Oh, don't look so shocked
Zombies? Check. Nazis? Check. Zombie Nazis? Double check. It’s a particularly new idea since we’ve had Nazis zombies before in movies such as Zombie Lake, The Treasure of the Living Dead, Shockwaves, and even Rob Zombie’s animated movie, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, has them. Despite existing in one form or another in horror, Nazi zombies have been, until recently, an underutilized subgenre monster. In the past few years, there has been a small explosion of Nazi zombie-related media, from video games to references in songs like Monster Magnet’s excellent “Wall of Fire”. Sure, we Americans have done the Nazi zombie thing before, but how about another country, not necessarily known for their horror movies? How about Norway?
Dead Snow is a 2009 Norwegian zombie movie directed by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Kill Buljo). Seven medical students (Martin, Roy, Hanna, Vegard, Liv, Chris, and Ereland celebrate their Easter vacation in a small cabin on a remote, snow-covered mountain. They drink and party while waiting for their friend Sara, who decided to trek across the mountain instead, to arrive. They hear a noise outside and think Sara has arrived, but are met by a mysterious stranger. He tells them that during World War II, the region was occupied by the Einsatzgruppen, an SS death squad, led by Oberst Herzog. For three years, the Nazis abused and tortured the local villagers. Towards the end of the war with the Russians closing in, the Nazis looted all the gold and silver they could find. Finally, the villagers rose up, killing Nazis and driving Herzog and the remaining survivors into the forest. The stranger departs and is soon murdered in his tent by an unknown assailant. The next morning, Vegard takes the only snowmobile out to find Sara, who, unknown to the group, has also been killed. The partying continues until Chris is attacked and killed. The cabin is swarmed by Nazi zombies trying to get in. They kill Ereland by crushing his head until his brain literally pops out. Meanwhile, Vegard discovers the Nazis secret cave where he find’s Sara’s severed head. He fights off a few zombies and is able to steal their machine gun. In the morning, Martin and Roy create a distraction while Hanna and Liv try to make a run for the car, which is somewhere towards the bottom of the mountain. Will they be able to survive again an army of undead Nazis?
It’s always nice to see a horror movie from a country other than the United States, Canada, or Japan. As an American, I like to see how storytelling is done elsewhere in the world and how it differs. It’s good to see these movies inject their own culture and ideals which makes for an interesting watch. Dead Snow, though, comes off somewhat as a tribute to American horror movies. The cabin looks similar to the one in Evil Dead, the zombies attacking the cabin reminds me of Night of the Living Dead, and a scene where Martin and Roy grab weapons harkens back to Army of Darkness. Ereland is a big movie fan and frequently quotes American movies such as Die Hard and The Terminator. The way the story is laid out and progresses, it is very close to your typical American horror movies. When I watch a foreign movie, I want to see what they can bring to the table, not how much the writers like American movies.
Speaking of story, Dead Snow focuses more on fun over-the-top violence and loads of gore than plot and character progression. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really begin until about 45 minutes into the movie. Everything is just a lead-to that point, but it’s a little boring. It was nice to see a story with some historical context in a European country, but they completely ignore the fact that Norway had their own SS division. There were Norwegian resistance fighters during the war as well, but perhaps they did not want to bring up too much history for a simple zombie movie.
Stop! Hammer time!
Dead Snow also tries to go for a lot of questionable humor. There’s a scene where Ereland and Chris have sex in an outhouse. IN AN OUTHOUSE SECONDS AFTER ERELAND HAS USED IT. Please tell me that’s not a regional thing. Nothing says “Let’s make love” than an occupied shithouse. I guess it was a joke because Dead Snow tries for a lot of humor which isn’t particularly funny. You might crack a smile or chuckle, but nothing is good for a real laugh. They try to force humor when they didn’t have to. In one scene, Roy uses a hammer and sickle to kill a Nazi. That subtlety is funnier than just about any joke or reference.
This excited a really small and really gross group of people
The movie does succeed in the violence and blood category. The deaths are creative and some take a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, but they’re still fun to watch. Dead Snow has tons of blood and the prop department must have cleared out a butcher because there is a large amount of intestines being pulled, ripped, squished, and eaten. The zombie makeup looks good and the uniforms are spot-on. The action is entertaining and keeps things interesting. The zombies are fast and pretty agile, which is a little disappointing for people who prefer the Romero-style lurching zombies, but for the movie’s purposes, it makes sense. The natural beauty and scenery is captured well and makes me want to book a trip to Scandinavia. I’ll just have to avoid all the black metal fans.
I had high hopes for Dead Snow, perhaps too high. The violence and gore is a lot of fun and executed very well. The killings are creative and keep the audience excited. There is not much in the way of story which takes away our connection with what is going on. The American horror worship may be fun for some, but I was hoping for a more unique, regional take on zombies which I didn’t get. There is questionable humor throughout and it takes away from what story does exist. If you like lots of blood and guts, you’ll really enjoy Dead Snow. If you’re looking for something a little deeper, you’ll have to keep digging.