Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dead Snow (2009)

Being Film #6 in Hail Horror 4. Thanks to Sean from Spectacular Views for the recommendation.

Nazi Zombies. Should I be disappointed or proud that it took humanity this long to make a movie featuring Nazi Zombies? And how on God's green Earth did the Norwegians think of it first?

On the surface DEAD SNOW is your run-of-the-mill "kids in the woods" movie. A group of medical students on Easter break head up to an eerie cabin in the woods where they do what any fun-loving Norwegians would do: cavort in the snow, drink beer, and make out. One night they're visited by a grizzled old camper who chastises them for not reading up on the local history: apparently a nasty regiment of German soldiers terrorized a series of towns, raping and killing and stealing all the valuables they could carry. The villagers eventually banded together and chased the regiment out into the woods, where they supposedly froze to their deaths. Or did they?

Sounds like a couple dozen other films I could rattle off the top of my head. Dig a little deeper though, and DEAD SNOW offers a subtle interplay of different themes. It's at once a meditation on...

Oh, who am I kidding - DEAD SNOW is exactly what it sounds like - no more, no less. In fact, as far as story and characters go it's a pretty generic film. But it does have one thing going for it that makes for a damn fun experience. Care to guess what it is?

That's right, my friends...Nazi F----n' Zombies.

And not just your typical Nazi Zombies (I can't believe I just wrote that) - these Nazi Zombies have no desire to shamble around feasting on the flesh of the dead. They run like they're competing in the 1932 Olympics, and instead of trying to gnaw on your bones they punch you dead in the face and stab you repeatedly with their bayonets. It's outlandish, over-the-top, and pretty much unlike any other zombie I've seen in film up to this point.

The film was directed and co-written by Tommy Wirkola, whose brief filmography seems to favor the horror/comedy mix. He peppers DEAD SNOW with the requisite horror references and stereotypes - the kids are a hodge-podge of every other horror cast, including the film geek who quotes EVIL DEAD and wears a BRAINDEAD t-shirt (actually, I gave him points for that). There's the obligatory Sam Raimi moment where the leads start to equip themselves for battle with sudden close-ups of chainsaws and knives, and the film doesn't really try to do anything other than have fun coming up with ways to kill humans and zombies alike.

Where Wirkola does excel is in utilizing the uniqueness of the environment and his creatures. Norway is a beautiful country, and he makes full use of its pristine landscapes, shooting the majority of the carnage in full daylight. And that carnage is pretty inventive: my favorite sequence involves Vegard, the rugged outdoorsy student, and his series of battles with the zombies alone on the mountains. At one point he gets thrown off a cliff with a zombie holding on to his legs, the only thing keeping him from falling being the thin line of intestines he's holding onto, which are attached to another zombie impaled on a tree. If you squint it almost looks like an extreme sports documentary.

The final showdown is suitably bloody and involves a few fun gags, including a great blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when one of the leads sprints toward a zombie with a hammer and sickle, which he crosses together in the familiar Russian symbol that had me rolling. All in all DEAD SNOW isn't what I would call a stellar horror movie, but just based on the inventiveness of its main draw and the obvious fun the movie has with itself makes this a great group experience, and a worthwhile addition to the zombie genre.

Besides: when you're talking about frickin' Nazi Zombies, as a friend pointed out to me, what more do you need?

Quick Note: Normally, I wouldn't have used the term "Nazi Zombies" so many times in a review, but really: what chance am I ever going to have again to use it? Can someone say DEAD SNOW? Yes, please!

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