Thursday, 26 October 2017

October Nightmares III #26: Riget (The Kingdom) (1994 - 1997) - Get Me a Dose of Weirdness, Stat

  "No living persons know it yet, but the gateway to the Kingdom is opening once again."

When I was putting this list together, what struck me was the lack of medical based horror shows. Actually, no, the first thought which came to me, was "fuck, I'm going to need that brainwashing machine from A Clockwork Orange to get through this". But the lack of medical based TV horror is also fairly disappointing.

Sure, there are soapy medical shows (Grey's Anatomy for example) which, though they aren't horror, are so over-wrought in their depictions of the ultimate body-horror (i.e. real to life disease and cellular decay) that they may as well be. Beyond the odd episode of SupernaturalBuffyThe X-Files, and so on, I can think only of two horror shows set exclusively in hospitals. Three if you count New Flesh Place - a medical drama I just invented in which Tom Atkins and James Woods play surly doctor-types who battle Cronenbergian body horror maladies and shag interns.

Getting back on track: for medical horror TV shows you've got Garth Merenghi's Darkplace and Kingdom Hospital. Well, I've already done Darkplace and I'm not doing Stephen King again. So in my quest to review Jeremy Hunt's least favourite type of horror, I'm left with Riget - the Danish miniseries Kingdom Hospital was based upon. A miniseries about the horrors of an overnight stay, created by everyone's favourite professional troll, Lars Von Trier.

Describing Trier as a professional troll is an understatement akin to calling the Puritans prudes. He professes to raise serious questions about hard-hitting topics such as gender, morality, nihilism, violence, and 'othering', and yet he'll open a film with a graphic depiction of Willem Dafoe's massive schlong flopping about in the shower like one of those water snake toys I used to play with as a kid. It's a shield really: your worst excesses are immune to criticism, your films beyond reproach, if you pretend to some renegade auteur greatness. And if that fails you can always make controversial comments about Hitler at a convention to fuel your troll image.

This is how it is with Riget. A show which sets to answer all-important questions on the supernal and spiritual but then pulls out daft medical cases like Stretch Armstrong below. But that's ok - it's intentionally quirky!

Riget (or The Kingdom in the language of master British race) is what you get when the planets align and a trollish sentiment and subversive approach create something uniquely transgressive. Think ER meets Twin Peaks. Split over two four-part miniseries (or two five hour movies if you're some Ed Norton in Fight Club level of crazy bastard), Riget is about a neurosurgery ward in hospital cursed by something other than the perpetual scent of disinfectant and budget cuts.

This Copenhagen hospital is built upon the site of former textile bleaching ponds which, whilst never explicitly revealed to be 'cursed', are ancient Indian burial grounds for the avant-garde crowd. What this translates to is a license for all the weird shit that happens: in the very first episode there's a phantom ambulance, and if that's not weird enough for you - there's also a doctor who was impregnated by a ghost. And if that's still not weird enough for you there's a guy, Professor Bondo (Baard Owe), who keeps the body of a dead girl preserved in a jar in his office, and has a cancerous liver transplanted into his body so that it becomes his property. It's like Videodrome for hipsters.

If Riget has a plot, and this is Lars Von Trier so I'm not sure that it does, but if it has a plot then it's about the conflict between science and the supernatural. A tale as old as the Saudi Arabian education system. The main 'plots' involve neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Alfred Järegård), who has transferred from Sweden after a botched operation which has left a young girl retarded, an event he's trying to cover up like a dodgy government body. Now she just drools on herself. Spiritualist Sigrid Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes) is perhaps the heart of the miniseries, however; she's a hypochondriac desperate to get into hospital so she can communicate with the dead. A hospital's an easy place to do commune with the dead, you only have to find the corpses of the elderly left out to rot on stretchers in the halls. Questions are raised but rarely answered.

Kingdom Hospital straightens the whole affair out, but loses some of edge. King's no Trier. Riget is weird. Weirder than that lanky haired kid who sits at the back of class stroking his dad's service pistol and makes Doom WADs based on the layout of his school. It mixes body horror, slap-stick, psychological horror, black comedy, and tragedy, into some kind of Heinz' soggy biscuit. For a series which has nightmarish babies and ghosts, there's a lot of silliness: such as the autistic dishwashers who serve as the show's Greek chorus, and the inter-office politics and romances.

It's not a show for everyone. Hell, I'm not even sure that I like it. But it's going on here because there's nothing at all similar to Riget, not counting Kingdom Hospital obviously. Also as I mentioned there aren't many TV-based medical based horrors. Except for maybe Caitlyn Jenner. At any rate, it does have a peculiar atmosphere that's at times freakish and dread-filled: weird noises, a washed-out sepia tone as though some diabetic has pissed over the whole thing, and these Nordic types, with their emotionless intone, have a haunted quality to them. For all its faults, Riget is the most horrifying experience I have had with a hospital since that time you thought I was going to sign off with a witty metaphor there. Well I'm not. Look how transgressive I am. Cunts.

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