Berserker (1987)

It's too late to run. There's no time to scream. Just close your eyes and pray to die.

Year of Release: 1987
Also Known As: Berserker: The Nordic Curse
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 85 minutes (1:25)
Director: Jefferson Richard


Joseph Alan Johnson ... Mike
Greg Dawson ... Josh
Valerie Sheldon ... Kathy
Shannon Engemann ... Kristi
Beth Toussaint ... Shelly
Rodney Montague ... Larry
John F. Goff ... Officer Hill
George 'Buck' Flower ... Pappy Nyquist
Mike Riley ... Berserker


According to an old Nordic legend, a Berserker was a bloodthirsty warrior who ate human flesh, forbidden a restful death and fated to be reincarnated in their blood kin. Six college students accidentally stumble across the Berserker legend when they vacation in a campground in Rainbow Valley, an area settled by Norwegian immigrants. The campsite is abuzz with rumors of a wild bear killing people in the area, including speculation about an old couple who get lost. But is it really a bear?

That evening, around the campfire, one of the students reads the Legend of the Berserker and the others are alternately amused and spooked. But the fun ends and the terror begins when two of the students branch off for a romantic tryst, only to discover the dead bodies of the old couple. After more brutal killings, it is revealed that the Berserker is truly on the loose.


Berserker, remindin' us that things can get really awkward when you show up at the furry convention, only to discover that no one else actually wore their suits. It's no wonder this guy's so P.O.'d, it can be a durn embarrassin' thing havin' to explain to event security why you're the only guy wearin' a loincloth an bear snout, an that you didn't mean to make 'im uncomfortable after nippin' at his heels. Although it's easy to see how yiffin' might be misconstrued as "adopting an aggressive posture," once you've been slung up against a wall an thrown into a cell with guys who're so hairy they don't even NEED a fur suit.

An speakin' of people who shouldn't be let outta their cages, I got some seriously earth-shatterin' news this week. Normally I wouldn't bring up every little thing that happens in my life, cause you've gotta be pretty deluded to assume everybody wants to listen to that nonsense every week, but this's important. Matter of fact, this's prolly the biggest thing to happen around here since the wigwam burner at Stumpy's Lumber Mill and Rendering Plant sent up a buncha derogatory smoke signals an made the Chickawalka Indians so mad that they started circlin' the station wagons in the parkin' lot until Stumpy himself hadda come out an make a public apology an promise to stop callin' it a "wigwam burner." But like I was sayin', it's been a monumental week here in town after Saint Skunky Hernandez announced that he was gonna invest all his Sage Maze earnins from last Halloween into reopenin' the Grime Time Drive-In Theater out on his grazin' land. Course, once he'd given his big speech to the city council an the six senior citizens who'd fallen asleep about eight seconds after the pledge of allegiance was finished, I hadda explain to 'im that he couldn't just go showin' whatever movies he wanted to without payin' the studios to use 'em. Normally, there'd be nobody in a 50 mile radius more on board with an idea like this than me, but Skunky's track record of successful business ventures pretty much parallels Donald Trump's attempts at courtin' the minority vote, so even I hadda tell 'im that maybe this idea of his might be a little too ambitious. I dunno why I said what I did, even after seein' that defeated look on his face. Call it sympathy, call it nostalgia, call it the eight beers I hadn't completely slept off from the night before, but that's when I suggested to Skunky that he *could* still reopen the Grime Time an show nothin' but public domain flicks, since he wouldn't hafta pay nothin' for those. I have no idea what he said after that since he'd reverted back to Spanish, but I'm pretty sure he went for it in a big way since the Mexican Hat Dance is considered a universal symbol of happiness. After he'd gotten that out of his system an put his hat back on so the paint on the ceilin' tiles'd stop peelin', he started shakin' me like Rush Limbaugh's jowls durin' an Obamacare tantrum an squealed "Das eet! You jeenyus greengo!", he ran over to the pay phone an started callin' up his 37 cousins from Snoochflunk an told 'em to pile into their El Torino (we call it that cause it used to be a Gran Torino before the rear end got smashed flat by a buncha fat white girls sittin' on top watchin' 4th of July fireworks) an get their hides over here so he could begin construction immediately. Last time I saw 'im he was headed out to apply for the land use permit, but it'll certainly be interestin' to see what comes of all this. The way I figure it, what's playin' at the theater ain't mattered since at least 1996 anyhow, an since goin' to the movies is entirely about havin' somethin' to do rather'n actually bein' entertained, this may even work.

Anyway, I didn't mean to overshadow this week's flick with that life-changin' announcement, cause Berserker is one of the finest lunatic Viking flicks since Don't Go in the Woods. The only bad thing is that the Berserker's so white that the director hadda pump approximately 744 tons of fog into all the night scenes to keep the set lights from reflectin' off his torso an blindin' everybody like a remedial astronomy class starin' at a solar eclipse, but other'n that I like it fine. So in honor of our Nordic kinfolk, who've provided us with state-of-the-art recycling technology and a slick cover to hide our rampant white supremacy leanins, here're just a few of the crucial takeaways from Berserker that you'll wanna make a note of. First, wavin' your arms around like banditos at a Cypress Hill concert doesn't improve your chances of bein' sighted when it's pitch black out. Second, sex scenes tend to lose some of their appeal when you can't tell who's who due to the couple havin' the same hairstyle an the same bra size. An third, when your cast members get lost just goin' to take a squirt, it's prolly time to give the fog machine a rest. They really aughta show this one more often in film school, cause I think all the aspiring young directors out there can really learn a lot from it. But the best thing about this movie is that, despite havin' plot holes you could drive the final chase scene from The Road Warrior through, it's the first flick I've seen in a hell of a long time where the red herring turns out NOT to be a red herring at all. I don't wanna spoil the endin' so I ain't tellin' who the red herring is/isn't, but at this point in cinematic history, the most likely suspect in a slasher flick can *never* actually be the one turnin' all the teenagers into fishin' chum. There always hafta be plot twists, swerves, an various other devices employed to make you *think* it's the cross-eyed hunchbacked lecherous weirdo loner composite creature, when it really isn't. This fact has been part of the horror formula since before The Wolf Man was sucklin' at his mama's teat an, by now, the only way to *really* surprise an audience is to actually make the culprit the guy that the audience dismisses 15 minutes into the movie because if it were him it'd be too obvious. Now doesn't this concept sound refreshin'? I been waitin' years to finally see another flick with so little imagination that the lack of imagination actually wraps completely around to the point that it becomes an original idea. So don't you listen to what the critics say about this thing, Jeff; I'm proud of ya. Way to stick it to all the over-analyzers out there.

The movie begins in the 10th century where Vikings land on American soil in their prefab aluminum Bass Trackers, cept all they did back then was put bear skin rugs over their faces an shake their heads back an forth like a dog that's about to puke up a big patch of grass. Then we jump to the present where an old couple's out on a campin' trip tryin' to reinvigorate their marriage by sleepin' out under the stars an doin' all the disgustin' things you hear about happenin' in the nursin' home laundry room, only while they're out on a hike they get mauled by a mean ole grizzled bear who forces the old man to make crazy blood-drenched facial expressions at the camera like Bruce Campbell. The next day, a group of friends who look like a hair band (Josh, Mike, Larry, Kristi, Kathy, an Shelly) are all pumped up about their new found freedom to go campin' anytime they want after havin' just discovered their birth certificates an realizin' they're 26 years old. So they jack Josh's truck up high enough for the 1985 L.A. Lakers to walk under without messin' up their hair an take off down the road, only pretty quick they get pulled over just cause Josh bogarts an entire joint, kills a half case of beer, an chips the new paint job on Officer Oscar the Grouch's Chevy Blazer after pitchin' one of the cans out the window. Fortunately Officer Walt (Oscar) lets 'em off with a warnin' even though the cab smells like Dean Martin died in it, an despite the fact that they've gone an desecrated the sacred lands of his ancestors, cause, well, he remembers that he was a young shitheel once too. Then they run into Buck Flower in the middle of the road an Josh starts gettin' in his face until Buck threatens to tell everyone about the time he got Dyanne Thorne to spank 'im with a ridin' crop on the set of Ilsa II. The idea of that purt'near makes everybody return their refreshin' Coors Light back to the Rockies from whence it came, so Mike an Larry kiss Buck's hinder long enough to get a cabin rented an everybody spends the rest of the day gettin' schnozzled, destroyin' the serenity of nature, an cleanin' wads of frogs' eggs outta their underpants. But later that night, Larry the dead weight Fairy reads everybody campfire stories about Viking Berserkers an how they used to run around in Grizzly-hide bikinis an get so rowdy that the more civilized Vikings would hafta chain 'em up like pit bulls in the backyards of meth addicts, until it was time to punish some unsuspectin' British yuppies for inventin' steak an kidney pie.

Accordin' to legend, once the Zerkers went cannibal an started chewin' on anybody who ever tried forcin' Christianity on 'em, they got stuck with this curse that got 'em banned from Valhalla an forced to possess the bodies of their relatives after they died cause even Satan wouldn't allow that in his house. After that the Vikings all moved to Minnesota an got jobs at the Hormel factory. Meanwhile, Buck an Walt're hangin' out at Buck's place tryin' to remember who died an how long ago, til Walt gets tired of Buck pronouncin' all his J's as Y's an decides to go make sure the kids aren't fornicatin' on any endangered nipple snake habitat. Course, he can't find 'em, cause that scamp Josh drove to the cabin he wanted instead of the one he was assigned. Ya know, Footloose tried to warn us about these kinds of twenty-something rebellions becomin' an epidemic, but did anybody listen to John Lithgow? Course not. Now we know though, don't we? Took the wrong cabin, my goodness, could devil worship be far behind? Anyway, then Kristi hasta go outside an water the lawn, only she's so worried about somebody seein' the pimple on 'er butt that she hasta trudge 15 miles into the forest an ends up gettin' lost. So now Mike an Shelly hafta go find 'er an point 'er towards the cabin even though she's the kinda girl who gets lost in the food court at the mall an'll prolly never be seen again. Then Mike an Shelly go make the sign of the double bolted crotch hinge while Kristi gets mauled by Hokey the Bear, an once Shelly's finished havin' orgasms that cause 'er face to scrunch up like she's about to fire a snot rocket out 'er nose, she gets up an finds one of the corpse campers an runs off through the forest like she's on a bad peyote trip. Eventually she finds Kristi layin' on the ground with 'er bear necessities in pieces, only when she tries helpin' 'er Teddy Buckskin shows up an finishes off the both of 'em like a package of unguarded hot dogs that got left outside the camp trailer. Then everybody from back at the cabin meets up with Mike so they can watch 'im blubber an use Shelly's belly shirt for a handkerchief, til Josh decides it might be a good idea to get their rears an the gear in the truck an go tell Walt about Gnawzie Bear.

But elsewhere, Walt's gotten Buck all agitated thinkin' about the kinda bad PR that'll accompany a buncha pretty young white kids goin' missin' at his campground, so he drives out to the cabin to make sure nobody's bein' made to squeal like pigs against their will an finds the place emptier'n the waitin' room at a British dental center. This's cause Larry the limp ankled wimp has tripped over a log an busted his leg. So Josh hasta volunteer to stay behind an have this sickenin' bromantic interlude with 'im while Mike an Kathy try to find Buck so they can wrap his beard around the wound an stop the bleedin'. Unfortunately, Buck's up an vanished like a half-black fetus from the womb of an Alabama aristocrat, an much like the movie's pacin', Josh's truck simply refuses to start, so Mike decides to take the 3-wheeler an find help while Kathy barricades 'erself inside the cabin like one of Cliven Bundy's crotch-leavins. Then Grief Eriksson finds Josh an Larry an starts diggin' at Josh's dermal substructure til he looks like the Phantom of the Opera, but fortunately for Larry, a real bear shows up an it's real P.O.'d about Gunnar Manson walkin' around in his woods wearin' one of his relatives' faces. Mental Ben don't like pretenders to his throne, so he an Bjorn the Horned hafta settle their differences with a no holds barred wrestlin' match, an after the bear forces Mark Zerkerberg to make constipated moose sounds while it sits on his chest an licks honey off 'im, the Zerkman decides to live to fight another day an takes off before he ends up havin' the most embarassin' Viking funeral in history. Suffice to say, the Berserker is seriously P.O.'din. The next mornin', Mike finally gets picked up on the highway by Officer Walt an tells 'im about Hagar the Horrible runnin' around the woods an asks about whether Buck gives out partial refunds in the event of attack by wildmen wearin' weasel pelt thongs. Gonna cut it off here cause I don't wanna spoil the endin'. Specially since it looks like they were settin' up for a sequel, an just cause it's been 29 years that's no reason to give up hope that it'll happen.

Alright, so maybe the plot doesn't make a licka sense. Maybe there're times where you've got no idea what's goin' on. And there might even be a scene or two that could possibly be considered unrealistic if you wanna get picky about it, but I kinda liked this one. Now I'll concede that the script prolly had more red ink on it than my 9th grade English final, but I still say it's fun. There are people out there who might question why the head jerkola gets his face torn off and shows absolutely no signs of life until the following morning, and those people might even compare that scene to the conclusion of Jaws 4 where the racist shark burps up Mario Van Peebles for no apparent reason. Alright, fine, I'll concede that it's a little strange. I suppose it's also kinda strange how he goes through three quarters of the movie bein' a complete dickweed and suddenly becomes chivalrous near the conclusion when someone hasta stay with the mutilated sissy. So the guy sees the error of his ways and decides to turn over a new leaf in the face of losin' his face, is that so unbelievable? Now as for the shot where Mike's supposed to be seeing the dead body that Shelly saw before she took off like Deion Sanders after a fumble recovery, only there's no dead body in the shot... look, stuff happens sometimes, let's not go blowin' things outta proportion. And speaking of not blowing everything outta proportion, is it really *that* big a deal if they hadda intersperse day-for-night shots a coupla dozen times in between the real night shots? I mean, it's kinda difficult to know how much of what you shot is usable, especially when you can't afford a projector to take a look at your dailies now and then. Besides, it's not like the daylight's all that noticeable when most of the scenes look like an airplane just passed over and dropped 300 tons of DDT fogger onto the set to kill the skeeters. Granted, it does kinda look like E.T.'s spaceship landed just a few yards off screen mosta the time when you get right down to it, on account of the fog workin' double duty as an atmosphere generator and a cheap way to hide the set lights, but if you were payin' $8 a day to rent a fog machine wouldn't you wanna get your money's worth? You can imagine that the investors prolly wanted to know EXACTLY where their $500 went, so the director simply thought it might expedite matters to include enough fog to ground every single flight scheduled to depart O'Hare Airport on Thanksgiving weekend. Now can we please just get off the guy's back already? There're probably even some people out there who actually expect something to come of Josh's story about how mean his Dad was to him when he was a little kid, and how he just vanished one day. Seriously, does every little thing that happens in a movie need to amount to some sort of foreshadowing? Can't we just enjoy knowing that Josh is a huge douche because his Pop kicked his Big Wheel down the basement steps just to watch him cry? People really do make way too big a deal out of these minor imperfections and a coupla minor loose ends that come outta the climax. It's like everybody's a critic all of a sudden.

I just think we should all take a minute to chew the fat on this one before rushin' to any rash judgments, and since we've got said minute to kill, it might be a good idea to spend it runnin' down some of the more important aspects so it won't look like there was some sort of bias involved when it fails. The plot looks about like a chunka Swiss cheese that got used to sight in a 12 gauge. You never know definitively whether it's actually a bear killing people or whether it's the Berserker, because if it is the bear, how come the bear doesn't kill Larry after it mauls the Berserker? Prolly doesn't help matters that the bath mat used to represent whatever's doin' the killing is obviously on a human arm, leaving you to wonder whether it's supposed to be Herc the Zerk, or whether the special effects just blow chunks. In general, the premise is actually pretty interesting, but it kinda comes off like The Clonus Horror, wherein you know it could have been a better movie if it'd been made with a bigger budget and a more practiced hand. The acting is better than you might expect given all the script problems. That's not to say that it's good, but most of the cast is able to hold it together well enough to relegate the audience's laughter to sequences where there's some sort of attempt at emotion. Joseph Johnson blubbering over Beth Toussaint's corpse for example, or the scene near the end where the Berserker's tryin' to break into the barricaded cabin and Kathy's screamin' at it to go away. Those did tend to generate a little giggling. And of course there's the infamous bear wrestling scene where the Berserker's tryin' to get the bear up into position for a piledriver. It is a real bear at least, but it's one of those really cutesy type fight scenes where the bear knows the stunt guy's just playing with him, so it's pretty hysterical listening to the Berserker grunting like he's giving it his all, while the bear's stoppin' periodically to scratch its butt.

Here's who matters and why: Joseph Alan Johnson (House of Lost Souls, Iced, Il fantasmo di Sodoma, The Slumber Party Massacre), Shannon Engemann (Dudes & Dragons, Vamp U, House of Fears), Beth Toussaint (Scream 3, Fortress 2, Project Shadowchaster II, Dead Heat), Rodney Montague (Iced), Oscar Rowland (Bats, Silent Night Deadly Night, The Returning), Beverly Rowland (Halloween 4, Neon City, The Returning), John F. Goff (The Fog, They Live, Azira: Blood from the Sand, The Screaming, Ripper Man, Skeeter, Dragonfight, Grotesque, Alligator, The Capture of Bigfoot, The Alpha Incident, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Drive-In Massacre, Maniac Cop, Hundra), George "Buck" Flower (Back to the Future 1 & 2, They Live, The Fog, They Are Among Us, The Curse of the Komodo, Moonbase, Wishmaster, Bloodsuckers, Dark Breed, Village of the Damned 1995, Ripper Man, Circuitry Man II, Skeeter, Warlock: The Armageddon, Body Bags, Waxwork II, 976-EVIL II, Camp Fear, Speak of the Devil, Dragonfight, Blood Games, Puppet Master II, Dead Men Don't Die, Spontaneous Combustion, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Death Nurse 2, The American Scream, Mac and Me, Bloody Pom Poms, Pumpkinhead, Maniac Cop, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Bates Motel 1987, Drive-In Massacre, The Night Stalker, Starman, The Capture of Bigfoot, The Time Machine 1978, Killer's Delight, The Alpha Incident, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Criminally Insane). Strangely, Beth Toussaint managed to conceal this movie from at least a few acting agencies, and went on to land the role of Veronica Koslowski on Savannah. Otherwise, the movie's pretty much held together by Buck Flower and his impeccable Swedish accent.

The special effects are fine until they try simulating something more complex than a flesh wound. Which, for better or worse is where the line is drawn for most of the special effects. Murder sequences are generally accomplished by bringing the camera to within about four inches from the actor's face and following them as they thrash around on the ground like largemouth bass tryin' to find water. Sometimes the blood disappears and reappears, and is also a bit too thick, but I suppose it works when the continuity remains intact. The Berserker outfit, on the other hand, is far too goofy to take seriously, and they wisely chose not to show him in much detail until the end of the movie. I think the best way to sum up the situation would be to explain that I had to pause the tape during the climax where the Berserker's layin' in the grass howling in pain, as I was concerned that I might miss some important detail if I couldn't hear the dialog. So yeah. The shooting locations are easily the high point, even though the cinematography is pretty amateurish. I'm not entirely convinced that it was actually the cinematographer's fault, because there're several scenes in the movie where the shots just go on forever, and so I wonder if maybe he was instructed to take his sweet time when it came to the long panning shots. Still, the outdoor scenes are nice to look at, and if you've spent much time in the mountains you can appreciate the authenticity of the roads that're being driven on. Weeds growing up through the center, single lane, barely any room to let another rig pass, these were definitely real deal mountain roads, which helps convey a sense of isolation. Granted, they're isolated with a mountain man runnin' around the woods in a bear-kini, but good shooting locations nonetheless. The soundtrack is really only enjoyable if you don't take the movie too seriously. It's loaded with no-name '80s hair band music, including such famous tracks as; "Prisoner of Rock and Roll" and "Cool Dude," which add a great deal to the campiness, but damage it significantly when you remember it was intended to be a serious attempt at a movie. Let's be clear though, it was the '80s, and this kind of music was perfectly normal for the time. It just doesn't age all that well. The non lyrical tracks aren't as numerous as the regular rock tunes, but they're definitely better at establishing something resembling mood. Really though, if you were to show this movie to someone and ask them about the music, the instrumental tracks would never come up in the discussion, because they're just not memorable. Overall, there's something about it that I like, but on a technical level it's pretty much a disaster. It'd make an excellent selection as part of a popcorn movie lineup, but that's about it.

Rating: 52%