Friday, May 26, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Berserker (2001)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

In the mythical time known as "the credits", Odin became somewhat dissatisfied with his Valkyrie girlfriend Brunhilda (Kari Wuhrer) and chained her to an altar surrounded by eternal flame. As you do.

Later, in ye olden times of fake facial hair, when everyone (except for Ms Wuhrer) spoke with a British accent, there was trouble among the Vikings. Hetman Thorsson (Patrick Bergin, who had rent to pay) wants to use the very special tribe of the berserkers to unite wherever we're supposed to be under his rule. Berserkers in this film's very special mythology are, by the way, possibly cannibalistic warlike yet highly flammable undead wearing dead bears. In a creative interpretation of Nordic lore, berserkers are created by the bite of Valkyries to serve Odin. Valkyries, vampires, same difference; they both glow and glitter, right? Nope, I'm not joking about the glowing; to my mind Berserker is now the most probable candidate for inspiring the Twilight franchise.

Anyway, for reasons that will only be explained in a misplaced flashback much, much later, the boss of the berserkers is Thorsson's son Boar (Craig Sheffer). Boar seems somewhat peeved at his father (for reasons that, yes, will also be explained in another misplaced flashback even later on), and has two conditions for his help. Firstly, he wants part of the whole hot new government action for himself. Oh, and secondly, he'd very much like to have the soul of his brother Barek (Paul Johansson). While Barek is less than impressed by any of this, Thorsson agrees to the deal, though he's loudly hinting at breaking his part of the promise once he has his kingdom. Not that anyone on screen seems to notice.

After a lackluster battle scene that does at least include a lot of shouting taking place a little later, Thorsson has his kingdom. And he is in fact not just going back on his deal with Boar, but attempts to burn his son and his berserker gang to cinders. Barek isn't impressed by his father's problem solving technique, and begs Odin to save his brother and take his life instead. Odin seems to be okay with that. At least, suddenly a lot of glowing Valkyries appear and do their patented vampire snarl, and Boar looks better again, too. But before the brothers can reunite, Brunhilda (remember her?) appears for a hug with Barek and takes a bite off his throat. Some of this will actually be explained in again another misplaced flashback later. It will also continue to not make much sense. Because all of this isn't confusing enough, the film now jumps into the present. Although it might be an alternative reality, seeing how little it has to do with reality.

Mini-skirted psychiatrist(?) Anya (Kari Wuhrer again), begins a new case in the sort of new-fangled high-security psychiatric institution that has its patients - well, at least the one the film shows - hanging from chains in the centre of their rooms, which must be great fun when lunch time comes around. As luck will have it, Anya's sexy new patient is Barek, or at least a reincarnated Barek. The poor guy seems to have had a long career as a serial killer, with various (un)popular men (for example Rasputin and Peter Kürten, but to my disappointment not Hitler) among his past incarnations. Barek at once recognizes Anya as reincarnation of Brunhilda, but the doctor only has vague flashes of the past. That is, until her nightly flashbacks/dreams begin that will explain how Barek and Boar freed Brunhilda from her altar, how Boar became a berserker, and how Barek and Brunhilda nearly had sex once, but not much else.

While Anya does some decorative sweating (there is of course quite a bit of getting wet in her future; the film's very Bollywood in that way), some of Boar's berserkers attack the psychiatric clinic and kill a few members of the personnel, but are themselves dispatched by Barek. The mass murderer and hero of the piece uses this opportunity to escape and hook up with Anya. Together, they're going to try and escape Boar, have some more flashbacks, and somehow make Berserker look even more like a mess. There's also a semi-twist ending. Everybody loves those, right?

Paul Matthews' Berserker is a film that start off trying to put the audience right into the potentially most exciting part of its action without seeming to care that nobody even knows who these guys on screen actually are or what motives drive their actions, which just might lead to said audience not caring about what it sees, and without keeping in mind that it now doesn't have much to show in its climax anymore.

In Berserker's confused and confusing case, it's all part of an attempt to make the film's backstory a big mystery the beleaguered viewer is supposed to puzzle together through the movie's whole running time. Unfortunately, this turns the experience of actually watching the film into staring at a hodgepodge of seemingly random scenes that might be connected by their actors but don't actually connect too well on an emotional or narrative level. Matthews' - who also signs responsible for the script, or "script" - just doesn't have the chops as a writer or a director to make the film's structure feel sensible; and really, once all the pieces are there, they still only fit together in the vaguest of ways, so that the film stays all skewed ambition without execution. It doesn't help Berserker's case much that its supposed dramatic climax is as limp as they come.

Fortunately, the film does have quite a few other charms for those willing to just ignore its narrative. While Matthews' failure at telling an ambitious story will only be a joy for the cruel of heart, his failure at making a cheesy mid-90s direct-to-video fantasy/action flick at the same time is pretty damn hilarious. And not something that was really still done in 2001, because the ultra-cheapo of the Oughts usually only wants to inflict pain and boredom on its viewers.

Matthews seems to be more of a traditionalist of cheap thrills, and so fills his film with everything a twelve-year-old might find awesome: Kari Wuhrer's breasts (well, actually, more "lots of Kari Wuhrer in wet outfits", with only a coy second or two of nudity, but it's the thought that counts; probably); Paul Johansson's oiled chest; great moments in fake facial hair during the Viking sequences; also, great moments in stuffing actors into everything that looks kinda Viking-y that's in the wardrobe; great moments in pretending your film has the budget for what you're trying to do; actors who seem to believe the hilariously stiff nonsense they are babbling is Shakespeare, or at least big, Oscar-baiting drama, and proceed to act in disarmingly wide-eyed (sometimes snarling) earnestness; an unholy mess of a mythology supposedly based on Nordic myth, but actually scavenged from half-remembered issues of Marvel Comics' Mighty Thor that had an unlawful relationship with Italian Sword & Sorcery movies; gratuitous decapitations; gratuitous yelling of "rrrarrr"; gratuitous post-production effects to let the dream sequences/flashbacks look even cheaper than the rest of the film; blue lighting; blue lighting and fog. Really, the only thing the film's missing in its play for being the perfect heavy metal album cover movie are a chainmail bikini and a soundtrack made by some guy who was once a roadie for Iron Maiden.

So, yes, Berserker is an absolute train wreck: stupid, yet over-ambitious, but also so, so loveable if you're only able to awaken your inner stupid teenager when watching it.

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