Valkoinen Peura (The White Reindeer), 1952
I have a soft spot for Scandinavian fantasy films, including recent films Troll Hunter (Norway, 2010), a wickedly satirical monster romp and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finland, 2010), which the late Roger Ebert described as “an original, daring, carefully crafted film”, and older gems like Reptilicus (1961)(a guilty pleasure for me), and the inept Space Invasion of Lapland (aka Terror in the Midnight Sun/Invasion of the Animal People (Sweden, 1959), featuring a monster that looks like and predates Chewbacca.
With striking high contrast black and white photography and stark snowy landscapes, Valkoinen Peura (literally White Deer)(Finland, 1952) looks like a film that should appear in one of Danny Peary’s Cult Movie books. Yet, there is little written about the film and I see no mention of it in too many book on film to mention. Somehow I missed it and only recently discovered the film through Ron Adam’s Creepy Classics archive. Actually the film was well-received in 1952, and was later entered into competition at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and earned a special award for Best Fairy-Tale Film.
In Finland, it garnered three Jussi Award winners for Best Actress (Mirjami Kousmanen), Best Cinematography (Erik Blomberg) and Music (Einar Englund). Eventually when the film reached the United States, it was one of five films to win the 1957 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. As of June 2015, IMDb gives the film a 7.1/10. In tone The White Reindeer is closer in spirit to Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), with pagan rituals, witchcraft and ancient ways, as opposed to the horrific resurrection themes explored in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960).
We have a linear story —a woman is born a witch, she falls in love and marries a Reindeer herder, while he travels she grows lonely, she sees a shaman or Noaidi who advises her poorly, she becomes a shapeshifter and she is unknowingly hunted by the man who loves her. Along the way we see beautiful images composed to a haunting score.
When I initially glanced at the DVD-R case, the shadowy images of the lead woman reminded me of several Italian vampire films, including Black Sunday. However, The White Reindeer is not really a horror film. From the opening shots through a blurry lens we are led into the dreamy world of fairy tale. We have Cocteau with a dash of Gunnar Fischer on camera. By comparison, The White Reindeer is closer to Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) than any of the Hammer horror productions.
Yet, there are vampire elements in the film, including shapeshifting, a girl with fangs (we never see a bite on the neck), a blood sacrifice, a pagan altar, and fabrication of an iron lancet by an artesian seeking to destroy the beast. The film evokes Sámi Shamanism which emphasizes veneration of the dead and importance of natural objects such as rocks, trees, and plants.
The White Reindeer was directed by former documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Erik Blomberg. At the time he filmed this movie he was married to Mirjami Kuosmanen, and he lovingly photographs her in several closeups. She does indeed look a little bit like English actress Andrée Melly (Brides of Dracula, 1960), as indicated on the DVD-R liner notes.
A Sieidis… a focal place for Sámi Shamanism and a place of animal (Reindeer) sacrifice….
The White Reindeer….
This is a haunting film and a rare movie-going experience. If you like Bergman or Cocteau give it a shot. Others might get bored and wonder what the hype was about.