Nightwatch (1994)

NightwatchMartin is a young law student who’s looking for a typical student job: something that will earn him a bit of money but won’t get in the way of his studies. He ends up seeking a job as a night watchman at the Forensic Medicine Institute, which seems to be perfect. Just sitting there all alone at night, being able to spend some of that time studying. It doesn’t take many nights before paranoia starts setting in, and several unexplained things start happening at the place. Is the job just getting under his skin and fraying his nerves, or is something else at play here? Things get worse as one of the victims of an uncaught serial killer is brought in to the morgue, and just as Martin seriously starts wondering if he’s losing his mind, something happens that ends up making him the prime suspect of the murders.


Nightwatch (Danish title Nattevagten) is a Danish horror thriller from 1994, written and directed by Ole Bornedal. After Bornedal released his television film Masturbator (1993), he got the inspiration for Nightwatch after visiting the morgue, which he found to be “both scary and beautiful”. It made him think about how, on the outside of a morgue the daily life continues on, while on the inside you’re standing there with the realization that this is where everything ends. Upon release, the film was a huge success in Denmark where it sold 465.529 tickets. In fact, it got so popular that it ended up being a bigger box office hit in the country than Jurassic Park the previous year.


The movie starts out fine enough, with a quick introduction to Martin and the other main characters. When he gets the job and the old, soon to be retired, night guard shows him around, there’s a checklist of “rules” the guard advices him to follow: get yourself a radio. When going into the room with the stiffs, just look straight ahead and never to the sides. And so on. If this wasn’t a movie from 1994, you could’ve thought this setup was based on some kind of classic Creepypasta story. However, like with many things that happen in this movie, you’re thrown a load of red herrings already from the start in order to make you just as confused as the main character ends up being.


Originally, the movie was seen as a rather gruesome little flick, and while there are some topics that certainly are controversial (necrophilia, under-aged prostitutes, etc.) none of these topics are displayed in a manner that’s exposed enough to be adequately disturbing. Sure, it was probably an entirely different experience back in ’94 when Scandinavian movies didn’t have much to offer in the horror genre to being with, but seen with modern eyes it’s not really going to crawl under your skin. There are several effective scenes here though, especially when Martin takes his rounds in the morgue when he’s not sure exactly what is going on, and the scene of a grisly murder that happens during the soundtrack of a cheesy, upbeat Danish song (Lille Lise let på tå) that provided a perfect paradoxical effect. Overall it’s a fun and exciting thriller with lots of twists and turns, and although there are some slight pacing issues throughout, it keeps you entertained and guessing what will happen next.


While the movie was a huge success in its home country, there were some who didn’t exactly find themselves pleased with the whole situation. Apparently, the film caused a rise in number of people who had withdrawn their organ donation wills, and Professor Morten Møller claimed it was due to the film’s distorted image of doctors, students and researchers’ treatment of the dead and their body parts. He stated: “The movieNightwatch’ has certainly not had a positive effect on us. I don’t know what people imagine. That we should be sexually interested in the dead and want to lie down on their bed? A crazy fantasy that has not the slightest hold in reality.” Oh well…in any case, there’s no doubt that Nightwatch certainly had quite an impact in its home country.


There was also an english-language remake of the film released in 1997, also directed by Bornedal, and this year, a whole 30 years later, we get a sequel which is called Nightwatch – Demons are Forever. It was originally released in Denmark in December 2023, but it’s starting to hit the theaters elsewhere in May this year.


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Writer and director: Ole Bornedal
Country & year: Denmark, 1994
Original title: Nattevagten
Actors: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sofie Gråbøl, Kim Bodnia, Lotte Andersen, Ulf Pilgaard, Rikke Louise Andersson, Stig Hoffmeyer, Gyrd Løfquist, Niels Anders Thorn



Vanja Ghoul




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