'Let the Right One In' tops list of scare fare

STOCKHOLM — Scandinavia: Home of fjords, tall blonds, ABBA, pickled herring — and vampires.

Not that many years ago, the world thought all Scandi films were about despair and angst, as depicted in films by Ingmar Bergman and his contemporaries.

But suddenly horror is on the fast Nordic track, thanks to the 2008 Swedish vampire pic “Let the Right One In,” which has opened the door for other local scare films. Norway’s “Dead Snow” has sold to 48 countries, Finland’s “Sauna” has been sold to the U.S. and several other countries, and Lars von Trier will present his horror film “Antichrist” in Cannes.

Every decade or so, the long-reliable scare genre gets a reinvention. And some in the film biz are betting that Scandinavia will provide the newest twist as Scandi filmmakers add their own touches to the genre they grew up with. Since the late 1970s, Americans have dominated with their combo of teen sex, sudden jolts and splatter. A flood of Asian horror filmmakers brought in supernatural elements, techno obsessions and dark humor.

The Scandi directors are bringing in elements of their arthouse heritage, with a sense of brooding atmosphere, superstition, foreboding and romantic longing.

And then, of course, there is the northern setting. “I think we have a good backdrop for scary stories. There’s a lot of darkness in our surroundings, something foreign audiences find exotic,” says “Let the Right One In” helmer Tomas Alfredson.

“Maybe we have hidden the animalistic side of ourselves; we have only used our brains,” Alfredson says. “Now is the time for the animals within us to be seen.”

Summit’s “Twilight,” which has passed $370 million at the global box office, is the latest reminder that vampires will never die at the boxoffice. “Let the Right One In” contained many of the elements that made “Twilight” a success — teen confusion, sexual overtones, social commentary — with an added layer of philosophical musings.

Alfredson, who had made both comedies and dramas for Swedish film and TV, broke through internationally with “Let the Right One In,” a cult hit that also slayed crix, sucking up awards from Gothenburg and Puchon to Tribeca and Toronto.

Its worldwide gross of $7 million is small for an American pic, but significant for a Swedish title, and rights have been bought for a U.S. remake. “When we started planning this film, we had no idea that there would be a wave of Scandi horror,” Alfredson says.

“Let the Right One In” was based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s bestselling novel. Lindqvist’s sequel, zombie story “Handling the Undead,” will be adapted by Swedish helmer Kristian Petri. Waiting for that production to start, Petri will helm horror-suspense film “Bad Faith” from an original script by author Magnus Dahlstrom. Alfredson and Lindqvist are also planning a feature based on Lindqvist’s latest novel, ghost story “Human Harbor.”

Von Trier has not shown “Antichrist” to the press, but insiders who have seen it say the film is horrifying as well as philosophical.

Other Nordic titles hew more closely to the traditional horror genre. In addition to Nazi zombie splatter film “Dead Snow,” Norwegian slasher film “Cold Prey” and its sequel have been hits both at fests and commercially, and Finnish period religious-themed “Sauna” has been picked up for distribution in several English-speaking territories.

The success of the genre is helping a new generation of helmers launch international careers. Anders Banke, whose debut was Swedish vampire pic “Frostbite,” went on to get hired for multimillion-dollar action pic “Newsmakers,” a Swedish-Russian co-production. The pic will premiere at this year’s Tribeca fest.

Alfredson’s next cinema assignment will be a major U.S. film, to be shot in 2010.

“But I can’t talk about it. Everything’s not signed yet,” he says.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more