and decide to just have sex in the woods. I was a teenager once, I can totally see that. Apparently Mike and Shelly, in spite of having the quietest sex ever, are completely oblivious to Kristi’s screams, as she is mauled by what appears to be a bear. So now at the hour plus mark, we get to the attacks, but is it a possessed kin of a Viking warrior, or is it a bear?! Ummmm, yeah, what? We get the big Viking set-up and now Richard is desperately trying to make us think that a killer bear is stalking the woods.

Even after giving us the first prologue and our exciting premise of possession, Richard spends a lot of time trying to suggest that it’s a bear who is running around the woods attacking people and that there is in fact no berserker as the title would suggest! Nope, it’s a bear and we are going to move forward with that until the end in which… surprise! It actually is a berserker! Gosh, I bet they won’t see that coming, what a surprise that will be! Jeff, come here so I can smack you. At this point we discover that the bear was actually chasing the berserker who runs in out of nowhere and bum-rushes the bear like he’s some buffed out Leslie Nielson. Our epic throwdown between berserker and bear turns into a trainer and a bear playing cut with the berserker wrasslin' a dude in a Spencer's Halloween costume. Even better, as soon as the bear starts to get the upper... uhh, paw, our berserker tucks his tail between his legs and runs off into the forest howling for his momma!

Best cabin... EVAR!!
Twenty years later I am sucked in (again) by the premise and the promise of a Viking berserker bustin’ all Jason Voorhees on some nitwit campers and twenty years later I get to feel the same disappointment all over again. That is not to say that there aren’t any points of interest along the way. Josh is totally obsessed with staying at the same cabin that he stayed at while growing up. He makes a big deal about it, damn near throws down with ol' Pappy when he can't get it and generally will not shut the fuck up about it. Once they get there, you can see why... Mike, once he stops giggling, is a runaway freight train of social incompetence. When he hops on an ATV to go get the sheriff, he tells a terrified Kathy that she has to stay at the cabin. Why? Because “I can drive faster with less weight!” Hoooboy, Mike, I’d rather take my chances with the berserker!

As long as your expectations are very, very low and your pain threshold is very, very high, you might get out of this one alive. All others beware, unless you are a "Cool Dude".

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