29 Mar

Frozen Nazi Zombies in Norway! Dead Snow.

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday March 29, 2009 | Reviews

dead snow (aka Dod Sno)Hey! How do you take a low budget movie from a country not necessarily known for its genre movie output and create an international horror sensation? Two words: Nazi zombies. Early posters and some killer stills of bad ass monster make up had American horror fans freaking out for months. A turn at Sundance only added fuel to the fire but reviews from the film festival painted a picture of a well meaning but ultimately disappointing entry into the global zombie arena.

I’m really not going to take it there because Dead Snow is, in fact, quite entertaining it’s just that it is home to a couple of my horror movie pet peeves.  It goes out of its way to wear its influences on its sleeve and drop names at every given opportunity. Director Tommy Wirkola is out to be Norway’s Quentin Tarantino or Eli Roth by constantly qualifying his direction of a zombie horror movie by reminding you that he knows all about the classics. It also uses the rigid slasher movie framework of horny, isolated young people and the crazy dude who drops by to warn them of their impending doom. I suppose I shouldn’t be disappointed because it never promised me anything more than Nazi zombies but I was hoping for a little more than the usual zombie rigamarole.

So here’s a familiar plot, a handful of fashionable young Norwegians head to the fjords for randy, boozy good times away from civilization. They’re miles from their cars and the phones don’t work out here. I’d say that this setup is ripe for a slasher killer or, say, an army of unfrozen Nazi soldiers to show up and ruin everything by killing them all.

Their partying is interrupted one night when a drifter shows up to their cabin and tells them a story about occupied Norway during World War 2 and how the place that they’re at was strategically important to the Nazis, particularly, the Einsatzgruppen, a special detail of stormtroopers whose job it was to rob and kill Jews during The Holocaust. Our fashionable victims are also supposed to be meeting their friend, Sara, who owns the cabin but she never shows up. Her boyfriend takes off on his snowmobile to find her while the others party, but unfrozen Nazi stormtroopers show up and ruin everything.

Wirkola gets under my skin almost immediately by having one of his characters be a movie buff that takes every opportunity in the script to namecheck the obvious inflluences of the movie, Friday the 13th, Dead Alive (he wears a Braindead shirt) and Evil Dead. Nothing from the trailer ever suggested to me that I was going to get anything original from this movie so I don’t know why I came to the table expecting to see something that I hadn’t, but at this point in the game you’d think that horror directors just diving into the industry would at leat try and twist the conventions. Director Tommy Wirkola tries a couple of things with Dead Snow but in the end, the movie is just a love letter to the movies that he grew up on. Which is fine. Dead Snow is in no way anything new, and the Nazi zombie angle is novel but underneath it all, it’s just another zombie flick.

Lucky for Wirkola, there’s still a pretty large fanbase that will watch anything with zombies. It also helps that the movie makes up for its total lack of originality with a great sense of humor and a gore factor taken straight from the film’s patron, Peter Jackson. Dead Snow is a movie where the parts of your body that you’re not likely to ever see have more screen time than the cast. Death scenes are often hilarious and completely disgusting, featuring people dangling from cliffs by way of Nazi zombie intestines, zombie crotch bites, chainsaw impalement, skulls torn open where whole brains fall out, etc. It takes some time to reach action gear and the first half of the movie crawls by at an almost agonizing pace but once things get bloody, you can forgive the long-ass opening of revelry and horror movie references. You’re rewarded with a series of zombie attack scenes that are gory, funny and many of which are memorable. A snowmobile replaces Dead Alive’s lawnmower and makes for some of the movie’s funniest zombie death scenes.

It also sets out to be funny, so it’s a good thing that the movie actually makes you laugh. The gags are textbook Sam Raimi but if you need any testimony that Three Stooges slapstick is timeless, Dead Snow proves that pratfalls and tree branches in the face will always be funny.  It’s just a crying shame that the cast you like doesn’t speak a word. The victims in this picture are insipid horror movie victims torn straight out any given summer camp slasher flick but Wirkola seems to realize this and maybe even intended for them to be a bunch of barely functional idiots (even though they’re supposed to med students). It’s all part of the funny. Who among you would actually call 911 and tell them that unfrozen Nazi zombies are attacking you and then throw a molotov cocktail that misses the window and sets your shelter on fire? Dead Snow’s zombie attack victims would. But Wirkola paces himself with the self-conscious jokes. It’s not forced down your throat that these people are going to be their own worst enemies and attempts are made to make you like them but the worst you’ll feel for them is when they’re being ripped apart by zombies because it actually looks like it really hurts.

Ultimately, Dead Snow isn’t doing anything you haven’t already seen and doesn’t really seem to care. The point of all this was to have some fun, and fun it has. I must admit that I got caught up in the fan hype over the prospect of Nazi zombies and was a little disappointed when I wasn’t treated to a brave new world of zombie movie but it sets out to be gross and sophomoric and achieves both awards with flying colors. Not much is ever explained, like what the hell is with all these unfrozen Nazi zombies, but you probably won’t even think about it, much. You’ll be laughing too hard.

8 Comments 

  1. March 29, 2009 4:10 pm

    AxlRotten

    Yeah, that was me … laughing too hard. This movie is a riot, a scream, and a smashing success. Don’t get too hung up on the taking this movie too seriously or getting caught up in any referential material, enjoy this film as a gore-tastic, bloodsplattering, zombie-smashing good time. I can’t recommend this movie enough.

    There are also many sceens found within that show much promise from the director and dp in the future. I particularly liked the scenes when the big-bad zombie and all his minion nazi-zombies cornering our last-boy in the burnt-pit. This shot, and many like it, is framed beautifully with great artistry. I also enjoyed the constrasts between the bright (and I mean bright) red blood against the brilliant white snow. There’s also a bit of irony and pathos when the last-girl meets her end after surviving unbelievable encounters with zombie after zombie. I won’t spoil it here. While the set up is indeed overlong, your patience will be rewarded once the zombies begin to rise thru the frozen tundra.

    Dead Snow rules! :-)

  2. March 30, 2009 8:59 am

    Bryan White

    The ending of the movie reminded me of the ending of The Fog. Almost exactly. It certainly doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of Dead Snow as I’m pretty much used to seeing people lift from John Carpenter all the time now.

    And it’s about time someone copied The Fog. That movie is awesome!

  3. March 30, 2009 12:22 pm

    thebonebreaker

    Excellent Review Bryan!

    I am looking forward to checking this one out – I am sorry to hear that it wasn’t as great as it could have been, but it still sounds enjoyable!

  4. March 30, 2009 1:35 pm

    Michael Allen

    Yes, I thought the ending could use something a little more, maybe some hope. Nice review.
    -Mike

  5. April 4, 2009 4:59 am

    James

    Well, let’s be honest – what exactly IS an original zombie script? 28 Days Later could qualify, but then it dealt little with the actual zombies. Cemetery Man was a nice take on it, but I figure that kind of movie is only possible once. And Shaun of the Dead also really just played a lot of homage in a stock-standard zombie flick, but it did this with real style and snark.

    All that said, I loved Dead Snow. I didn’t know about it – I prefer to find my horror tips on sites like yours (great job, btw). I saw Dead Snow posted here and ‘Nazi zombies’ pretty much told me I should watch it. To be fair, this could have been much worse. The execution of the humour is excellent, especially since it didn’t lift jokes from other horror comedies like Evil Dead and Dead Alive. I thought the Molotov and crotch jokes were great, not to mention the girl in the tree. The make-up and effects were brilliant and the whole movie well executed. It was certainly well above cliches like Land of the Dead.

  6. April 11, 2009 6:26 pm

    GM Bradley

    Terrific review, Bryan. I have to admit, though, I read it after watching the movie and have to say that I share a number of your opinions. Tommy W does indeed stick quite closely (too much so, perhaps) to the horror movie formula and he’s not doing anything excitingly original. I also had the Hey-this-is-lifted-straight-from-‘The-Fog’ moment when the gang finds the MacGuffin. The bit about the movie’s parting shot being similarly borrowed from Carpenter’s film didn’t click until I read your comment.

    There were a few reactions, however, that I had that definitely differed from yours. To me, the gags were aimed at an audience other than myself because while I realized that the director was going for laughs with bits like the crotch bite, I only found myself smiling slightly with mild amusement. I also didn’t mind the med students as protagonists; for the most part, they didn’t run towards every footstep that they heard like many horror movie victims tend to. I forgave Tommy W for including the grizzled drifter as the standard old/crazy guy who warns everybody of the impending doom, but I couldn’t accept his being so idiotic as to not heed his own advice. What was also a nice touch was that the zombies came out in broad daylight. I don’t know if that was Tommy W trying to keep his filming costs down, but I quite liked that the story wasn’t confined to after sundown.

    I also thought it was great that the director was able to capture the scenic snowscapes so beautifully. If anything, the movie would make for a great ad for the Norwegian Department of Tourism (well, they would probably have to take out the bits with the Nazi zombies).

    My guess is that a Hollywood remake will be inevitable. While I didn’t think ‘Dead Snow’ was a bad movie, I do hope that whoever helms the remake will aim higher and play with horror conventions much more than Tommy W did.

    Cheers,

    GMB

  7. February 2, 2010 5:57 pm

    Cato

    Every American remake of Norwegian films up to now has been utter crap. It seems the Holywood movie makers thinks the american public cannot deal with movies where everyone dies tragically in the end.
    Just check out “Head above water” and the original ” Hodet over vannet”
    Crapification!!

  8. February 2, 2010 6:22 pm

    Bryan White

    What the fuck are you talking about?


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