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  • nickkarner

Berserker (1987)

Al Foggerson stared at the phone, looking glum. His business was going under. “No one's calling,” he thought. “There’s just no demand for my product anymore.” What was once a cottage industry had become a relic of times past. “Might as well close up shop,” he thought. Then, the phone rang. Wiping a bead of sweat from his brow, he picked up the receiver with trepidation.

“Big Al’s Big Fog Machines. Al speaking…uh-huh…yes…we have plenty…ALL OF THEM?! Of course! I see…you’re making a movie, eh? Uh-huh…we’ll ship ‘em right out! By the way, what’s the name of the movie?”

It’s an oft-spoken question that has baffled moviegoers ever since Kevin Smith’s Clerks was released in 1994. “Would you like making fuck, Berserker?” I still have no idea, although they do confirm that he says “making fuck.” What I can confirm is that 1987’s Berserker broke the bank when it came to using fog machine technology. I’d hazard this movie has more fog than John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980). Of course, fog is absolutely essential to set mood, atmosphere, and a fear of unknown terrors lurking in the forest. A fun bonus is how it can be used to mask the shortcomings of a low-budget supernatural slasher with very few redeeming qualities.

A title card pops up in bright blue lettering to let us know it’s ‘The 10th Century.” A boat with a masthead that looks like a lizard chicken comes ashore and a screaming dude (Mike Riley) in a bear outfit pops up. We’re treated to some credits and very quick cutaways to odd, bloody effects. We find out later he’s part of a Nordic Curse, wherein the invading Vikings would send in ‘berserkers,’ monstrous warriors who would decimate anything and anyone they encountered and feast on the flesh of their victims. This one is dressed in a ManBearPig costume, sans the pig. It’s clear the bear snout he wears isn’t supposed to move, but it still looks a bit rubbery nonetheless.

It’s now daytime and we see a tent. Wait, is this still the 10th century? There’s no present-day title card, so I have to presume all of the cars and modern technology we see in this movie were available back then. It’s clear the film was shot in Utah, so the production company cast only the best local hires. Homer (Oscar Rowland, Dr. Conway in the incredible Silent Night, Deadly Night) and Edna (Beverly Rowland, one of the better Halloween sequels: The Return of Michael Myers) are a couple of old fogies camping out. It comes across like The Asylum’s version of On Golden Pond. They’re a cute pair, but not for long since what we’re led to believe is a bear soon tears them to shreds. It’s very oddly shot. Most of the bear attacks in this movie are squirts of blood from off-camera and a paw smearing a red, jam-like substance on people’s faces. There’s a jarring cut to a huge and very real bear completely alone in a clearing. The bear’s acting is among the best in the film.

It’s big 80’s hair and mullets galore as we meet our teenaged(?) future members of the S.M.V.C. (the Slasher Movie Victims Club). They’re on their way to a camp site and we’re treated to a rockin’ montage of what I’d assume Utah residents would refer to as ‘devil music.’ Chuck Francour’s “King H” blares on the soundtrack and his baffling lyrics almost distract from these full-grown children doing dumb things, like not focusing the lens to take a picture and sharing a chip like Lady and the Tramp (gross!). Our group consists of Mike (Joseph Alan Johnson, The Slumber Party Massacre), Josh (Greg Dawson), Kathy (Valerie Sheldon), Kristi (Shannon Engemann, who actually had a small career including Poolhall Junkies and some fitness infomercial work), Shelly (Beth Toussaint, another one who worked - Dead Heat, Dallas), and resident dork Larry (Rodney Montague, a prolific VFX producer).

Josh is enjoying some delicious road beer and figures the beautiful countryside is as good a place as any to litter, so out goes the can. Officer Hill (John F. Goff, whose wild career includes the screenplays for Matt Cimber’s Butterfly and William Lustig’s Hit List, and appearances in everything from The Fog, They Live, Alligator, Under the Rainbow, to Tammy and the T-Rex) pulls them over to a completely different road in a really bad cut. He steps out and you can tell he’s got no patience for a bunch of punk teens who look like 30-year-olds. We’re informed more than once that littering is bad. This was probably Captain Planet’s favorite movie. That or On Deadly Ground.

They arrive at the campground and are stopped by the proprietor, Pappy, played by legendary bit player George ‘Buck’ Flower, a frequent writing partner of Goff’s and who can boast having worked with a wide swath of filmmakers including Jim Wynorski, Anthony Hickox, William Lustig, Robert Zemeckis, Fred Olen Ray, and John Carpenter. I’m not quite sure what accent Flower is going for here. Sort of a Nordic/Amish/Irish thing. He also looks like a leprechaun whose green jacket’s in the wash. Josh has been coming here for years and insists they get the Sargents place. He’s a rude little S.O.B. whom Pappy claims to not remember, but luckily his buddies are well-mannered and they’re given the Miller place since the other site has been reserved. Josh, asshole that he is, notices a broken sign and heads to the Sargents place, even though people should already be there. What was his endgame here? To bum rush the site and just try to share? Very poor thinking. He even finds the recently-alive Homer and Edna’s tent and ditches it. Okay, again...what if they showed up?

More of Francour’s lame-o metal accompanies another montage. Chuck croons out that “Yer a COOOOOOLLLL DUDE!” while the “kids” engage in all manner of shenanigans and race around on a pretty sweet all-terrain motorbike. Mike gets into his undies way too fast while they frolic in the stream. It’s cheesy and stupid, but I can’t say it looks boring. They seem to be having fun and the joy is infectious.

We get an average campfire scene where Larry describes the exploits of the Berserkers. It’s a well-written, cool scene, only hampered by Larry’s far-too-tight jean shorts, which highlight his balls. Josh sneaks up on the group and scares Kristi with Homer’s glove that he found in the woods. Everyone is pissed and it becomes all too clear that Josh is a real prick. Even in the opening scene, Kristi is told to ignore Josh, even though they appear to be together. Why would she be with this guy? The other couples are all over each other in the very well-lit cabin later on, while Josh and Kristi awkwardly sit on a bunk together. Josh tries to be deep about why he hasn’t come back to the campground. Something about rumors of a bear mauling a woman. It really doesn’t come to anything and it doesn’t make Josh any more likable. Kristi needs to hit the can (i.e. get away from Josh) and is told to find a tree.

While Hill and Pappy play chess in an amusingly ad-libbed scene, they wonder aloud about those dumb kids who just arrived. It’s fun to see two very old friends go back-and-forth. Meanwhile, Kristi has stupidly gone way, way, WAY into the woods to, I guess, take a dump (otherwise why would she go so far?) and gets lost. Mike and Shelly are getting hot and heavy on their bunk and Josh, jealous, lights the brightest match in the history of ever to interrupt. They realize Kristi has been gone for a while. Rather than Josh going out to look for her, you know, like a semi-boyfriend would, Mike and Shelly head out instead. They throw a blanket over each other and scare the shit out of Kristi, telling her how to get back. They take this opportunity to bone outside.

What follows is a bizarre cross-cut between a bear attack and a sex scene. Now I know what William Girdler’s Grizzly (1976) was missing. Although the attack on Kristi involves a lot of blood and the paw smearing red jelly all over her face, the sex scene is surprisingly steamy. There’s plenty of fog, of course (thanks Big Al), and they get it on pretty graphically. Beth Toussaint has a Linda Hamilton-lite thing going on and as she reaches orgasm, Kristi is mauled big time. We get more shots of the real bear running around by itself. It seems like writer/director Jef Richard was just so pleased with the bear footage that he had to include it all.

Post-coitus, Shelly finds the remains of Homer and freaks out, running off into the woods with Mike on her heels. The rest of the group hears the commotion and rushes out to find them. Shelly comes upon Kristi, who is barely alive, then she too is mauled by the ‘bear.’ More jam smearing, more blood squirting. They find the bodies and Mike is just a tad upset. Josh says he’ll lead them back to the cabin. I’m not against this idea since it’s not as though they have a stretcher, but I also think it’s a tricky proposition to just leave their friends in the woods to get eaten by animals. How will they direct a search party to find them?

While Pappy checks on the kids during interminably long and boring shots, Josh can’t find his way back to the cabin. As Matt Stone said in Cannibal the Musical (1993): “Sure is a lot of walking.” Over half of this movie is just people walking places. Plus, more shots of the bear...walking. They see Pappy’s truck moving veeeerrrry slowly but they apparently can’t run after it. Then dorky McDorkerson Larry trips over a stick. It looks like a little scrape, but he has in fact broken his leg, according to human compass and royal fuck-up Josh. Josh tells the rest of them to find the cabin and he’ll wait with Larry. Or…they could just carry him since he practically weighs 90 pounds. It’s not like he’s Franklin from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). There are three people who could snatch him up and keep going. Instead, they separate.

Mike and Kathy make it back and it appears Pappy has been killed too. Always reliable Josh left the radio on in the car so it won’t start, another tired cliché, but they’ve got their sweet all-terrain bike. Once again, they separate for no reason, with Mike leaving Kathy all alone in the much darker cabin now. Josh and Larry share a moment that’s ultimately meaningless.

In the movie’s best scene, the “bear” attacks Josh, but guess what? It’s not the bear! It’s the Berserker! I had assumed the Berserker was just the bear and that he could change forms. Larry had mentioned some things about reincarnation but nothing about shape-shifting. Still, I assume Jef Richard wanted people to think the bear was killing everyone so the Berserker would be a big reveal. Instead, I just assumed they were the same being. As Josh gets mauled, the real bear shows up and there’s an epic battle between bear and Berserker. It’s amazing. The guy is literally wrestling with a bear. There are some great close-up inserts of the real bear roaring at the camera and the whole scene is impressively put together. I can’t quite tell when and if there are some fake bear effects, but the real bear fends off the Berserker. I feel bad for the bear in real-life because the Berserker wears a bear snout so it must have blown its mind wrestling a guy wearing a relative’s face.

The film continues to meander along with Larry leaving Josh, who has a makeshift bandage on but appears to be dead. Mike stops Officer Hill and they drive to the cabin. Kathy is huddled in a corner and has barricaded the door. Something tries to get in but gives up real fast. What’s incredibly stupid about this scene is that there’s a giant window right by her head so if it is the Berserker, he could just smash through the glass. Larry gets to the cabin and Kathy runs out to him just as the Berserker pops up in a nearby field. It can’t seem to stand the sunlight as Mike and Hill arrive. Kathy jumps up and down, screaming like a maniac, telling Hill to shoot it. He seems to hesitate, but eventually pulls the trigger. We get a delayed reaction because they were impressed with the gunshot wound, I guess, then it falls down, dead. Josh opens his eyes and gets up, but we never see him again. Larry assures them that he’s fine but he left Josh hours ago with major wounds, so how the hell does he know Josh is all right? It would’ve been perfectly acceptable to have Josh die. I have no idea why he isn’t definitively dead nor do I understand the random shot of him getting up. Is it just there to give people a little bit of hope? This is a slasher. An unconventional slasher, I’ll grant you, but it’s still a by-the-numbers slasher. We see that Pappy was the Berserker, which makes very little sense since he was playing chess with Hill and we saw him driving after the kids were attacked. I guess that’s the best the movie could come up with and we’re treated to the ridiculous “Prisoner of Rock and Roll” as the movie fades to credits.

The film was supposedly shot a month after Jef Richard wrote the script and I can believe that odd bit of trivia. Besides the ancient Nordic element, the film is no different from any other horror movie about aging teens getting killed in the woods. It’s reasonably well shot by DP Henning Schellerup, who seems to have been another local hire since he shot Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). He ended up having a decent career working as a director/cinematographer as well as doing crew work on A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Hit List (1989) and Suburban Commando (1991). Editor Marcus Manton would work on a few Cannon films like American Ninja (1985), Rappin’ (1985), and the immortal Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984). He also edited the horny gnome movie A Gnome named Gnorm (1990) and Pumpkinhead (1988).

I didn’t expect Jef Richard to have a long and fruitful career based off of this movie, but he smartly focused his attention on being a producer and production manager, often for location shoots. His credits include Without Warning, Stallone’s Get Carter remake, an Ilsa sequel, and Maniac Cop. I think he made the right choice calling it quits on his directing career. Best to just shove this flick aside and move on with his life. Berserker has some fun bits here and there but I’d say the best thing about it is still the extraordinary poster art that seems inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It’s a great poster promising a movie that doesn’t exist.


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