Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Ein! Zwei! Die!
With Zombieland currently sitting like a giant infected monkey atop the Empire State of the box office, it seems an appropriate time to have a gander at another zomedy currently doing the rounds. And certainly for anyone out there feeling either a little disappointed about Zombieland’s lack of splat stick or moaning about how the zombies are not really zombies but infected people, then Dead Snow is the flick for you!
Coming straight outta Norway, Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow tells the tale of a group of bright young things who toddle off for a jolly weekend of snow related frolicking at a remote cabin deep in the mountains. However in this far flung corner of the frozen north, an ancient evil from a noted subgenre will be awakened by the hapless bright young things, and very soon the pure white of the crisp virgin snow will be drenched in cinematic red…
Yes, Dead Snow features that trope well loved by B-movie directors and schlock film fans everywhere, Nazi zombies! Cinematically speaking, Nazis are the ideal historical villains; not only because the Third Reich can be clearly identified as evil but also because their iconography was straight out of the pulp villain’s handbook (as Mitchell & Webb memorably highlighted in this sketch). And their alleged interest in the occult* only bolsters their black hat status, and has provided fertile ground for many storytellers, inspiring the likes of Dennis Wheatley (They Used Dark Forces 1964), Spielberg & Lucas (Indiana Jones) and id Games (Wolfenstein in all its many incarnations).
Now ever since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, zombies have been equally popular with low budget film makers, and so it’s hardly surprising that the two have been combined many times over the years, even spawning the sub-sub genre of underwater Nazi zombies (Zombie Lake, Shock Waves). Now when I first heard about Mr Wirkola’s film, to be honest they had me at Nazi zombies. But the idea of reanimated storm troopers rampaging through snow and ice seemed like a masterstroke.
So what does Dead Snow actually deliver? Well as you can tell from my synopsis, the plot isn’t exactly startlingly original but in all fairness the film isn’t seeking to wow us with a novel narrative. The first half an hour plays out like a great many horror films we have all seen before. The kids are the usual identikit bunch including the film nerd character which is becoming something of a post Scream genre cliché. The remote cabin/isolated location is similarly hackneyed and the early scenes even features a Captain Exposition character who I’m betting is a long lost Baltic cousin of Friday 13th’s Crazy Ralph. And indeed the first act of the movie plays out like a very typical slasher movie, going through a familiar sketch-in-the-characters routine and lots of stalking antics from the bad guys.
So far, so ho hum, right? Now if this was an American production, all of the above would indeed be fairly tedious. However Dead Snow hails from Northern Europe, the young characters felt a good deal fresher and more naturalistic than the usual teen shreddies. More to the point though, Dead Snow’s makers are well aware of the clichés they are parroting, and this first section of the movie abounds with knowing references to the movies they are aping. And lovers of genre cinema get a few tips off as to the direction the film will go in, with references to Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson’s early works.
Now these allusions are all very entertaining but the real fun starts when the Nazi dead stop lurking about in the snowy shadows and launch a full scale assault. Wisely Wirkola limits the stalking parts to the night scenes and the full-on mayhem occurs in broad daylight, so we get to see the undead legions in their full glory and he makes fantastic use of the picturesque snowbound mountain setting. And at this point the movie quickly shifts into overdrive and the thrills come thick and fast.
To say that the movie from hereon in is blood drenched is something of an understatement. Wirkola unleashes a veritable torrent of inventive gore and the cast both living and undead are mown down with hilarious intensity. Now normally when I’m viewing violent flicks late at night, my usual concern is keeping an eye on the volume of my surround sound system so not to annoy the neighbours. However with Dead Snow, my concern was not the volume of the screams and carnage but my own laughter. And indeed I suspect I woke half the street with my guffaws when we got to the bungee jumping scene.
Now some reviewers have bemoaned that the fact that Dead Snow takes far too long to get going, but I’d argue that the build up to the mayhem is essential. I don’t think that OTT splatstick action would be as nearly as funny and shocking if they’d been chucking about the buckets of blood right from the get go. Dead Snow works because of it’s escalating pace – for example the film geek’s espousing of the rules of zombie films provides the set up for a hilariously bloody scene near the film’s end. Effectively the latter half’s gory action is the punch line to the first section’s feed line.
In short, ’s is simply marvellous good fun. Yes, the story is unoriginal and there’s no real explanation as to why the Nazis are rising from the dead. And it is true that really there’s no real reason why the zombies should be members of the Third Reich other than they look cool. But that really none of that is the object of the exercise – Wirkola quite clearly set out to make a flick to follow in the comedy horror footsteps of Bad Taste, Evil Dead 2 and Reanimator. And on these terms the movie is a great success, and if you are looking for a flick packed with gore and chuckles for this Halloween, Dead Snow is the ideal movie for the job. Gather together a bunch of friends who appreciate gross out comedy, crack open some beers and stick this on!
* For anyone interested in the actual historical facts about the Nazis and their alleged occult activities, I would heartily recommend Alan Barker’s Invisible Eagle: The Hidden History of Nazi Occultism.