Open in limited release
Directed by Tommy Wirkola
If anyone is looking for the pinnacle of Nazi Zombie cinema, their first and last stop can still remain 1977’s B-gem Shock Waves in which the living dead remnants of a World War II experiment gone wrong, still dressed in full Nazi regalia, emerge from the ocean to stalk a group of vacationers on a remote island inhabited by a former SS officer (played by genre stalwart Peter Cushing). Most of Shock Waves‘ fans discovered it by chance on its many late night TV airings back in the early â80s and if there were still such a thing as late night TV the way we used to know it where local stations ran all manner of B-horror films on the other side of midnight, and if they were somehow able to show unrated gore, well, Dead Snow would be ideal to be discovered there. The sense of surprise that bleary-eyed, channel-surfing genre fans used to experience would’ve been a real asset to Dead Snow (and to most modern horror movies, honestly). In our internet age, though, even low budget Norwegian Nazi Zombie movies can be heavily hyped months in advance.
If I didn’t know ahead of time that Dead Snow was bringing Nazi Zombies back, this Shock Waves fan would’ve surely fallen out of his chair at the first sight of an honest-to-God Nazi Zombie. As is, stills and clips from Dead Snow have been circulating the net long ahead of the film’s release, giving fans a chance to gawk excitedly at all the Nazi Zombie Goodness of director Tommy Wirkola’s film. Unfortunately, going into Dead Snow for no other reason than to see Nazi Zombies in action makes the tedious opening half-hour or so as we follow eight high-spirited medical students partying in a remote mountain cabin feel well nigh unbearable. Eventually Wirkola (who also co-wrote Dead Snow along with Stig Frode Henriksen) gives us what we came to see but getting there can feel like sitting through the entirety of World War II, only with no Nazis.
All exaggeration aside, the first half-hour of Dead Snow really is a chore to sit through. The med students are all dullards and the fact that Erlend (Jeppe Laursen), the fat film nerd character, sports a Braindead T-shirt is not an endearing gesture to this genre fan. I dislike it when filmmakers try to flaunt their credibility as fans, as though that might absolve them of any missteps they make. Sorry, but all the references, homages, and in-jokes in the world will not get me on your side if your movie sucks. I’m not likely to say, “man, that was an excruciating 90 minutes of pure hell but it was worth it for that Night of the Comet reference!” If anything, trying to sell me on the fact that you’re a fan is going to make me judge your movie that much more harshly. I can accept it if some idiot who doesn’t know George Romero from Uwe Boll drops the ball on a zombie movie but if you’re going to trumpet how much you love Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, you’d best be ready to deliver. And while early on, it looks like Wirkola isn’t even going to come close to doing that, eventually I thawed out to what Dead Snow did have to offer.
It may never get to cult classic status (unless you’d like to take the point of view that nearly every single genre film ever made develops its own cult following, no matter how small that following may be) but once it clears the half-hour mark, Dead Snow does turn into a good time. The characters remain terrible, but at least they’re now being pursued and torn apart by Nazi Zombies and the truth is I’d even watch High School Musical 3 if Nazi Zombies were unleashed on the cast. It’s true that Wirkola doesn’t have much personal style when it come to staging his film’s zombie mayhem â the film is one big wink to Raimi and Jackson â but Dead Snow is not all carbon copied from elsewhere. While the splatstick tone may come straight from the Looney Tunes sensibilities of Raimi and Jackson, I have to hand it to Wirkola and co-writer Henriksen for conceiving such sights as a dude dangling over the side of cliff clutching a zombie’s intestines like rope while another zombie is hanging onto his legs. That’s just plain cool. There’s other moments where some originality bursts through, too â in a true zombie movie first, we get a victim’s own POV as zombies munch on their guts and while being devoured, the victim makes a final dying reach for the explosive that’s attached to the nearest Nazi Zombie’s belt. Again, that’s pretty cool â as is what I found to be one of the best horror movie fuck-ups ever in which a Molotov cocktail that’s supposed to be thrown out a window at the attacking zombies, instead hits the inside wall and starts to burn down the cabin that the survivors are holed up in. Nice!
Not so nice, however, is a scene in which a hot chick (Jenny Skavlan) not only decides out of the blue to have sex with the fat film nerd but to do so while the fat film nerd is in the process of taking a shit â in an out-house, no less. Maybe I’m just not worldly enough â and maybe Norwegians are much different people than I’ve been aware of until now â but I’d like to think that fucking someone while they’re shitting isn’t a normal practice in any country. Feel free to inform me otherwise but I would think that in this situation even the fat dude would be like “Uh, it’d be really awesome if you could wait, like, a minute.”
There’s a plot of sorts to Dead Snow, but I only say this because there was a series of scenes that followed each other so I’m guessing that what we usually call a âplotâ was holding them together. I can say that thanks to Dead Snow I now know that Nazi Zombies are a lot like Leprechauns â don’t try and mess with their gold. The hapless med students here learn this lesson way too late when they put their hands on what they later find out is Nazi treasure stored in their cabin â which forces the question of what’s worse for a group of partying kids to find in a remote cabin: the Necronomicon or Nazi gold? I’ll go with the Necrononmicon, just because tears in the fabric of time and space are involved. But Nazi Zombies aren’t the kind of guests anyone would like to invite, either.
For horror fans, though, Dead Snow is at least a minor occasion to celebrate. I even propose that Wirkola go on to make a trilogy, bringing Nazi Zombies into the desert (Dead Heat) and then finally beyond the stars (Dead Space, natch). Regardless of quality, I would just like to live in a world where I can have a Nazi Zombie trilogy DVD box set in my collection. And if Dead Snow can be the start of that, then consider me a fan.