Writer/director Kåre Bergstrøm’s Lake of the Dead (De dødes tjern, 1958), stated by some sources as being Norway’s first horror film and voted by critics in 2001 as one of the country’s top five films of all time, is a superb folk horror film filled with haunting black-and-white imagery. It boasts top-notch acting and intelligent discussions about psychology and the supernatural.
A group of intellectuals — mystery novelist Bernhard Borge (Henki Kolstad, whose character uses the pseudonym under which poet André Bjerke wrote the film’s 1942 source novel), his wife Sonja (Bjørg Engh), critic Gabriel Mørk (Bjerke, in another meta instance), psychologist Kai Bugge (Erling Lindahl), painter Lillian Werner (Henny Moan, Bjerke’s wife) and Lillian’s fiance Harald Gran (Georg Richter) — take a train trip to visit Lillian’s twin brother Bjørn (Per Lillo-Stenberg) at his isolated cabin deep in the woods. Lillian believes that she and Harald have a psychic connection, and that he is in trouble or danger of some kind. Indeed, when the group arrives, Bjørn is nowhere to be found. Local policeman Bråten (Øyvind Øyen) regales the group with the local legend of how the ghost of a peg-legged man (Leif Sommerstad as Gruvik) who lusted after his own sister draws whoever stays in the cabin to their deaths by drowning in the nearby lake.
Lake of the Dead plays with mysteries and different theories from its characters, with thoughtful dialogue about reason, rationality, hypnosis, Freudian psychology, and the unexplained. These middle-aged intellectuals are much more fascinating to spend cabin-in-the-woods horror time with than the usual vapid teen-character tropes of such usual fare. Ragnar Sørensen’s cinematography sets an eldritch tone, with the flora surrounding the lake adding an extra edge to the proceedings.
Fright-fare cinephiles who seek out headier films should put Lake of the Dead high on their need-to-see lists.(4 / 5)