If John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were remade by Lars von Trier on a nickel-and-dime budget, partway through an extensive substance-abuse binge – well, I’d really like to see that. Also, it might come pretty close to “Blood Glacier” (“Blutgletscher,” irresistibly, in the original), a hilarious, ridiculous and sometimes genuinely scary climate-change thriller from Austrian director Marvin Kren. Yes, this is a horror movie in German, which is already kind of a funny idea in a juvenile sort of way. This particular one was a smash at last fall’s Toronto festival (under the far less interesting title “The Station”) and has built up quite a cult following in the intervening months. No doubt the theatrical audience for a B-grade monster movie with subtitles is too small to identify even with scientific instruments, but “Blood Glacier” is also available nationwide on VOD, and should percolate outward through the culture like a deadly organism, finding its target demographic well before the coming of the inevitable mediocre Hollywood remake.
You watch as many movies as I do and you end up seeing the same things over and over again, but I’m virtually certain I’ve never before seen a film featuring a monstrous mutant ibex – that’s a species of long-horned mountain goat, found in the European Alps – being vanquished by a German government minister armed with a power drill. Said bloodthirsty official, by the way, is played by Brigitte Kren, who is the director’s mother. Yes, this is gruesome Euro-horror about the climate apocalypse and the possible end of life on earth as we know it, but it’s also fun for the whole family. Except perhaps for the ibex, which appears to be the result of spontaneous crossbreeding with a bird of prey, some sort of insect and perhaps other organisms of unknown derivation.
Going back to at least the 1950s, horror cinema has always preyed on headline news and contemporary anxieties, whether that meant the nuclear bomb, the Reds under the bed, the child-abuse panic, environmental degradation or whatever else. “Blood Glacier” isn’t the first horror flick to use climate change as its jumping-off point, but there haven’t been that many American examples, perhaps because of the perception that such issues are for crunchy-granola pantywaists who abjure movies that involve face-eating canine-millipede hybrids and the unapproved use of power tools. Larry Fessenden’s 2006 indie “The Last Winter,” another tribute to Carpenter’s “Thing,” had terrific atmosphere but was slightly too serious and slightly too early in the news cycle. “Blood Glacier” has its limitations as cinema, but those are not among them.
Even the nominal protagonist of “Blood Glacier,” a shambling, lovelorn technician named Janek (Gerhard Liebmann) who barely tolerates a trio of arrogant scientists at an Alpine research station, seems like one of the Antarctic malcontents of Carpenter’s classic. Janek realizes, long before the brainiacs do, that the mysterious organic goo leaching from a red-tinged patch of melting glacial ice is not a good thing. It might be best, he suggests, to postpone the government minister’s impending visit. His companions, of course, assume that Janek doesn’t want to see the minister’s aide, Tanja (Edita Malovcic), the ex-flame who left Janek here with his dog to molder amid the slushy permafrost. There’s really no winking at the audience in “Blood Glacier,” and I’m grateful for that, but even the foregrounding of a soap-opera subplot – which is worse, biological catastrophe or the tense reunion of estranged lovers? – has a tinge of self-awareness about it. (Also, the fate of Janek's dog will keep you in more suspense than anything that happens to the humans.)
Kren and screenwriter Benjamin Hessler draw not only on our anxiety about the unpredictable and undesirable consequences of a warming planet, but also on the related but ancient human instinct that nature is not really, in the final analysis, our friend. They could have tried harder to make this movie’s science halfway plausible instead of utterly ludicrous, but I’m not even sure that’s a valid criticism. Horror movies are about nightmare and mythological payback, not about biochemistry, and on that level this one is certainly effective. The red goop melting out of that glacier is provoking a sudden and drastic new kind of mutation and genesis, in which you and I and every other living creature become the hosts for fast-growing embryonic hybrids, most of which are disgusting and voracious. This vision draws on “Alien” and David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” for sure, but possibly even more on the depiction of Hell in Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.”
While the effects in “Blood Glacier” are endearingly cheap, the acting is up and down (although the director’s mom is awesome) and Kren doesn’t quite nail his attempt at an outrageous and transformative ending, this movie has the open-ended quality of the best horror flicks, pointing at all sorts of questions that lie outside its splatter-beast province. I started to think, for instance, about the climate apocalypse as a theological problem, and to wonder whether right-wingers resist it partly because it’s a disaster humans have visited upon themselves, rather than one sent down by the big guy. And while I’m not convinced that climate change is likely to lead to blond Teutonic actresses birthing mammal-insect hybrids, that’s really just a cartoonish example of something we face every time we consider the world we have made: Dreamlike images that don’t quite seem possible – polar bears dying on ice floes, the Greenland ice sheet turned to a vast lake, major coastal cities underwater – are leaking into reality like this movie’s deadly pink goo.
“Blood Glacier” is now playing in some major cities, and is available on demand from most cable providers.