Finally! The first Icelandic slasher flick! Icelandic films have hitherto been characterized by bleak and gloomy stories of depressed Icelanders trying out every option available to turn tails from their down-in-the-dumps existence: There’s been a lot of drama, a lot of drinking, and a lot of sex.
But isn’t there something missing? Any imbecile can see that essential accessories to the aforementioned sex, drama and drinking are blood and gore. Luckily, The Reykjavík Whale Watching Massacre.
The man behind it all is the notorious Júlíus Kemp, both famed for making controversial guerrilla flicks such as Blossi 810551 and Veggfóður, but also films that address societal issues such as Strákarnir Okkar. We caught up with the good man at his headquarters.
Whale Watching Massacre, you say. How did you guys come up with such a project?
It all began about five years ago, in 2004, when we were working on a different screenplay with Sjón, RWWM’s screenwriter. He attended a conference, some sort of animation gathering, where he met some enthusiastic Danes that just kinda put forward the question why anyone hadn’t already made a movie called Whale Watching Massacre, where this controversial issue was addressed in this horrific way. The blame can probably be placed with them. When Sjón returned, he asked us if we’d want to participate in a project with that kind of theme. Naturally, we jumped at the chance.
The project was originally meant to boast a budget of 200 million dollars, but you might say we hit a few obstacles right away. In time, we decided to lower the guillotine and make it more local and just go for it, instead of letting it fade away in an endless hunt for money.
And are you passionate about these kind of films? Are you a big fan of splatter?
I go all around the circuit, but yeah, I’ve stood steadily on the sideline of the splatter biz through time, especially during my adolescence years. In those days, westerns and splatters were my bread and butter. But Sjón definitely has a more extensive background in these area; I would even bet he’d seen every single movie ever made. Whale Watching Massacre goes all around though, and doesn’t only pass as a splatter; you can find references to every single existing genre in film history, one way or another.
Tell me about the plot and its origins, is the story based on any myths or urban legends—or is it just a fabrication?
It’s no folktale, it’s merely make-believe fabricated by Sjón. The basic idea was to create a platform where the two worlds would collide; the whale watching business and the whale-hunting racket. It might be an overstatement to call what’s going on turmoil, but there sure is quite a conflict. The story isn’t biased in either direction, and isn’t political at all. The hunters are of course illustrated as foul, but the tourists are as well. Everyone has their dark sides, and in the end everybody deserves to die. As they do.
How about the funding, was it more strenuous to gain funding for a feature of this genre rather than a more “sophisticated” one?
It really came as a surprise when the Icelandic Film Centre, as well as the other Scandinavian patrons, didn’t have anything against our slasher flick. The co-producers also saw potential in distribution, which is the main thing in all this: potential. The moneybags proved to be pro-splatter, eventually. The mainstream movie industry keeps getting more and more bloody, movies such as Angels and Demons—featuring Tom Hanks—parade these immensely gory scenes, so you know the crowd must be supportive of this evolution.
And how gory is it exactly? What’s the actual body count in WWM?
Well. Everybody dies except, one person. You could just count the names on the poster and subtract one. It’s as basic as that, a genuine splatter flick.
Producing a gore-fest such as this must include procedures different from the ones in, well, less bloody filmmaking, especially in terms of producing the sound, etc. How would you describe the difference?
There is of course a vast difference between these kinds of productions and more regular ones. We had to ship in a British sound technician who’d previously worked on projects like Alien vs. Predator, building up a sound library with ludicrous budgets behind him. He basically brought his sound library over. We’re lucky to miss out on the lawsuit-hide and seek involved in the sound business, with the big studios overseas, so we could utilize previously fabricated sounds.
In my previous works I’d always used Icelandic sound guys and always gotten top-notch results, so I undoubtedly had some cynic feelings about handing it all over to a foreigner. In this situation, though, I felt I had to. The sound and aural ambiance amounts to about 80% of horror flicks like these, so it had to be superb. And I am happy to say it is. The production as a whole was a very slow process, the film took over forty days to shoot. It’s set on a boat in a rural area, so it always took at least two days to get there and get things going before the cast could be transported over. Weather is also important, but we were really lucky.
How do you think the Icelandic crowd will react to this new genre in Icelandic film?
It’s an unwritten book to me, of course I hope they’ll like it, but who knows? One thing I’m sure of is that the whale watching business will be busy once the movie’s been distributed overseas. It’s definitely a positive injection for those tourist companies.
How do you look at this film compared to your previous two, are they similar in any way. Is there perhaps a red thread running through your work?
This is of course a totally different thing from what I’ve done before as a director; we now have professional actors, a genuine crew, some money behind us… So it’s black and white. Incomparable. But in this one, as in my previous work, you could say I’m valiant. I’ve always liked to take chances. Blossi was a big risk, where we wanted to make a flick about teenagers that really didn’t tell any story. It’s of course a cliffhanger to produce a splatter movie, as well as making a film about role-playing youngsters such as in Astrópía and a gay soccer team, as in Strákarnir Okkar. So you could maybe say my flair is to take risks. And if RWWM causes some kind of outburst and gets people mad, it would of course be great!
Kemp’s Top Ten All Time Favourite Horror Movies
1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
3. The Hills Have Eyes (the original one)
4. High Tension
5. The Thing
8. The Devil’s rejects
9. Wolf Creek
10. Cabin Fever