Norway is a psychedelic showstopper reminiscent of what Michel Gondry might be responsible for given the opportunity to create his own vampiric thriller, turning vampires into rave-loving party animals who befriend prostitutes and end up entangled in Nazi conspiracies. While Jim Jarmusch has the whole angsty-emo-rocker-vamp niche covered with Only Lovers Left Alive, Greek writer/director Yannis Veslemes takes audiences on a trippy European adventure through underground Athens, loaded with trashy European house music, bad facial hair, discotecs and flashy lights, in what could be the most unconventional horror comedy in years. Each new scene brings an equally unwieldy adventure, creating a vampire legend completely unique to Norway – the movie, not the icy country.
Zano (Vangelis Mourikis) is a vampire fueled by soulful rhythms – claiming that dancing keeps his heart beating – who arrives in Athens to meet his dear friend Jimmy. While passing some time, Zano ends up at a dive called Disco Zardoz where he lights up the dance floor while chatting up the local ladies, eventually becoming comfortable with a prostitute named Alice (Alexia Kaltsiki). Claiming she needs Zano to complete a job for her, the two embark on a wild journey with a drug dealer named Peter (Daniel Bolda) that quickly spirals out of control with the introduction of junkies, failed actors and a man who claims to be Bram Stoker.
This vampire freakshow makes total sense once you realize it’s the brainchild of a talented music video director (Veslemes) and the producer of Dogtooth (Yorgos Tsourgiannis), because no aspect of Norway plays by the rules. From the minute we meet Zano, he relishes an attitude that hilariously recalls Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd’s wild and crazy Festrunk Brothers, exploiting 80s stereotypes in Europe – he’s the zany international character you’d expect someone like Peter Stormare to play.
Vangelis Mourikis never eases back on his “charming” demeanor, always busting a move with spastic grace, and a certain lovability strikes an energetic vibe that most vampires seem to lack. Slick, goofily cool and hilariously carefree, Zano grooves his way into a heap of trouble by chasing Alice with the promise of a “warm” woman’s company, one of the only things that matters to this unique disco vampire. Mourikis becomes equally as endearing as Tom Hiddleston’s indie-vamp character Adam (from the aforementioned Only Lovers Left Alive), drawing us in with an uncharacteristically vibrant liveliness that blends dark comedy with an almost skeevy, druggie vibe – but you can’t despise a man who’s so “Travolta” in his ways.
The Gondry comparison obviously comes into play because of Veslemes’ music video background, choreographing dance numbers in seedy night clubs while staging brilliant lighting, an illuminating plethora of colors and a vivid attention to detail that remains constant throughout. Colors play a huge factor, as yellow filters soften most scenes, and even a victim’s blood hue will change based on the person. At one point, Zano decides to transform Peter into a vampire – an accomplice of sorts – and after removing his dagger-like fangs, yellow-colored blood spurts out of his neck like a geyser, correlating to his blondish character. Meanwhile, when another character gets slashed across the throat, blue-colored blood spills out, and so on and so forth. Strobe lights and lasers blast a flurry of colors whenever Zano hits the dance floor, but nothing beats his funky Björk-styled jacket blinged-out with pearly lights – quite possibly my favorite end-credits sequence in quite some time.
Veslemes’ grandiose fever-dream is nothing short of an obscure spectacle that transcends the boundaries of horror, becoming an artistic expression of exploitation, jovial debauchery, and witty homages being paid to a genre that’s slowly returning from the dregs of Young Adult boredom. Wisely using Norway‘s low-budget nature to his advantage, Veslemes turns towards a dreamy sense of surrealism where budgetary restraints become freeing challenges. While traveling via train, Zano’s progress is represented by a toy train set chugging past plastic trees and model houses, striking an enchanting charm when compared to normal tracking shots of speeding locomotives.
For a real hoot, soak in some of the other dancers occupying floor space around Zano and you’ll find a sea of odd characters, including a random man with a neck brace – little details that highlight a curious quirkiness. Veslemes enacts what can only be described as “calculated chaos,” mixing together Stoker references, smokey sex scenes complete with gas masks, and brainless vampires playing with viewfinders into a horrifically intoxicating genre gumbo.
It should come as no surprise that Norway showcases musical strengths in every scene, far beyond thumping synthetic jams powering Zano’s disco fever. When danger heightens, sound effects distort towards a darker atmosphere accompanied by violence and torture, yet the same songs can still be heard. Veslemes finds ways to manipulate old-school record noises that turn tinny playback into haunting overtures, but when Zano embraces his fleet-footed Nirvana, Norway achieves slacker greatness powered by an invading rhythmic hypnosis. Is there any better thought than a European vampire wearing sunglasses, dancing emphatically to an early 1900s song about Dracula himself? Oh, and Zano gets points for looking eerily similar to Nic Cage’s equally erratic character in Deadfall – a fitting inspiration.
Norway is a blast from the past that should have horror fans equal parts entertained and mesmerized, be it on visual prowess alone or Zano’s increasingly unbelievable adventure. There’s little care paid towards staying truly vampiric, as Zano eats soup spiced with garlic, while his cavalier spirit defies gloomy stereotypes typically associated with night-walking blood-suckers. Scenes play like singular music videos, yet there’s a strange cohesion that somehow ties together sequences that range from shady bars to flying couches – a marvelous mixing of beat poetry rule-breaking with a psychotic disco-vampire flavor.
Norway is both the vampire movie you never asked for, and the vampire movie you'll kick yourself for ignoring.