Dead Snow is one of those films that in theory I should have seen years ago. A Norwegian horror comedy about med students fighting off Nazi zombies during a winter weekend getaway to a cabin in the mountains? Many have connected the dots with my interests and assumed that this is EXACTLY the kind of film that Professor Mortis needs to see yesterday. They’re right, of course, it’s right up my theoretical alley. The problem with suggestions and recommendations is that there are literally thousands of movies right up my theoretical alley (it’s more like a theoretical 5 lane highway), and my contrary nature means I usually end up thinking “You know what? I’m tired of horror comedies and zombies. I think I’d rather start watching Musicals. Yeah! Musicals! That’s the ticket.” Or I’m just not in the mood and think “Once I get through a few more Westerns I can do another zombie comedy.” In the end I finally caught this because it was the movie that the South Shore Movie Club decided to watch last Thursday.
There’s another reason it took me so long to see this. Those of you who haven’t spent hours of your life reading, discussing, and talking about horror films may not realize this, but Tommy Wirkola (Director and Co-Writer) isn’t the only person to stop and think, “You know what scares people? Zombies! You know what else scares people? Nazis! What if you were to combine the two?” There is a tiny sub-sub-genre of Nazi Zombies movies. Oddball French horror filmmaker Jean Rollin’s 1981 “Nazi zombies rise from their watery grave for revenge” opus Zombie Lake was one of my formative “so-bad-it’s-good” movie watching experiences. I spent a Saturday afternoon laughing my head off with my cousins and brother where ever the film’s threadbare budget would show, usually when the green zombie make-up washed off the actors on their way in and out of the titular lake. Other examples include Shock Waves (ocean-going underwater zombies vs. divers), Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies (Afrika Korps zombies guarding the treasure they stole years earlier) and, the lowest rent in a very low rent field, 1981’s Night of the Zombies (Nazi and American World War II zombies in the Alps), whose main claim to fame is that it stars porn star Jamie Gillis.
My first thought when friends suggested Dead Snow was “Nazi Zombie Movie Marathon!”, but it never came to pass. One thing that I would have enjoyed from a marathon would be the chance to compare the films. It’s interesting that two feature zombies buried underwater, one zombies buried under snow, and the others zombies in harsh environments (desert, mountains). I suppose for logical reasons you can’t have Nazi zombies milling about the local mall, and for budgetary ones you don’t want to set the film during the War, but that they are specifically buried/submerged so often makes sense thematically-the fear that these monsters could come back, that their evil doesn’t die, their evil lying just under the surface waiting for the right conditions to revive them.
So, how is Dead Snow? The cast is good enough to do what needs doing, staging daytime snow scenes with zombies is novel, the gore and make up effects are solid, and there are laughs to be had, though the films meta humor leaves a lot to be desired. We’ve come a long way from the sympathetic movie quoting nerds of years past-here we get a dumb, unfunny, annoying nerd whose knowledge doesn’t help the heroes. In one way it was nice to see expectations defied, but in another it called back to the days when horror filmmakers would bite the hand that feeds, with completely unsympathetic portrayals of horror nerds (yes, Friday the 13th 3D, I’m looking at you.) Wirkola breaks little new ground (unless we want to count the idea of a “sex in an outhouse” scene, which is probably ground that should have stayed unbroken). Indeed, the basic elements of Dead Snow show up in the movies listed above: Nazis come back from the dead to avenge their murder at the hands of the locals (Zombie Lake) and guard their stolen gold (Oasis of the Zombies). True, the zombies here don’t seem particularly interested in eating their victims (but are fairly bitey anyhow), and can be killed with as little as a bullet to the chest, but I’m not sure we want to award points for what seems like sloppy writing. In the end this is a fun film to watch with some rowdy pals, well paced and familiar enough that you won’t miss too much while you are making jokes, but with enough amusing moments and unpredictability to keep you interested and watching.