- Straight to Video
- Director: Jefferson Richard
- Written by: Jefferson Richard, Joseph Kaufman, Henning Schellerup
- Running Time: 85 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
- Cast: George 'Buck' Flower, John F. Goff, Joseph Alan Johnson, Valerie Sheldon, Greg Dawson, Beth Toussaint, Rodney Montague, Mike Riley, Shannon Engemann, Oscar Rowland, Beverly Rowland
Knowing that it was some kind of 80s horror classic, I elected to go into my screening of Jefferson Richard‘s “Berserker” totally blind. I didn’t research the film outside of a quick two minute scan of the faded box cover. As I pushed play and the thing got going, I was almost immediately struck by how much the film reminded of Greydon Clark’s “Without Warning”. I paused the DVD and quickly hopped onto my trusty laptop and began my quest to uncover whether or not Greydon Clark was actually a pseudonym for Jefferson Richard. It wasn’t. But, as I soon discovered, Jefferson Richard had actually worked on “Without Warning” as a production manager and wardrobe supervisor. This minuscule slab of trivia suddenly became my raison d’être to pounce on “Berserker” and get watching.
Like “Without Warning”, this film had a pair of acting legends in John F. Goff and George 'Buck' Flower and at least one up and coming actress Beth Toussaint throwing down in the film‘s only provocative scene. Okay, Beth isn’t exactly David Caruso, the “Without Warning” answer to a nobody who became a somebody, but she’ll do in a pinch. She did appear in “Project Shadowchaser II”, “Red Eye“ and "Star Trek: TNG" so that’s gotta count for something. Shannon Engemann, a girl who’s racing back to relevance of late with her appearance in Ryan Little’s awesome “House of Fears”, also shows up in a quaint under-written role.
Man, I had seriously high hopes for this film. It starts out pretty good with a scene reminiscent of Edwin Brown‘s “The Prey”, as a pair of “On The Golden Pond” clones get lost in the deep dark woods and later, after stumbling around for awhile, get violently dispatched by something hairy and large... It looks like a bear. Yeah, we're only getting started on that front. From there, we quickly segue the central story, which involves six thirty-ish college kids; Josh (Greg Dawson), Mike (Joseph Alan Johnson), Kathy (Valerie Sheldon), Shelly (Beth Toussaint), Kristi (Shannon Engemann) and Larry (Rodney Montague), heading up to Rainbow Valley campgrounds, you know, where the couple was just killed, for a weekend of drinking, smoking pot and having sex -- and that‘s just on the truck ride up. A kindly old officer, Hill (John F. Goff), pulls them over for littering and immediately takes an interest in the book sitting in the lap of one of the kids. The tome, as I’ll call it, pertains to the history of Rainbow Valley, nicknamed Little Norway, due to the plethora of Scandinavian Vikings who settled in the area in the 800s. Even though beer cans are literally falling into their lap as they struggle to get their license and registration out of the glove box, Hill elects to let the kids go with a warning.
Up at the camp, Pappy Nyquist (George 'Buck' Flower -- feigning a dreadful German accent), verbally squares off with the kids before setting them up at the Miller Camp. Josh, as it turns out, used to camp in the area as a child and isn’t having any of it. See, he wants to go to the Sargant’s Place and that’s exactly what he does after leaving Nyquist’s line of sight. Upon arriving, Josh quickly gets to hiding a half-made tent just down in the woods away from the cabin. Who does it belong to? Oh yeah, the old couple murdered in the first scene.
After a day of frolicking in the forest, the fun starts when the night falls and the kids take to telling ghost stories… or, maybe, Norse stories, as Larry, the intellectual of the group, relates a spooky tale from his book of how a sect of Vikings who settled in the area went mad over time and turned into demented, cannibalistic savages designed specifically for war. Ever heard the term ‘Berserker rage‘? Well, that’s these guys in a nutshell. Draped in tattered bear pelts, the bloodlust of these men was such that they’d viciously roll over anyone in their line of sight, and then cannibalize what was left. So effective as killers were these savages that they were often used as a tool by invading Norsemen who kept them in cages and sprang them when landing in some new area. In short, Dick Cheney’s wet dream. More close to home, thanks to a certain incident some six years earlier involving a little girl being murdered, it seems a legend has sprouted up around Rainbow Valley that a crazed Berserker is stalking the forests killing people. Huh?
After one of the party girls heads outside into the night to take a squirt, that’s when things suddenly take a turn for the worst. A pair of kids screwing (yup, it’s Beth) is intercut with the pissing girl being mauled by what appears to be a bear. Sex and death coming together in an editing blitz, smashing you over the head with all the ferocity of Thor’s hammer. Actually, since we only see a paw, I should probably categorize it as a paw mauling. Later, the bear (err… paw) attacks Beth who quickly realizes why knocking booties in the deep dark woods isn’t such a swell idea. See, that’s the thing about this film; every time a murder occurs, there is a lengthy shot of a bear standing on its hind legs, yapping at the camera. Is it a bear attacking people? If so, why all the chatter about crazy, cannibal Norsemen earlier? Oh wait, I guess we’re getting to that. Anyways, after a good half hour of the kids running willy nilly around the woods, we finally - with fifteen minutes left to go - get to see the rampaging Berserker when he actually attacks Josh on-camera. Before he can kill Larry, the Berserker, seemingly pantomiming wrestling legend The Ultimate Warrior, finds himself going head to head with the same giant bear that’s been hobbling around the woods since the beginning of the flick. It’s a half-assed fight that when pitted up against some of the other awesome man vs. bear cinematic tussles, barely registers. Heck, even Will Ferrell's bear scrap in "Semi-Pro" had more oomph. And that bear actually killed its owner.
The film does pounce on a very interesting, somewhat jarring closing shot which begs the question: why wasn’t the Berserker on screen more than he was. It’s not until the final minutes of the film do we get any sense of just how frightening this whack job really is. Sadly, we never do find out why the killer, when he is exposed, did what he did. Granted, the revelation of the killer had me picking my jaw up off of the floor as I simply did not see it coming.
In the end, it’s not a very good film. Unlike “Without Warning” “Berserker” doesn’t effectively create the tension (or chills) needed to sustain itself, especially when the central killer isn’t revealed until the final fifteen. On the upside, the fact that the film plays bait and switch with the identity of the thing doing the killing can be called seditious at best. Is this a man vs. nature flick or a straight ahead man vs. man slasher-in-the-woods piece? This is something that Jefferson Richard elects not to unveil until he absolutely has to and, while many seem to enjoy the handling of that aspect of the film, I personally didn’t. The bear simply isn’t scary and without those much needed jolts we‘re left with a bunch of folks running amongst underlit trees set to a really bad 80s hair band soundtrack and not much else.
On a positive note; I did find refreshing the fact that these friends actually seemed to be… well… friends. So many films of this type have a group of “friends” who spend the entire film barking at each other and after awhile it becomes a question of why they are even together… and yes, I‘m thinking of you “The Undertow“, to name but one. This film features its share of cliché including, and especially, the kindly sheriff whose words of warning go unheeded. What would a genre film be without such a character. Oh yeah, maybe a good one. Sadly, “Berserker” isn’t that.