There is one character in Harpoon worth rooting for. One. This is amidst a group of characters that are as racially and age diverse as any slasher movie you’ll see. The killers themselves are Icelandic/German, Nazi, religious, disgruntled, whale hunting, murderous crazies, the most politically incorrect trio ever.
Around 30-minutes are spent introducing these fodderific characters, a group of tourists in Iceland on a whale watching trip and they all instantly despise each other, and the audience’s sensibilities. You have the snooty, chauvinistic Korean, the drunk French guy (who of course stands no chance), the girl who is angry at the world over the loss of her fiance, three older woman who seem to believe they are perfect, and the token black guy who has a secret that goes nowhere. The latter is the only one you can get behind.
The film doesn’t do much to engage the viewer, horror fans alone pleased to see Iceland-native Gunnar Hansen as a boat captain, although that doesn’t last long. Stranded, the tourists are picked up by the psycho-Nazi party, and killing ramps up. Credit is due to Harpoon’s zero to “oh my god!” in 60 approach, literally turning the tables and the stomachs of those watching with the flick of a wrist.
The kills are appropriately gory, if devoid of any genuine tension. Iceland’s first slasher flick is hardly a revelation, borrowing the elements familiar to the kill fests of the modern day, without taking note of what made the classics work in the first place. The assault of blood, murder, and nudity only work when you have a likeable base, and seeing most of these people get picked off is more of a relief than a horror sensation.
Harpoon wants to make a point, or at least that is what is insinuated. Someone of course survives to live another day, although why that choice is made is never very clear. If there is some deeper meaning here, it was lost once the hammer smashed into the woman’s forehead, the explosion burned people alive, another person was harpooned (surprise!), and heads are blown off by gunfire. Trying to make an intelligent statement with all of that mayhem isn’t going to work.
The AVC encode for this US home video release resolves the images well, the source carrying a heavy grain structure that is almost certainly 16 mm. Generally though, it is well handled, noise rarely apparent and breakdowns minor. Smoke is typically a problem when mixed with thick grain, yet presented here cleanly inside the killer’s boat at 13:21. The final shot of the film suffers the worst, an aerial view of the ocean degrading the water into a mess of blocky chunks, not clean, crisp waves.
The nature of the film stock means the finest of details are not present, facial texture limited to its bare minimum, and other items somewhat flat. It is not an image that is lackluster however, the sharpness routine, but enough to create some dazzling establishing views early at the dock, buildings in the distance refined.
Colors are tweaked cool, given a blue tinge with the exception of the flesh tones. People are given orange skin on a regular basis, a real jarring contrast in terms of color depth. Those who dislike the modern film stylings of say, Michael Bay, won’t find much to like here either. Nothing is diluted or stale with the exception of some underwater whale footage late in the film, likely pulled from a different source as it lacks all of the color timing, depth, and clarity of the rest. It’s not just the underwater footage either.
What is lacks in natural qualities, it makes up for with some rich black levels, dimensionality strong with only a light loss of shadow details within the ship’s interior. Outdoors, early before the trip starts, the contrast does most of the detail-hogging, hot and blown out to give the film it’s harsh, exaggerated look. The whites, despite their overbearing qualities, are pure and clean, free of noise.
The film opens on a soft musical interlude over some stock footage of whalers working, but adjusting your volume to your usual levels here is a sure way to dim your hearing. Past the intro, the film moves into a blistering, absurdly loud concert, completely overdone and unbearable. Dialogue in these opening moments is difficult to make out, and the variety of accents does it no favors either.
The volume eventually balances out once everyone starts coming together for the trip, the bass becoming more natural, used more for scares within the soundtrack than anything else. The drums make their presence felt with hefty, room-shaking force. An explosion at 47:10 doesn’t have too much heft behind it initially, but travels through the boat’s halls, which is where the low-end makes a point.
The surrounds are typical fare, a nice wrap-around rain effect around 57-minutes convincing and natural. Some positional dialogue is effective too, adding to the creepiness. A third rear speaker highlight comes as a killer tries to smash a window about 1:01:00, each blast resonating in the surrounds, tracked well as the camera pans around. It’s all adequate for the material, except for that concert.
A behind-the-scenes featurette focuses squarely on Gunnar Hansen in-between brief patches of on-set footage with music drowning out any dialogue. It’s about 16-minutes, and limited in its informational value. A trailer also resides on the disc.
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