After Scream, many thought we could never go back to making straight up slasher films again. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson had deconstructed the admittedly limited set of “rules” and traditions in these movies pretty damn near perfectly, and the glut of wannabes that followed (including, embarrassingly in hindsight, a Halloween sequel) offered more of the same, quickly exhausting the new lease on life that Scream had bought the all but dead slasher genre.
But all we needed was some time off. New sub-genres re-entered the public conscious, first with the ghost movies in 1999, and then later the “extreme” horror cycle of the mid-00s. So by 2006, slashers started popping up again, much to my delight as it’s my favorite sub-genre of horror (zombies and killer children follow, if you’re curious). Some were just as “meta” as Scream, such as the brilliant Behind The Mask; others paid tribute to the classics but were fused with traditional, good-natured humor (Hatchet comes to mind). So there was still a 'post-Scream' feel to these movies, for better or for worse, as if just going ahead and making a slasher movie as if the last twenty years hadn’t happened would be “wrong” in some way, and that there had to be something for the audience to laugh at in order for a movie to be okay.
Enter Norway. The same year as those films were released in their native US, Norwegian horror fans were blessed with Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt in its native tongue), a largely humor-free, straight up slasher film that succeeds because director Roar Uthaug (who also co-wrote) gets the job done without being ironic or trying to “top” anything else in the genre. The body count is low (4 – the same as Halloween*), the killer’s look is cool but simplistic, and most of it takes place in a two story, not particularly large hotel. In other words, there’s not really anything unique about it; even the kills aren’t particularly memorable. So why do I love it?
Because I love slashers, dammit! And like many fans, I’m tired of seeing post-modern takes on it, or showy, over-complicated entries that get so wrapped up in their “mythology” that they forget to just be slasher movies. I love Halloween and Michael Myers more than anything, but when it comes down to Paul Rudd talking about certain reoccurring constellations in order to explain why Michael Myers kills people, I tune out. Just give me some likable people being picked off one by one by a killer who kills simply because he’s crazy, some good chase/stalk scenes, and at least ONE good jolt moment, and I’m on board.
And that’s exactly what Cold Prey delivers; no less, no more (well a little more, it has TWO good jolts). We meet our group en route to a snowboarding venture, and they’re a pretty charming lot (some groan-inducing dialogue aside, anyway). They’re on their first run when one of them breaks his leg, leading them to seek refuge in a nearby, seemingly abandoned ski lodge. The wound is treated, a stocked bar is discovered, and it’s not too long until they’re all having a good time (even the injured guy) as they wait until morning to go out for help. And then the killer shows up.
Again, it’s nothing new in the plotting department. Someone is killed and no one notices because they think they’re locked in their room after an argument. A guy goes for help and evidence is discovered later that he never made it very far. And (SPOILER!) the last one alive is the smarter of the female characters. But they get all the details and specifics about these things right, and that’s what makes it memorable. For example, the girl that they think is just sulking in her room is presumed to be upset over a fight she had with her new boyfriend, who was pushing her for sex. After she’s dead (unbeknownst to them), the guy learns from our heroine that the girl was a virgin, and wanted things to be special (i.e. not in a cold room on a 40 year old mattress), which not only makes her death sadder, but also gives the “Final Girl” a less prudish, typical personality. Usually in these things, the Final Girl is the one with the sexual issues, so it’s nice to see that not only are the roles reversed, but that she is able to harmoniously resolve the situation and humanize not one but two of the others. Too many modern horror movies with characters in this age group are curiously obsessed with having the group constantly at odds or seemingly not even liking one another, with their various personal issues with each other (i.e. the cheating boyfriend) being their only bit of development, so I particularly enjoyed that these folks, while not without some heated moments, are good friends and operate without drama. Even the injured guy – you’d expect him to be an obnoxious ass, but he’s pretty chill about the whole “broken leg” thing and doesn’t get all emo about being the only one without a girlfriend.
I also liked the killer’s back-story, which is hinted at during the film’s opening credits and fully explained in its final moments; just enough to make it interesting but without distracting away from our heroes’ plight. It’s actually kind of sad, and while it doesn’t explain why this resulted in his penchant for killing snowboarders, it’s a fine compromise between not having an discernible motive or backstory at all, such as in movies like Final Exam, or explaining it way too much (I’m pretty sure the killer from Scream 4 is STILL defending their behavior, somewhere). The back-story also allows for a cool reveal, when they learn that the hotel has been abandoned for a lot longer than previously thought, and yet here’s a pair of modern designer sunglasses and an electronic car key in the “lost and found” – very fun little “oh shit” moment.
The pacing is also just right, with two kills before the others realize there’s a killer around, and two after, striking the right balance between the creepy, “look behind you!” type scenarios and tense chase sequences. I love Friday the 13th and the majority of the sequels, but it’s weird how many of them kill almost everyone off before the Final Girl is even aware of any danger. Here, that happens just after the halfway point, giving heroine Ingrid Bolsø Berdal more to do than many of the Friday gals did. She’s also easy on the eyes but looks like a real person that might go snowboarding with pals, instead of the usual overly made-up CW castaways that star in our horror films. Part of the problem with post-Scream horror was that everyone was recognizable, so it’s nice that we have imports to watch, where the actors aren’t familiar and thus it’s not instantly obvious who lives and who dies. Then again, I am now much more interested in Chernobyl Diaries now that I know she’s in it, so I guess the “star” system is not without value.
Berdal returned for the sequel, which followed Halloween II’s lead and picked up right where the first left off and set the action in a hospital. But it’s better than Halloween II, IMO – there’s a different director, but it “fits” better with the first film than Rick Rosenthal’s sequel does with Carpenter’s. And Berdal looks the same and doesn’t spend the whole movie zoned out in a hospital bed like Laurie did in Halloween II; in fact she’s more like Ripley this time around, which is fine by me. Unfortunately the disc was never officially released in the US; region 0 DVDs are your best bet (I got mine through Amazon, though sadly it’s no longer available). The first one, however, is still easy enough to find thanks to Anchor Bay (I have no idea why they didn’t pick up the sequels – there’s a third as well, which I understand DOES get into “explaining too much” territory). Sporting their usual great transfer and an insert with the original title if you want to swap out the cover, it also boasts a fine collection of bonus material. In addition to learning how they had to digitally remove some dogshit from a particular shot, there’s also a fun look at the evolution of the film’s poster, as they struggled with selling everything it had to offer (snowboarding, the killer, the location, the cast) without giving people the wrong idea (one poster is a straight up ripoff of Saw, which this is nothing like). The disc also has a dubbed track, and while I’m usually okay with dubs (especially if the subtitles are wrong – such as what happened with Let The Right One In), it’s far from the best I’ve ever heard, so I’d advise sticking with the original audio with subtitles.
Speaking of the audio, the soundtrack is pretty good too, with some fun rock songs (including one that starts “All my friends are dead…”) and a solid score.** It’s weird to like a movie more for what it DOESN’T do than for what it DOES, but ultimately that’s what makes this one work for me. I never realized how much I missed irony-free, straightforward slashers until I started doing Horror Movie A Day and thus increased my exposure to (mostly terrible) indie/DTV entries, and Cold Prey was the one of the few that got everything right, and easily one of the best of its type that I’ve seen in these past five years. Hopefully you’ll agree.
*Technically five there, but can we really count that uncredited tow truck driver? Hell, you don’t even see him in some cropped versions.
**The “love theme” sounds exactly like “Enclosure” from the first Metal Gear Solid game. I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but if it was intentional it’s probably the most wonderfully odd video game reference in history.