When you think horror, you think Norwegians. Okay, maybe not so much, but the Norwegians sure are making a nice little name for themselves producing some interesting ditties to the horror genre. They’ve already offered up two of the more notable slasher titles of recent years in the “Cold Prey” series (read our James Mudge’s review of “Cold Prey 2” here), and now comes their entry into the ever-expanding Nazi zombie horror niche with “Dead Snow”. You wouldn’t think such a limited niche could yield so many offerings, but then you’d be wrong. Hey, it beats yuppie zombies, right? At least the Nazis are easy to root against. Plus, they’re zombies. No one ever roots for zombies.
“Dead Snow” starts out like your everyday horror movie, with a group of friends heading out to the countryside for a little R&R, only to inadvertently stumble across an age-old evil that is unwittingly awakened. In this case, eight medical students are taking a break from school for a little skiing, drinking, and of course, promiscuous sex, when they realize they’re having their fun on a remote mountain that was once the burial ground for some especially vicious Nazi types from the big war. Our friends are helpfully informed of the mountain’s history by one of those Old Guy Who Knows Stuff, this one delivered conveniently enough straight to their doorsteps.
But of course we already know that a murderous menace awaits our college friends at their remote cabin, since the movie opened with one of the eight friends, who had decided to ski by her little lonesome across the mountains, having already succumbed to the Nazi menace. When the now-dead woman fails to show up, her boyfriend goes in search of her, leaving six behind. As the undead Nazi horde make their move, a lot of horror, some comedy, and copious amounts of blood, intestine gags, and decapitations by ax, chainsaw, and snow mobile is had by all. Plot-wise? Eh. Something about Nazi gold or such. Do you really care?
In the world of horror comedies, “Dead Snow” isn’t going to break any new ground, and one gets the impression co-writer/director Tommy Wirkola isn’t so much interested in offering something new as he is in offering something familiar, but with a snow-capped twist. If that’s the case, it is mission accomplished, as much of “Dead Snow” looks gorgeous. Of course it would take a lot of incompetence to screw up the incredible vistas and snow-swept plains of the Norwegian mountains (I am assuming they shot the movie in their native Norway). Take away the blood and guts and Nazi zombies, and Norway could use the film as a tourist video.
But of course, no one goes into “Dead Snow” looking for a tourism video. They want Nazis. And zombies. And Nazi zombies. Luckily for them, there are plenty of those goose-stepping ne’er-to-wells in the film, and Wirkola does well to throw as many stuntmen as he can find into Nazi regalia and send them after his eight medical students. Nitpickers will say that the Nazis barely act like zombies, and curiously for a bunch of rotting corpses that have been undead for the last 60 or so years, they’ve kept themselves, not to mention their uniforms in impressively top shape. Then again, if you were prone to gripe about “Dead Snow’s” improbably plot logic, you probably shouldn’t be watching a movie about medical students vacationing in the mountains fighting Nazi zombies, so who is the sucker here?
Those expecting a lot of laughs will probably come away somewhat disappointed. There are a couple of gags here and there, and the film certainly throws in plenty of nods to more classic titles in their genre. (In particular, Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” films get the majority of the homage.) There are also some very amusing if a tad out of left field subplots, such as the pretty girl’s odd preoccupation with seducing the fat movie geek of the bunch. And true to horror conventions, the first girl that follows the boy out into the out house in order to screw his brains out (while he’s, um, preoccupied, I might add) is the first to end up at the wrong end of a Nazi frenzy. The movie geek goes pretty fast, too. See, kids, never, ever have sex in a horror movie if you know what’s good for you. Then again, if you gotta go…
I’ll say this about “Dead Snow”: for a horror comedy, it boasts an awesome bodycount. Since the film doesn’t have what you would call a designated hero (everyone pretty much gets their moment in the sun), it also means the filmmakers have no problems killing off their characters at a surprisingly fast clip. Without giving away too much, there isn’t a single one of the film’s eight medical students that can be considered safe. There isn’t a whiff of a Final Girl on the whole mountain. The deaths come fast and furious, and Wirkola shows little favoritism as he offs his boys and girls in some truly gruesome ways. If you didn’t know any better, you might think Wirkola has a grudge against his characters.
I’m not going to tell you that “Dead Snow” is the best horror comedy of 2009, but I am going to tell you that it certainly achieves a lot of the things it set out to do, and gorehounds especially will feel like they’ve hit the bonanza. (I lost count how many times Wirkola pulls a sight gag involving someone’s intestines.) There are enough patches of the movie that is straight horror to make you wonder how different the film would have been had Wirkola decided to go that route, but that’s for another day. “Dead Snow” was clearly made with the international horror fanbase in mind, and that‘s already paid off with Stateside distribution deals out of the festival circuit. I can see the film developing a cult following in a few years, and perhaps spawn a sequel or two. There are, after all, plenty of Nazi zombies to go around in those mountains.
Tommy Wirkola (director) / Stig Frode Henriksen, Tommy Wirkola (screenplay)
CAST: Charlotte Frogner … Hanna
Ørjan Gamst … Herzog
Stig Frode Henriksen … Roy
Vegar Hoel … Martin
Jeppe Laursen … Erlend
Evy Kasseth Røsten … Liv
Jenny Skavlan … Chris
Ane Dahl Torp … Sara
Lasse Valdal … Vegard