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.