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5.0 out of 5 stars Ghost House Underground serves up a real gem with The Substitute, Aug. 2 2009
Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Substitute [Import] (DVD)
I couldn't help but worry when what I thought was a pure horror film (it certainly looked like one, and it is one of the Ghost House Underground films, after all) opened with the words "once upon a time." A somewhat confusing opening and lots of obviously bad dubbing (this is a Danish film) did little to reassure me. Once the "substitute" showed up, though, I quickly found myself being drawn into this quite unusual film. Let me assure you that this is a really weird movie - surreal, actually - and some people will undoubtedly hate it. As for me, I loved it. They should have stuck with the original Danish title, though - Vikaren - because that sounds so much cooler than The Substitute - and this is one seriously cool movie.

I think most of us loved substitute teachers when we were kids because it meant a free period of quiet reading or anything that didn't involve actual learning for that day. Of course, it's a different story when a regular teacher is going to be out for an extended period of time - but it's not like some strange woman is going to come in and terrorize the kids with extra-sensory powers and prepare them for a mass alien abduction. Unless you're a Danish kid going to the school portrayed in The Substitute, that is. Here, the new substitute reads the minds of the kids and uses that to begin terrorizing them from the moment she walks in (well, she makes a pencil stand up balanced on its tip first). It's especially hard for young Carl, who is already dealing with the recent horrific loss of his mother. Despite his outcast status among his classmates, he manages convince the others that something is seriously wrong with their new teacher. A suddenly clique-free class then comes together and discovers that Ms. Ulla (Paprika Steen) is actually an alien who is planning on taking all of the kids back to her home planet for some nefarious reason. Naturally, their parents believe none of their kids stories about the new teacher because Ms. Ulla is from the Education Ministry and she wants to take the class to Paris to show off all of their newly ingrained smarts (and because parents never believe their children about anything).

Have I mentioned how weird this movie is? As we are told at the beginning of the film, the alien who lands outside a chicken farm has come to earth to help her warlike people learn about love, and apparently the best way to do that is to space-nap a class of catty sixth graders. Speaking of chickens, they prove to be an integral part of the story. If you haven't guessed, there is a measure of dark comedy permeating this little gem of a film, and you will laugh. Paprika Steen is simply fantastic as Ms. Ulla, who is more than capable of humiliating a kid one minute and crying her eyes out for the benefit of the parents the next. The kids are great, too. So what if this is more science fiction than horror? It's still brilliant in its uniquely quirky way. Granted, it doesn't quite fit in alongside the other Ghost House Underground titles, yet it's probably my favorite of the bunch. If this is the kind of movie they're turning out in Denmark, I say we start important more Danish films right now.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ah, the joys of a badly dubbed Danish science fiction-horror flick, Oct. 25 2008
Lawrance Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Substitute [Import] (DVD)
"The Substitute" is not quite in the "so bad it is good" category, but I think it is definitely worth some laughs. The description of the film is fairly straightforward: this sixth grade class is getting a substitute teacher and they suspect that she is an alien. Sounds familiar, right? Well, this 2007 film is definitely another fun example of a movie that strikes you as being cobbled together from more familiar films. You have another teacher as alien like in "The Faculty," but they are teaching sixth graders (which makes them about the age of the kids in "The Goonies"), the flying sphere from "Phantasm," the idea of being taken to another planet like in "Cocoon", and several other cinematic points of reference that you can discover for yourselves. But that is not the main thing that makes this film fun.

THIS FILM IS DUBBED. That is because this is a Danish film and its original title is "Vikaren." Directed by Ole Bornedal ("Nightwatch") with a screenplay by Bornedal and Henrik Prip. When you pop in any of these Ghost House Underground DVDS you get the trailer for "Saw V" (or as we like to call it "Emily's Revenge," because it stars Scott Patterson from "Gilmore Girls"), and the trailers for the other seven GHU movies. The interesting thing about the trailer for "The Substitute" is that you cannot tell that this is one of those gloriously badly dubbed foreign movies that were a staple of afternoon and late night TV when I was a lad. Usually those were Japanese science fiction films like "The Mysterians" or any of the rubber suit monster movies, or the Italian muscle man gladiator type flicks. But just hearing those overly serious English voices mismatched with the lip movements of the actors takes me back to those halcyon days of yore. I forgot to check the DVD to see if you could listen to "Vikaren" in the original Dutch, the way you can listen to the Russian track on GHU's "Trackman," but as much fun as it is to listen to Dutch there is no way it can be as much fun as listening to this dubbed version.

The film stars Paprika Steen as Ulla the strapping blond Vikaren, in an over the top performance that plays well against the kids trying to respond to the crazy substitute teacher that wants to take them back to her planet so they can learn about love (this alone should indicate how big of a difference it makes to do this movie with sixth graders instead of hormonal high school students). Steen, of course, is familiar to Danish audiences in recent years as Line Anders in six episodes of "Der Kommissar und das Meer." Anyhow, she shows up as the titular figure and tells her young charges that they are stupid because they do not know anything whereas she knows everything, which she proceeds to demonstrate. She picks on poor Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) who has "lost" his mother, and Carl makes it his mission in this movie to find out what's up with Ulla. Then the problem is convincing the other kids, not to mention their parents and the town's inept authority figures, before Ulla takes the kids on the world's longest field trip.

The bottom line here is that if you intend to take this film seriously, you are probably not going to like it, especially by the time the chickens come home to roost in the finale. There are some surprisingly decent special effects in "The Substitute," which is interesting because you would think they would not bother given the hokey nature of the story and performances. But ultimately that expenditure of money only adds to the film's odd charm (emphasis on "odd"). Apparently Ghost House Pictures is going to remake "Vikaren" for American audiences, and I guess if we can remake Japanese horror films and Korean horror films then we can remake Danish horror films (although really it is more science fiction than horror). But I have to tell you, having the cast actually speak in English might well take a lot of the fun out of this one.
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Substitute [Import]
Substitute [Import] by Ole Bornedal (DVD - 2008)
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