In an age over-saturated with slick American teen drama series with a supernatural theme – many still characterised by the enduring influence of BUFFY and all of them hoping to be as long running as SUPERNATURAL – HEARTLESS is a distinctively Danish take on the form. Played commendably straight and without the smart-arse, self-aware humour that tends to dominate its U.S. equivalents, it’s an absorbing, if sometimes ponderous, eight-episode serial that has scope for further seasons.
In the early going of episode one, we witness photogenic teen twins Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) and Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) luring and feeding in an almost vampiric fashion from an unfortunate young man in a nightclub who, as a result of their necessary act, promptly bursts into flames. The siblings have to feed on the life force of other people in order to survive and fatal consequences result if their feeding reaches a certain level. Sebastian, the more sensitive of the duo, wrestles with his own conscience of their activities, and together the twins set out to find out who and what they really are. They revisit the orphanage from which they originally ran away as infants, and discover that their mother attended an ultra-strict, rural boarding school. Joining as second year students, they learn about the dark history of the school itself – with the sadistic modern hierarchy carrying on old traditions of persecution and torture - and its inextricable links to their own bloodline.
Shot in muted tones and colours with the central school permanently enshrouded by mist, HEARTLESS is an atmospheric series built around a premise that inevitably echoes significant earlier American genre works. Sebastian (who tortuously reins in his need to feed wherever possible) gets the come-on from various girls at the school but his perfectly normal lustiness blurs with the unavoidable needs of his monstrous self when aroused, a la CAT PEOPLE. (The notion of a tortured, handsome male lead unable to fulfil romantic relationships due to the threat he poses, is of course, a throwback to BUFFY and ANGEL). The concept of family members with a desperate compulsion to feed on humans and a peculiarly incestuous relationship with each other has echoes of Stephen King’s far sillier SLEEPWALKERS. There are also CARRIE-inspired sub-plots involving the telekinetic powers of key secondary characters.
It could very easily be reincarnated as a generic, slick U.S. series, but the execution here is very Scandinavian. The tone is sombre and understated, with an underlying erotic charge and a real effort to minimise FX and melodrama in favour of a realistic approach to the potentially outlandish material. The backstory, including flashbacks to 17th century witch-hunts linked to the school principal’s three daughters, is effectively integrated into the contemporary narrative, and the performances are strong all round: the two leads are striking. For those that crave such things, there are occasional intrusions of predictably bad CGI fire and some fleeting, gratuitous shower-room nudity, but HEARTLESS has a beguiling style of its own, even when retreading age-old plot threads like the old “Only love can break the curse…” chestnut that we have seen in sundry earlier genre projects.
INTERVIEWS, FILM, BLU-RAY, DVD AND BOOK REVIEWS
dvd review - scream park *
Directed by Cary Hill. Starring Wendy Wygant, Steve Rudzinski, Doug Bradley, Kailey Marie Harris, Nivek Ogre, Nicole Beattie. Horror USA 2015 80 mins Certificate: 18
Released April 25th 2016 DVD / Blu-Ray from Left Films
The kind of movie in which the on-screen title appears in an awkward fashion, suggesting a miscalculation of the space they needed to fit all of the letters, SCREAM PARK also represents (officially) the 1000th time horror movie characters are seen watching George A Romero’s famously non-copyrighted NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on TV. Hasn’t the big guy had enough reminders of how much cash he was screwed out of from that movie? Were there no tapes of CARNIVAL OF SOULS to hand?
Sporting an end credits date of 2012 but only now seeing the light of day, this attempt to rekindle the spirit of 80’s slasher movies centres around “Fright Land”, a horror-centric theme park facing closure after its owner, the ominously named Mr Hyde, filed for bankruptcy. The geeky manager unconvincingly oversees a skeleton crew of teenage staff members, whose wholesale lack of charisma might be the principal reason for the park’s dramatically declining attendance. As the crew plan a night of booze and partying while the formalities of closure are finalised, a pair of mysterious, costumed strangers (sporting a bird mask and a scarecrow guise) stalk and kill them in the patented fashion.
SCREAM PARK’s evidently shoestring budget needn’t have been a problem were the movie able to find some energy from its cast or some enthusiasm in its slapdash, underpowered murder set pieces. In the kind of lazy cliché that was already being called out as hackneyed three decades ago, the black security guard is the first to be killed, while the buxom, sexually experienced girl who takes her top off on camera is offed immediately after a shagging session. Thanks to slack pacing, we also get to spend way too much time with poorly written characters, like the Goth who fantasises about being crushed in the gears of one of the park rides, only without any of the convincing erotic glee of Linnea Quigley’s Trash three decades ago.
The amateur gore FX include the weakest scalping scene in cinema history, while elsewhere, director Cary Hill fleetingly steals a key suspense sequence from John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and, perhaps by chance, captures one genuinely evocative shot of one of the killers. Doug Bradley, all too obviously available for a day at the most (and filmed at the University of Pittsburgh), briefly adds gravitas as the cunning “Mr Hyde”. His desperate attempts to drum up some trade from a society that would rather stay at home and gaze at illegal downloads, are at the core of the story’s murder spree. P.S. In the year 2016, there is no excuse for the kind of erratic sound quality on display throughout SCREAM PARK, particularly as it never successfully drowns out the terrible dialogue.