Released in 1958, the 73-minute LAKE OF THE DEAD (DE DODES TJERN) is widely considered a classic of Norwegian film—which, considering that Norway is hardly known for its cinema, isn’t saying a whole lot. It was, however, fairly prescient, if for no other reason than the fact that, cinematically speaking, Norway is now primarily known for horror fare (BLACK SNOW, RARE EXPORTS, NEXT DOOR, etc).
A novelist decides to write about something that happened to him years earlier. It involves a lengthy train ride, undertaken with several friends, to a cabin at the edge of an apparently enchanted lake. Diary entries by a former resident of the cabin reveal that the man was tormented by disturbing visions that seemed to emanate from the lake.
Back in the story-within-the-story the inhabitants of the cabin find themselves hypnotically lured toward the lake in the same way their forebear was. Footsteps are spotted and a strange man is seen in one of the bedrooms. Not to worry, though, because there’s a (somewhat) natural explanation for it all!
LAKE OF THE DEAD’S stories-within-stories motif suggests (along with the frequent references to Strindberg, Galileo and DON QUIXOTE) that director Kare Bergstrom had some high-falutin’ ideals. However, the stilted acting, cut-rate set design (the cabin where most of the film takes place is right out of a fifties-era TV program) and clumsily laid-out narrative (were all the stories within stories really necessary?) fail to do Bergstrom’s aims justice.
Where the film succeeds is in the horrific atmosphere conjured by the impressively shadowy, noirish photography. Unfortunately even this is torpedoed by the obnoxious ending, which explains away the eeriness of the earlier scenes in a thoroughly uninspiring round table discussion that, to add insult to injury, concludes with a seriously lame joke.
LAKE OF THE DEAD (DE DODES TJERN)
Director: Kare Bergstrom
Screenplay: Kare Bergstrom
(Based on a novel by Andre Bjerke)
Cinematography: Ragnar Sorensen
Editing: Olav Engebretsen
Cast: Andre Bjerke, Bjorg Engh, Henki Kolstad, Per Lillo-Stenberg, Erling Lindhal, Henny Moan, Oyvind Oyen, Georg Richter, Leif Sommerstad, Inger Teien