Monday, November 7, 2016

Kuutamosonaatti (1988)

... aka: Moonlight Sonata, The

Directed by:
Olli Soinio

I want to start this out by talking about classic Finnish horror cinema. OK, so now that that's done let's move on to... Hey, I'm only kidding. Sort of. There's honestly not a whole lot to talk about here. A wiki page dedicated to Finnish horror has an index containing 6 titles, only two of which were made before 1990. IMDb does a little better job, turning up six pre-1990 feature films and two TV movies. Poking around I was able to find a few more for a grand total of around 10 films. We first have to go all the way back to 1927 with the silent Noidan kirot (“Curses of the Witch”) from director Teuvo Puroo, which is widely considered the first Finnish horror film, though a previous 1923 fantasy film, Rautakylän vanha parooni (“The Old Iron Baron of the Village”), is sometimes considered. While either of those may have been the first, they were also the only genre offering(s) out of them until the ghost film Linnaisten vihreä kamari ("The Green Chamber of Linnais") two decades later. Moving on to 1952 we have a pair; the excellent THE WHITE REINDEER (a cross-over success that won the Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe and a major award at Cannes) and the OK but less successful THE WITCH. I'm forever grateful that pair exists because 1952 is pretty slim on horror titles otherwise. Two years after those came a ghost comedy (Kummitus kievari / “Ghost Tavern”). And then there was long silence...

The 80s finally rolled around and the Finnish commercial TV network Mainostelevisio offered up the ghost tale Yöjuttu: Merkitty (1984) and the four-part miniseries Painajainen / “Nightmare” (1988), which involves an amnesiac uncovering horrifying secrets about his life. The same year as the latter came this theatrical release from Soinio, who'd previously made the 23-minute monster movie parody Transvestijan tarinoita (“Tales of Transvestia”) back in 1975. There were also a few 90s releases and, in recent years, a couple of fairly well-received genre offerings like Sauna (2008) and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). And there you have it folks, a brief overview of Finnish horror to this day. As nice as it is to be able to sum up the horror output of an entire country in just two brief paragraphs, I'm glad all other countries aren't Finland. Otherwise I would have closed up shop here about five years ago.

International fashion model Anni Stark (Tiina Björkman) flies back home to Finland and is hounded by the press as soon as she steps off the plane. See, Anni is not a nice or sweet or even halfway decent young woman. In fact, she's hot headed, foul-mouthed, has a bad temper and is about to get canned by her agency. That's why she's in Finland in the wintertime; to avoid bad press over one of her latest explosions and lay low for a few days. In four days' time she's off to Milan to fulfill another contract. Her agent Carli (Ville-Veikko Salminen) has arranged the trip and has even found an out-of-the-way hotel where no one can find her. When they show up, they find the hotel is remodeling, so the owner sends them off an an even further out-of-the-way skiing cabin located down a long and winding road. Carli then leaves her there and promises he will back in a few days time to personally drive her to the airport for her job in Italy.

Left all alone in the cabin except for her dog (who gets about twice as many adoring close-ups as the human actors), Anni is kept up late her first night by strange, loud noises coming from outside. Little does she realize, but someone's been watching her the entire time. As for her missing panties, the same peeper crept inside while she was in the bathtub and snatched those, too. Thankfully, Anni's kid brother Johannes is supposed to come in and stay with her in another day. She walks to the bus stop the following morning hoping he's there and instead has a strange encounter with a stern old woman (Soli Labbart) and her creepy, pervy adult son Arvo (Kari Sorvali), who also happens to be the panty thief. Arvo warns her to be careful because “the roads are slippery... slippery like a wet pussy,” before pushing his ailing old mum away in her ski-chair. Anni then walks down the road looking for a phone and instead stumbles onto the unkempt farmhouse Arvo shares with his mum and another family member we'll get to here in a bit. Arvo's been following the newspapers and knows exactly who Anni is and about all of the controversies in her life. He tries to take her picture and then grabs her tits and she runs off. He makes a return visit to her cabin later on and she's forced to defend herself with a knife.

Johannes (Kim Gunell), an electronics wiz (which factors into a few later scenes), finally shows up and he and Anni face one horror after another dealing with Arvo and his disturbed family, which not only includes the mother (who likes to beat on her kids) but also a hulking, whack job of a brother with a half-burnt face. He - Sulo (Mikko Kivinen) – speaks in a comically slowed-down ultra-deep voice, fancies himself a wolf and is typically kept locked up in a shack but frequently escapes. Sulo steals Anni's dog and takes him to a snowy cliff where the two of them howl at the moon together. He also chops a TV license inspector on the head with a scythe. Not only are the family bad news, but it seems the entire rest of the town is related to them and refuse to help, including the bus driver who passes through once a day.

Unlike the earlier Finnish horror films I'd seen, which are steeped in the countries folklore and old traditions, this is straightforward, very commercial and completely modern. After starting out on a completely serious note and going on that way for nearly the entire first half, this sadly deteriorates into another blatant retread of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The entire warped family dynamic; disturbed authority figure (a woman this time) with one son who's a talkative weirdo and the other a big, groaning brute, is copied, as well as other scenes like our heroine stumbling into a general store where the owner is roasting some bloody meat and is in cahoots with the family to the mini junkyard of cars (from previous victims) at the whack family's farmhouse. Unwisely carried over is the camp attitude of the second TCM, including 80s-style cornball one-liners like the killer shouting “Time to burn some rubber!” before trying to run our heroes down with a tractor.

Lack of originality and the tonal shifts seriously harm what is otherwise a fairly well-made and nicely shot movie with a few fun ideas, nice scenery and some visual style. The most amusing bit is that Anni's dog takes to the wolf-brother, views him as being the leader of the pack and starts following him around everywhere. However, little is done with that concept aside from it making for one good sight gag. There's much less violence, blood and gore here than in most other films of this type and the cast is pretty mediocre aside from the underused Labbart and Sorvali, who makes really great evil faces. Either way, aside from the location, there's not much to differentiate this from dozens of other backwoods / hillbilly horrors flick out there.

This was successful enough in its homeland to be followed by a sequel from the same director and featuring the same crazy family: Kadunlakaisijat / Kuutamosonaatti 2 (1991), which has been given the English language title Army of Zombies. In Germany, these films were released as Muttertag 2 - Die Söhne sind zurück (“Mother 2: The Sons Are Back”) and Muttertag 3 to be sequels to Troma's Mother's Day (1980), which was released as Muttertag 1 and is yet another movie this has a lot in common with.

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