Iceland isn't known for its horror movie output, but here we have Harpoon - Whale Watching Massacre (abbreviated for American audiences for some reason from the original title of Harpoon - Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre), a lean and mean eighty-four minute slasher that begins with some rather distressing stock footage inserts showcasing the glory days of Iceland's whaling industry. Gone now, thanks to the efforts of protectionist and environmental agencies trying to prevent the extinction of whales, that industry was a big one for the small island nation but, we learn, they've been clever enough to make up for that by capitalizing on the tourist industry with whale watching expeditions.
When the story starts, we meet a pretty blonde woman whose friend ditches her after meeting a guy at a club, leaving her to go whale watching alone. She just barely makes it on the boat after the captain (Gunnar Hansen) pulls off from the dock with a boat load of Japanese tourists, a drunken Frenchman, and some German woman aboard. There's also a token black guy and another blonde who is on her honeymoon, albeit without her fiancé who was recently killed in a car crash. When the drunken Frenchman winds up injuring the captain leaving his first mate, a would be rapist, to take off in the only lifeboat all by his lonesome, the remaining passengers are initially relieved when a surly looking bearded guy picks them up.
Their hopes are soon dashed, however, as he doesn't take them to the harbor as he initially said he would but instead to a big, run down sea ship where his twisted mother and brother await his delivery of 'the catch of the day.' Mayhem, carnage and survivalist horror ensues as the carious characters work with and against one another to try and make it through the night alive and get back to the pier in one piece.
Not quite the carnage-fest that its cover art makes it out to be, Harpoon is actually quite a deliberately paced and interesting movie. With some quirky references to Icelandic culture, from digs at the economy to a truly eerie Bjork reference, it's a film deeply entrenched in the roots of the American slasher film but which manages to stand out on its own just enough to work. The influence of a certain Tobe Hooper film is obvious not just in the title and the casting of Gunnar Hansen, but also in the pacing and black comedy that is laced throughout the film, and in the idea of the family of killers working together but director Julius Kemp stops just short of ripping that film off completely. The rusty, grubby setting of the boats used in the film makes for the perfect spot to set a horror film, while the cold looking Icelandic locations add an air of despair to the picture that helps to foreshadow some of what will take place.
As far as the performances are concerned, no one here really stands out as remarkable, but neither does anyone stand out as horrible either. The acting is pretty average for the most part but once the set up is out of the way and the actual 'massacre' part of the title is given its due, it doesn't matter all that much. All involved are quite capable of handling the material just fine, and no one seems ill cast. The effects are generally pretty good, though some obvious CGI hampers things a little bit towards the end, and there's a really good sense of impending doom throughout the last half of the movie that works well in the picture's favor.
The filmmakers here aren't reinventing the wheel and seem quite proud to wear their influences plainly on their sleeves, but Harpoon - Whale Watching Massacre winds up a pretty entertaining watch with some memorable murder set pieces, a welcome nasty streak running throughout, and a few marginally thought provoking moments that help it stand out from the pack just enough.
Harpoon - Whale Watching Massacre looks pretty decent on Blu-ray in this AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. The transfer to Blu-ray is nice and clean though a coat of grain is present throughout the duration of the film. Black levels are generally pretty good, though there are a few spots where they look closer to dark grey than true black. Skin tones are generally pretty accurate, though during some of the scenes that take place inside the ship they look a little orange (likely related to the lighting employed and very likely done on purpose). This isn't a particularly colorful film, the boat is dingy and grey and gloomy looking and much of it takes place in the dark, so we don't get the sort of pop that the best Blu-ray transfers offer but given that this is how it's supposed to look, it's hard to take issue with Image's efforts here. Detail won't floor you but it certainly bests whatever standard definition could offer in that department and there aren't any serious edge enhancement or compression related issues to complain about. The film has a pretty gritty, dirty look to it but it works well in the context of the story.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. There are no subtitles or alternate language audio options provided, though the scenes that are spoken in Icelandic and in Japanese do have English subtitles that come on automatically to translate. Bass response isn't as strong as you might want it to be and there are a few spots where the levels spike a bit throughout the movie but overall things are generally pretty well balanced and clear. Some more ambient background noise and surround activity would have helped a few scenes a bit but the mix does spread things out to nice effect throughout the movie, even if not as frequently as maybe it could have. Dialogue can be a bit tricky in spots as some of the characters have different accents, some of which are easier to understand than others, but once you get used to that the movie sounds okay.
The only extra of much interest is a documentary called Behind The Scenes With Gunnar Hansen (15:40) which is more a collection of on-set footage than anything else, though Hansen does appear in front of the camera to talk about the movie here and there, as do a few other cast members. This is worth checking out if you enjoyed the feature but it's not all that in-depth, really, though some of the effects footage and stunt footage is fun.
Aside from that, there's a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other, unrelated Image Entertainment properties that play before you get to the main menu, and chapter selection.
Harpoon - Whale Watching Massacre may seem like just a standard slasher film set on a boat but by the time the film ends, director Julius Kemp does manage to take it in an interesting direction. It may not be a modern classic, but it's entertaining, refreshingly dark and twisted, and benefits from some clever black humor scattered throughout. Image's Blu-ray release looks and sounds okay but won't impress those looking for high definition perfection and the extras are light. Recommended for hardcore slasher fans, a solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.