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4.7 out of 5 stars
Substitute [Import]
Format: DVD|Change
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HALL OF FAMEon October 25, 2008
"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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