Every now and again your Favorite Catgirl Movie Reviewer just plain misses the release of a film. I know… it’s hard to believe but…. It’s a biiiiggg ol’ world out there and surprisingly enough… one or two do escape my curious wanderings about the old Internet. Luckily for me… I am if nothing else persistent in the pursuit of new sources for the sorts of goofy films I like, so I was naturally excited to come across the original Region 2 Swedish release for this one, almost missed in my travels. But no more!!
Our synopsis? Well it goes something like this:“About100 years ago, three students at the Hellestads Boarding School were brutally slaughtered, the murderer drowned himself in a lake nearby and his body was never found. The story has become a school legend for generations of students as well as a yearly festivity. Sara, a student, is writing an essay based on the legend and uncovers new facts from the event that will cast dark shadows on the family name of one of the school’s main beneficiaries. On the night of the hundredth anniversary, the festivities go awry, students disappear and something dark and unknown is moving through the schools corridors…is the curse of the “Drowning Ghost” true…. and who will fall victim next?”
Yep… sounds like a winner. But then I’ve been cruelly fooled before, so naturally I’ll just have to cuddle up on the couch with my popcorn and wine coolers and see if Sweden knows how to make those scary movies I like!! So let’s all “Read On” and find out what it’s all about.
This one looked like a ghost story…. at least that’s what this lil’ Catgirl expected. I haven’t seen all that many Swedish films, but after Norway impressed me with “Fritt Vilt”, I just had to give the other Scandinavian countries a quick “look see”. What sorts of film goodies could be hiding there? “Strandvaskaren”, despite it’s title, really isn’t a ghost story at all though… it’s a slasher film from the late 1980’s as seen through the ol’ Swedish “Cultural Filter”. Is that a problem? Not really… it’s interesting sometimes to see familiar themes reflected back at you and flavored by a different language and culture.
Our story concerns a private college in Sweden, Hellestad Academy, and an old scandalous murder that occurred there a century earlier. As with all such things, there’s the grisly tradition that the crazed murderer’s ghost still haunts the school on the anniversary of the crime… prowling about with his snazzy burlap sack mask and his sharp, pointy farm implement of choice in search of fresh victims. Ahh! Old School traditions… don’t ya just love them? He’s the “Drowned Ghost” of the title, and although our killer borrows on his reputation to spread fear and terror, there’s really no ghost to be found here. So what do we have then? Well… how about a deranged psycho killer who escapes from the asylum where he’s been committed since he murdered his wife to take revenge for his daughter’s suicide on the anniversary of the murders a year earlier? Hey!! That could work!
But…. nope! That’s not what’s going on either… (Say what?…. I know, this one wriggles about more than a centipede dipped in bacon grease. It’s one hard one to pin down, not really certain where it wants to go, but fairly certain it wants to bite someone once it finally gets there…. Hehehehe!) Yep… our psycho does a stand up job of killing an orderly and making his way to the school, but gets whacked by the real killer moments after arriving. Huh? But… but..?
Alright then… maybe our film’s heroine, Sara (played by Rebecka Hemse) knows what’s really going on. She’s not the most popular girl here at Hellestad, having managed to alienate the snobbish “In” crowd led by Måns (played by Daniel Larsson) and his sycophantic cronies. You know the types…. Old money, old connections, and somehow utterly contemptuous of those outside their social circle. Making her less popular is her decision to write an essay on the old murders… and discovering some scandalous truths behind what actually happened all those years ago. Seems maybe the old farmer wasn’t nuts… that maybe some of the students raped and killed the man’s beloved daughter and then got what they deserved in revenge. All that was covered up at the time…. seems the young men were the sons of important school alumni with influence that still reaches through time till today…. The headmistress isn’t about to let Sara ruin the school’s reputation (or risk the wrath of these important people) so she makes it plain to Sara’s professor that such investigations should be left alone. So… does that mean the murderer is a distant relative still seeking to right the wrong committed a century earlier? Ummm…. Nope….
Grrrr!!! Well… how about the girl’s suicide last year? Is it relevant, or is it nothing more than another “Red Herring” to distract us? Well… the girl Rebecka (played by Sasa Bjurling) was apparently the victim of the cruel taunts and endless torment of Måns and his friends… till it drove her to commit suicide by throwing herself from the roof of the school during the big celebration held every year to commemorate the school’s founding. Oh, yes…. and turns out she’s the only surviving relative of our escaped lunatic… That’s gotta mean something, right? Well… maybe so. But then… should we be concerned at all with the two exchange students who’ve just shown up here at Hellestad…. that sort of plot element never turns out to be a coincidence, right?
By now… you are probably pretty confused… right? Carolyn certainly was, but luckily she had me to help figure out what the heck was actually going on. It isn’t all that hard, actually. The overall plot recycles nearly every cliche you might remember from such horror classics as “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”…. (including a finale on the lake lifted almost directly from “Friday the 13th”) which might seem to be a bit disappointing at first glance. Even the theme music reminds you of the old “Halloween” theme. Still, in retrospect, I’ve come to think it’s done more to give the film a slick commercial look and improve it’s general audience appeal than as a deliberate rip-off. To me it seemed more of a homage to those old films… and with an English dubbed audio track, you probably would never guess this one was a Swedish film at all. About the only thing that gives it away is the more restrained way the violence is handled. There’s quite a bit going on, but it’s remarkably bloodless overall, with many of the actual murders occurring off-screen, the bodies simply being discovered later for their shock value. In all… the ultimate conclusion is easy to figure out before the “surprise” twist actually occurs, but doesn’t really ruin the overall story.
While this one didn’t exactly wow me, it wasn’t all that bad either. The production values were good, the story somewhat congested and confused but easy enough to follow if you paid attention. I wish the heroine had been… well… more interesting, but hey, not every horror heroine can be as spunky and endearing as you’d like. Her prerequisite flaky blond BFF, Therese (played by Jenny Ulving) was more interesting, but as with “Fritt Vilt” it’s best not to get fond of secondary characters here… they don’t usually survive long. Overall, it’s good enough to get 3 “Meows” out of 5 from this girl, but not too much more. The Swedish Region 2 PAL DVD is topnotch, presented widescreen, with excellent English subtitles (as well as subtitles in just about every other Nordic language you could want) and the Trailers and “making of” featurette are nice additions. Not bad if you get a chance to rent it, but probably not a DVD you’ll need to buy unless you are as wacky a film fanatic as this lil’ Catgirl.
Trailer…. you want a Trailer? Sure Neko’s got ya a Trailer…. and here we go!