The Day of the Dead Intertitle: Famous Monsters of Finland

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NOIDAN KIROT (THE CURSE OF THE WITCH) is a Finnish melo from 1927, with clear connections to the kinds of man-versus-nature drama that were popular in Sweden during the silent era. A couple move to an isolated house where an ancient curse is rumoured to assail inhabitants, according to local legend. And indeed, the couple have a pretty rough time of it — she is raped by rogue lumberjacks and gives birth to a child which her husband comes to suspect is not his. It’s grim, and it takes a while to get going, but it builds nicely once underway and it doesn’t leave you feeling suicidal (always a risk with Scandinavia).

The above title (in Finnish and Swedish and with English subs) allows the husband to learn that the lumberjack/rapist he thought was dead is actually still alive and obnoxious — the speaker is a hard-boiled arctic cop, hence the sardonic tone.

The film’s strangest, most delightful-disturbing moment, is after the scene where the heroine is chased into the woods by the villains. The scene discretely fades out, and we go to the husband, asleep in bed miles away, but tormented by nightmares — in the form of this little guy ~

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As in HAXAN, the Scandinavian insistence on full-body makeup is appreciated. He is never explained, and connects to nothing else in the movie, though I guess he may be a reference to some nordic changeling myth and anticipates the child born who will seem like a cuckoo in the nest. This happy, waving bedside Ewok is distinctly unsettling precisely because he is devoid of a context. A single intertitle or a clear reference to fuzzy children in the witchcraft myth would set our minds at rest and allow us to process the indigestible little homunculus but NO.

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UNEARTHED AND UNEARTHLY

On a related note, another old Finnish flick, NOITA PALAA ELAMAAN (aka THE WITCH, 1952) features an enticing nude sorceress, disappointingly revealed to be an amnesiac swimmer in the postscript. The film, which is hilariously inept in construction, purports to examine mass hysteria in a light-hearted way — the appearance of the unclad, unearthly brunette, in a pit in a peat bog where a 300-year-old witch’s remains have recently been exhumed, throws all the characters into erotic obsession or witch-hunting madness, but the social point, though spelled out for us repeatedly, never catches fire (nor does the non-witch, fortunately) since ALL the behaviour in the film, from the most casual conversation to the exciting climax (which is all a dream) is so woodenly improbable. Make no mistake, this is a film with a message, and the message is PEOPLE ARE STUPID, to which the audience feels compelled to shout back YES BUT NOT THIS STUPID.

Still, Mirja Mane makes a decorous faux-wiccan. Her witchy laugh is annoying, but I think I could force myself to overlook it ~

8 Responses to “The Day of the Dead Intertitle: Famous Monsters of Finland”

  1. Nice review. That bit in the last clip of the man chasing the witch and then sinking into the ground kind of reminded me of Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson.

  2. You had me with “Famous Monsters of Finland.”

  3. Thanks!

    I think Under the Skin is quite a bit more disturbing, and effective all-round, than The Witch. I’m told via Twitter than it’s actually based on a work by a highly-respected Finnish author, but what reaches the screen suggests someone with the life experience and understanding of human relations of a young Kaspar Hauser.

  4. Dang, I haven’t looked into Finnish silent horror but I think I’m going to be hooked.

  5. I… don’t think there’s very much of it!

  6. I know this constitutes reckless Nordic conflation, but bits of the witch’s rampage wouldn’t look out of place in DE DUVA. That’s probably terribly unfair to Finland, which has generously given us Tove Jansson, a model public education system, and Maila Nurmi.

  7. Sometimes, less is more.

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