Vidar the Vampire
A Christian farmer searching for a higher purpose to life, falls into sin and wakes up as the Prince of Darkness in the city of Stavanger, Norway.
Thomas Aske Berg
Thomas Aske Berg
Thomas Aske Berg
For the filmmakers of this Norwegian import – Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire was an inspiration. Where that Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt vehicle focused on the tales of an ages-old vampire – told to a journalist in the form of Christian Slater – the character of Vidar shares his tales of woe and blood-sucking to his therapist.
Vidar the Vampire (VampyrVidar) held its US premiere at the 4th Annual Filmquest out of Provo, Utah.
As a very depressed and now-grown Vidar (co-writer/co-director Thomas Aske Berg) spills his guts to his psychologist (Kim Sonderholm), he recounts his days as a young man – caring for the family farm on behalf of his mother, dealing with the teasing from his class-mates and his yearning for a more exciting life (including his longing to have a girlfriend – he’s never been with a woman). After years of this hellish monotony, the grown-up Vidar asks the Lord for help, and to finally enjoy the pleasures of being with a woman (or women). When Jesus (Brigt Skrettingland) answers the call and shows up in his barn, Vidar is offered eternal life by this higher being. Thing is, that eternal life will be as a blood-thirsty vampire. But when Vidar returns from the grave, and finds a new swinging lifestyle in the nearby big city (with his partner-in-crime, Jesus), he finally gets what he wants. Or does he?
I had the chance to sit down with co-writer/co-director Fredrik Waldeland, co-stars Skrettingland and Berg – while we all attended the festivities at Filmquest.
HORROR FREAK NEWS: “What was the original inspiration for Vidar?”
THOMAS ASKE BERG: “I’m a trained actor. The concept basically started because I have a fascination for vampire films, and I wanted to play in a vampire film. But in Norway, there are no such things as vampire films – being made.
So the only way to get that done was basically just to write it ourselves. Make the film ourselves. That’s how it started. But once we started writing the script, it became more about trying to get a fresh approach to the vampire film. Try to make an as original vampire movie as possible.”
FREDRIK WALDELAND: “It’s a realistic kind of humor in a surrealistic universe. And we haven’t seen that in a vampire film before. We’re both fans of Klown – the Danish film. That’s inspired from… [he sings a theme song] What’s it called, the show? Curb Your Enthusiasm! Curb Your Enthusiasm is kind of like Klown.”
TAB: “That’s right. Very similar.”
FW: “We like that kind of awkward humor, and wanted to fit that into a vampire film basically.”
Strong performances are key to the success of Vidar the Vampire. And the two leads definitely help to make the film truly memorable.
As the title character, Thomas Aske Berg (who deservedly won Best Lead Actor in a Feature at Filmquest) is a marvel. Obviously, since he co-wrote the piece (and co-directed), the part was tailor-made for him and his abilities. What’s impressive is that we get to see so many sides to this person. Vidar is loyal and devoted to his mother. But he’s also depressed, feeling stuck and frankly, horny as hell! Berg is able to bring every one of these complicated emotions to the fore with his work. And with the assistance of the actor portraying the younger Vidar (a terrific performance from Ruben Jonassen) – Vidar is without a doubt a sympathetic (sometimes pathetic) character who you hate to see suffer. And despite the film’s sometimes goofy tone (Berg also has the comic chops for such things – including innate physical comedy abilities) the film truly has a heart – and Berg’s Vidar is (as it should be) at the center.
As the lusty and bold Jesus, Brigt Skrettingland is Berg’s on-screen equal. Clearly, the film is about Vidar’s journey, but Skrettingland joins Berg in all of their scenes – creating a delicious chemistry which is surely one of the film’s highlights. Their initial meeting is truly something to behold (and the film’s most memorable sequence – never mind the fact that the “through the crotch” camera angle is inspired).
Oh, the tales I was told of shooting this sequence. I don’t want to spoil the moment for when you watch the film, but it involved the taping of a penis to one’s stomach – in an effort to keep it out of the shot – and the subsequent breaking of said tape. Ahem.
Skrettingland’s casting and background make his hiring for Jesus, all the more interesting.
HFN: [to Skrettingland] “How did you get the role? How were you brought in? You guys [Berg and Waldeland] were already together and ready to go, so how did the casting process work?”
BRIGT SKRETTINGLAND: “We actually had two things. We [he and Berg] played together in The Full Monty on stage. And I was actually cast as an extra.”
TAB: “Yes, originally we cast Brigt as an extra. And if you pay close attention you’ll find him as an extra in the film.”
BS: “But you know, the Lord is everywhere, so…”
[laughter all around]
TAB: “Our official answer is that he’s… the Lord… when you find him as an extra, it was meant to be.”
BS: “But in both of the church scenes – both the healing scene and in the funeral. I’m the guy who shouted, ‘God bless you Pastor, God bless you!’”
TAB: “But he looks so different. When we started working on the character Jesus – which is sort of like a Jesus/Lucifer kind of character – he had to grow out his beard, grow out his hair. He looks completely different.”
BS: “My pubes…” [see “through the crotch” camera angle mention above for reference]
FW: “Especially the pubes, yeah.”
[laughter all around]
HFN: “You hear those Hollywood stories where, ‘I was just a lowly extra and suddenly I had a starring role.’ So what happened? How did you know?”
TAB: “In the casting process – looking for that Jesus character – there were two things we were looking for in the character… someone who could resemble a mix between Jesus and Lucifer – and may have that kind of look – the long hair. He’s got a kind of dual look. He could be a good guy, but he has those sharp features which makes him look a little more devilish. But it was also about finding the right actor who could also take the time in order to join us on an adventure, because we had no money. And also time-wise…”
NOTE: The film was shot over several years – to accommodate for the timeline as well as seasonal changes inherent in the script. From inception to the end of post-production, the project took about 7 years.
And the most interesting bit about the casting of Brigt:
HFN: “You guys mentioned in the Q&A that Brigt – you’re a theologian?”
BS: “Yeah. Kind of like.” [laughs] “I studied. I went one year studying the culture in Israel to understand what the hell that was actually about.”
HFN: [to Berg] “Was that a bonus? Or did you already know that when you hired him?”
TAB: “We didn’t know that until we actually started filming.”
HFN: [to Skrettingland] “How much did your knowledge go into moving things along on the film?”
BS: “Both the directors opened up for a lot of improvisation in this movie. I could improv as much as I wanted, as long as we were within the script. With the knowledge of the Bible, of course that made it so much easier to improvise.”
The film is not going to be for everyone. It can be vulgar, bloody and potentially offensive (a supporting role in the film is listed on the IMDb page as simply “drunk cunt’s boyfriend”). But if you have an equally perverse sense of humor as that of the filmmakers, you’ll find ultimate delight in all of the gnarly and nasty details found here. The sexual term, “eating out” takes on a whole new meaning in a twisted vampire movie – and that’s all I have to say about that.
And the mention in the interview excerpts above – the joyful talk about “pubes” is an additional indicator of the sense of humor shared by these three gents. Go into this knowing what to expect. But there are no apologies – from the filmmakers or from me – for enjoying this film immensely.
Visually, there are a few scenes which call out the work of one of my favorite directors, Ken Russell. That’s not to say the film is that extreme “Russell-cuckoo” all throughout, although it is terribly off-kilter in the way so many of Russell’s films are. The aforementioned “through the crotch” camera angle (and the scene where it is contained) was the first of several moments which made me fondly remember the late, great Russell. Images of The Devils and The Lair of the White Worm came to mind – and this baptismal scene (as it were) was the first of many such moments. It was a lovely homage and the images (even on their own) were quite striking.
What Vidar has – which is mostly missing from Russell’s films – is a sentimental heart.
There were tears shed by this reviewer. Many folks will say that I cry at practically everything, so take this admission of potential sobbing with a grain of salt. The film is emotionally powerful regardless. There’s a scene late in the film where Vidar takes a flower to one of the prostitutes he’s been seeing in the city– and the subsequent moments are quite simply – lovely.
And it’s these disparate, but still effective sides to the film which drive its success. Vidar the Vampire basically has a little bit of everything. While so many levels might be unexpected, they’re certainly appreciated. Vidar is a gem.
What might take you by surprise (or maybe not), is that the film is extremely anti-religion (just look at the interview comments above about Jesus being part Lucifer). And that certainly won’t appeal to everyone. “Jesus ruins lives” is a not so subtle takeaway from the film. Sure, this scenario is quite literal, but the beating down of Christianity in Vidar the Vampire cannot be denied. Personally, I found it quite delicious and a unique take on the topic of religion/anti-religion.
The film leaves itself open for a sequel – not directly, but based on the film’s own rules, it’s a possibility.
TAB: “There’s always a possibility, but personally, I’m not a huge fan of sequels necessarily. And I have other concepts I would very much like to do before I would ever do a Vidar the Vampire sequel. But never say never.”
With expert performances from the two leads, a terrific sense of visual story-telling and what is clearly a tight team effort behind the scenes [TAB: “I was out shooting everyday, or doing post-production with my best friends. The camaraderie and all the laughter on set, that was the most fun.”], Vidar the Vampire is a film with a sick sense of humor (which I loved), and a strong, beating, and beautifully sentimental heart (even if it is undead).
It was my “best of fest” feature film in this year’s Filmquest wrap-up – which means that it’s certainly worthy of your time and dime.
Vidar the Vampire was nominated for several awards at this year’s Filmquest, including: Best Feature Film, Best Foreign Film, Best Feature Screenplay, Best Lead Actor in a Feature [WINNER], Best Supporting Actor in a Feature for Brigt Skrettingland, Best Supporting Actor in a Feature for Suthersan Bala, Best Editing in a Feature and Best Score for a Feature.
If you missed out on the film at Filmquest, it will be showing in October at this year’s forthcoming Screamfest in Hollywood. As far as a wider release, per the filmmakers, there are several interested sales agents and distributors, so stay tuned!