The weather is getting cooler, the sun is appearing less and less and the melancholic atmosphere is casting a shadow over the Nordic region. The kind of horror that Scandinavian produces includes many bone-chilling offerings – though as Nordic film fans we’ve come to expect dark stories among the fjords, glaciers, and abandoned wooden cottages nestled above the arctic circle.
By their nature, films from this region offer the audience a complex and deeply dark kind of horror that will make this years Halloween all the more scary – we’ve compiled a list of the best of the best in Nordic horror to keep you busy and on the edge of your seats this Saturday night!
The Phantom Carriage
Starting in the silent era, The Phantom Carriage is a Swedish silent film considered to be one of the major pieces in the history of Swedish cinema. The film was directed by and stars Victor Sjöström (known for his appearance in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries) and follows the story of a group of drunkards as they recount horror tales. The film was noted for its special effects and narrative structure, both of which are known to have inspired Bergman himself.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages
Häxan is a 1922 Swedish/Danish silent film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen. Based on Christensen’s study of the Malleus Maleficarum (a 15th century German guide describing witches), Häxan is a study of how superstition and misunderstandings lead to the hysteria of witch hunts. The film was intended as a documentary, but the stylisation and dramatised sequences are comparable to horror films. This film is one of the shining examples of Scandinavian silent film, and you’d want to hope so considering it was also the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made – costing 2 million SEK. The film was so controversial that it was banned in the US!
Hour of the Wolf
It can’t be a Halloween night without some Ingmar Bergman -and we believe Hour of the Wolf is the best pick of his collection. This 1968 film stars Bergman favourite Max von Sydow, and takes us to a remote Scandinavian island as an artist, while vacationing with his pregnant wife, has an emotional breakdown while confronting his repressed desires. This is one of the true highlights of Nordic horror as it doesn’t have the ghouls and folklore-inspired characters we are used to today, but instead uses Bergman’s psychological narratives in a perfect way – to scare us!
Cold Prey is one among a string of Norwegian horror films to be released in the last decade (in fact – you could almost have an entirely Norwegian horror Halloween there are so many of them). In Cold Prey, the Norwegian icey mountains are used to evoke horror as Morten Tobias breaks his leg while snowboarding with friends. They seek shelter in an abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere, and discover that the hotel was closed because the son of the owners vanished in the mountains. They soon discover they are trapped in the hotel with a psychopath killer and have to protect themselves to survive.
Dead Snow is a Norwegian zombie film that was released in 2009. The film follows a group of students surviving a Nazi zombie attack in the mountains of Norway. The film was so successful at the time that they have now released a sequel. The film has its roots in Scandinavian folklore – basing the premise of a draugr, which is an undead creature greedily protecting its (often stolen) treasures.
“When we were about to sit down and write the actual script, we started thinking ‘What is more evil than a zombie’? A Nazi-zombie! We have a really strong war-history up in the north of Norway from World War Two, so it was fun to combine actual events with our own story. And you know Nazis have always been the ultimate villains in movies. Combine that with zombies and you really get something that no one would sympathise with.” – Tommy Wirkola, director of Dead Snow
If you love horror but also need a chuckle, Frostbite is for you. This Swedish film takes place in a small town in northern Sweden during the middle of winter. I know what you’re thinking – this is the perfect environment for vampires! The lack of sun and long dark hours make it perfect for this Ukrainian vampire clan who are descendants from Swedish volunteers serving with an SS regiment during World War II. In present day Sweden these vampires wreak havoc on the small remote town. At the time, Frostbite was the most special-effects heavy production ever made.
Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In is a Swedish horror film that follows a bullied twelve year old boy who develops a friendship with a vampire child in a outer suburb of Stockholm in the early 1980s. This film is unique in the sense that it doesn’t focus on horror and vampire conventions, but rather looks at the relationship between the boy and the girl. Let the Right One In received critical acclaim when it was released in 2008, and has since been remade in the USA.
When Animals Dream
When Animals Dream is a Danish horror film that follows Marie, a shy nineteen year old girl living in a remote fishing village in Denmark with her father Thor (Lars Mikkelsen) and mother (Sonja Richter), who is comatose and confined to a wheelchair. Marie becomes concerned about a rash on her chest, and even moreso when she starts to grow hair. As Marie’s body undergoes more changes, she begins to realise that her family has been hiding strange secrets and that her mothers current condition may relate to what Marie is going through. When Animals Dream is a recent release, debuting at Cannes just last year. The film has been well received, and is a fresh take at Scandinavian horror that will keep you guessing!
Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre
Back to the comedy/horror genre, Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre was described by TwitchFilm as ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a boat’ and has been likened as Iceland’s first horror film. We know it got horrible ratings, but this film has such an enjoyable presence that you can enjoy it for its sheer stupidity. A group of tourists on a whale watching trip get stranded on their boat when the captain dies in a freak accident and the rapist first mate leaves (because of course he does). Coming to their rescue is a shady looking man who takes them to his whaler where his mother and mentally challenged brother. Once aboard, the crazed family begins to attack.
Last but not least is Frost, an Icelandic/Finnish horror film about physiologist Agla and filmmaker Gunnar who wake up at a glacier camp to find that it’s mysteriously been abandoned. When searching for the lost team they realise they are up against a deadly force. The film plays off like one of those ‘found footage’ horror flicks and uses the traditional Scandinavian elements of slow pacing in the narrative. The film uses its icy setting to its full advantage, and that is the strongest element of this horror film.