The horror of a viking son

Ask someone if they can name a handful of Icelandic horror movies, and most people will scratch their heads and raise their shoulders, including Icelandic film fans. With two horror films under his belt, director Vidar Vikingsson is responsible for a large portion of Iceland’s fearful films.

It says a lot about a country’s film climate that the first official horror feature came out in 2009 (preceded only by TV movies). Julius Kemp’s Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre was met with mixed reactions, as many Icelanders didn’t know how they should react to splatter horror. However, almost 25 years earlier, director Vidar Vikingsson made what was one of the earliest horror production in Iceland. Draugasaga (64 minutes) was a 1985 TV film made for national broadcaster RUV, then the only TV channel in Iceland. Draugasaga (which simply means ‘ghost story’) was a ghost story set at RUV’s offices and studios, and features creepy atmospheres and strong visuals which were quite shocking to Nordic TV audiences at that time. To give you a further glimpse of the situation back then, and how unusual it was to have horror on TV, Iceland’s one TV channel RUV did not broadcast TV on Thursdays at all! That’s science fiction in itself to some viewers.

Milk-stealing creature
Two years after Draugasaga, in 1987, Vikingsson directed another TV short for RUV, Tilbury (54 minutes). This ghost story, with a more tangible creature than two years before, was filmed from a short story by author Thorarinn Eldjarn, who formed his story around the Icelandic folklore creature tilberi (also called snakkur). In Tilbury, the tilberi looks like a humanoid demon or small devil, although in traditional folklore it looks more like a furry worm, as in the illustration above.  A tilberi is a creature that is created by women, and this is the only magical procedure that according to Icelandic myths can be performed by women. The reason for creating a tilberi was usually the need for more milk and butter on farms, for example in poor times. If a woman wanted to create a tilberi, she had to find a human rib from a graveyard early on Whitsunday, wrap it in grey wool and preserve the package between her breasts. The following three Sundays she had to spill holy wine on the bundle, and the tilberi would then come alive at the third instance. The woman then had to carve a nipple on the inside of her thigh, so that the tibleri could suck on it in order to nourish itself. When a tilberi is fully grown, the woman can order the creature to steal milk from cows and sheep. A grown tilberi can lie across a sheep’s back and suck on two tits at the same time. Coming back to the farm, it would then spew the milk into the churn. Much of this is pictured in Tilbury.

When the woman who created the tilberi reaches old age, the tilberi becomes a burden and the only way to get rid of it is to order it to collect all sheepdroppings in three pastures. Eager to get back to the nipple, the tilberi will overexert itself and explode, leaving only a human rib next to the pile of droppings. This is not included in Tilbury, as the film is not an adaption of a certain myth, just using the tilberi as an antagonist in a fictional tale. The Swedish and Norwegian equivalent of the tilberi is the bjära, mjölkhare, puk or trollkatt.

The two movies also have in common one thing, except the director; Kristjan Franklin Magnus played the lead role in both movies.

Availability and distribution
Draugasaga has been shown a few times on Icelandic TV, and was also exported for TV broadcasting to the rest of Scandinavia, as well as Ireland. Leslie Halliwell, the British film historian and encyclopedist whose film guide books were quite known in the 70s and 80s, wrote favourably of Draugasaga in one of his books, The Dead That Walk (1986). He was also a buyer for Channel Four in the UK, and almost bought the film, but ultimately refrained.

Tilbury was shown once on Icelandic TV in 1987, and was never shown there again. It was however exported to national broadcasters in the other Nordic countries, even though Vikingsson had to cut a special version for NRK in Norway, as they asked to leave out some of the gore. Draugasaga had also been shown in Norway, and was a scandal due to its content. The programmers at NRK were careful to not let too much horror slip by another time. -At that time NRK took care not to mix drama with entertainment, and the critics were shocked by Iceland presenting this as drama, Vikingsson says in a comment to Nordic Fantasy. Tilbury was also shown in Ireland.

Neither films have been released on video or DVD, so the only ways to see these movies are if you were lucky enough to record them on tape off the airwaves. Or, if your local film centre goes to great efforts; on December 11th 2010, both movies were shown at Bio Paradis in Iceland as part of a series of special screenings. RUV still owns the rights to both titles, and when a DVD release was suggested some time ago, the director could not reach a satisfactory agreement with RUV, which killed all possibilities for the foreseeable future. The film negatives are thought to still exist in laboratories in Sweden and Denmark.

Draugasaga was remade by Icelandic film and TV students in 2008. The film is around 3 minutes and tells a shortened version of the same story as in Vikingsson’s original.

Unfinished projects
Vidar Vikingsson remains active as a fiction and documentary director in Iceland, although he has not worked in horror or fantasy again. A few years ago, Vikingsson started shooting a feature film called Clayman, which was based on a true crime but featuring supernatural and horror elements, such as hints of the Golem and Frankenstein. The film could not be finished because the Icelandic Film Fund decided to not support it. Nordic Fantasy has seen 10 minutes from the unfinished film and it’s a pity the movie could not be finished.

Read reviews of Tilbury and Draugasaga elsewhere on

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