Review: Lake of the Dead [De Dødes Tjern] [1958]

Dir.  Kåre Bergstrøm

Cast:  Henki Kolstad, Henny Moan, Bjørg Engh, Georg Richter, André Bjerke

Norway hasn't produced many horror films over the years. A few cross-over hits, such as DARK WOODS, NEXT DOOR, and more recently DEAD SNOW and the COLD PREY series, have seen some global recognition, but before that Norway's genre output was nearly nonexistent. As a matter of fact, a Norwegian Horror keyword search on IMDb results in only three genre titles being made before 1990, LAKE OF THE DEAD (also released as THE LAKE OF THE DAMNED) is one of these. In fact, it's the earliest Norwegian horror film listed and may actually have the claim on being first horror film produced in that country (to add to it's claim of being the first Norwegian film shot in CinemaScope). While well regarded on its home turf, the film isn't much known outside it's native land, but believe me when I say, it really deserves to be.  

Lake is a well-made, intelligently-written and stunningly photographed dark mystery that keeps you guessing and makes unnerving use of its picturesque outdoor locations.

Six people travel from Oslo to a forest fringed village in Østerdalen to visit a friend in his newly purchased cabin situated deep in the woods. The nearby lake is known for it’s gruesome legacy, a man once murdered his sister and her lover, then drowned himself in the lake. An old legend warns that anyone who resides at the scene of the crime – the murderer’s cabin – will become possessed by a strange force urging them to drown themselves in the lake.

When the travellers arrive at the cabin they find their friend missing, soon after the hapless party discover the body of his dog by the lake – a horrific indication that he may too have fallen prey to the old curse.

Lake of the Dead emerged as a successful surprise in the Norwegian film industry in the 1950s, an era marked by cinematic regression due to serious economic struggles. In 1958 the national film industry debt was finally paid off and the possibilities for new productions laid bare. The choice to adapt Andre Bjerke’s novel "Lake of the Dead" was a smart move (also allowing the author to star in the film too was a brave move by Bergstrom) . His novel was well known and popular among the Norwegian people already, whose experience with horror material until then had been pretty sparse, so it had a ready made audience that guaranteed it a modicum of success.

One of the corner-stones of Norwegian filmmaking, De dødes tjern, has inspired numerous, subsequent Scandinavian and international films in the genre. Technically, Norwegian films of the period were somewhat inferior to their American and European counterparts, but the strength of the source material remains head and shoulders above many of it's contemporaries. The acting - albeit stilted in places - is carried by the compelling performance of Henki Kolstad who imbues his character with a naturalistic persona that gives the viewer a focus of attention throughout, and even the dialogue - although at times, archaic - is suffused with humour that makes the tension inherent in this dark tale even more stark.

From a visual standpoint, it's often breathtaking. The sense of complete isolation in the forest is effectively eerie and the lake itself, dotted with lily pads and often shot glimmering in the moonlight, begins to take on an almost ominous personality of its own as the film progresses. In some ways it is reminiscent of Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, which also contrasts the beauty in nature to more sinister goings-on beyond.

In summary, Lake of the Dead is a cinematic experience not to be missed, even if your horror tastes have never before stretched to Scandinavian classics.

Review copy kindly supplied by

0 Response to Review: Lake of the Dead [De Dødes Tjern] [1958]

Post a Comment