Dead Snow (2009)
Nazi zombies. Or zombie Nazis. Whichever way you turn it, it cannot be denied that the concept has that kind of revelatory spark which comes with an epiphany, like a lightbulb appearing above the head of character in a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s beautifully hideous in its simplicity, taking either one of these two groups and making them that much more badass by combining them into one uberbastard. Add to this bubbling broth of creativity a healthy smattering of laughs and a big fat dollop of blood ‘n guts (tripe anyone?) and you have a hearty meal fit for any horror-lover’s table, an instant cult classic. Right?
Well, no. For one thing, I’m of the opinion that ideas like this, while brilliant on paper, often end up being lacklustre, disappointing films because the people involved often think that’s as much as it needs and grow lazy and complacent. Exhibit A: Dead Silence (2007), James Wan’s directorial effort after his success with Saw (2004). You can see all the way through that turgid craptacular that the people involved clearly sat down in a room and said “Hey, you know what’s scary? Ventriloquist’s dummies and dolls” and from that point on thought they had it made, maybe watched superior movies on the subject like Magic (1978) or the classic Ealing anthology Dead of Night (1945) for ideas to help them tick the boxes, but didn’t care one iota if the script was any good and didn’t understand the mechanics of those films and what made them scary, content to instead rest on their laurels and trust that a few fast cuts and the occasional appearance of a dummy’s face onscreen would be enough to secure them a masterpiece of horror.
The other way this type of thing can be the instrument of its own destruction is when the filmmakers go out and intentionally try to create a “cult” film, which is something that just happens, it’s organic and attempting to make one happen by looking at what other cult flicks have in them and then trying to emulate it will end badly. Exhibit B: Undead (2003), a movie that on one level is perfectly serviceable, but there’s a niggling feeling throughout that the filmmakers were just trying far too hard to make you like it. It was obvious they’d run through Peter Jackson’s back catalogue, most notably Braindead (1992) and Bad Taste (1987), and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy and rifled them not so much for ideas but trying to work out why these are cult movies and tried their hardest to duplicate it, but it falls short. Even trying to make a horror/comedy with zombies is a rocky area these days because not only do you have a plethora of horror-comedies like the two mentioned above (Re-Animator (1985), Dellamorte Dellamore (1994), Night of the Creeps (1986) and Return of the Living Dead (1985) also automatically spring to mind as being significant entries in this subgenre’s heritage) – but Shaun of the Dead (2004), being a superb comedy within a horror setting confused the issue some more and since then imitators have also had to contend with throwing in some lazy, half-assed “comedy” too – Exhibit C: Evil Aliens (2005).
So I went into Død Snø with something of an air of trepidation, trying not to set my hopes too high. I’m happy to say that, despite the pitfalls it could have so easily fallen into, it doesn’t do either of these things – the idea of having Nazi zombies hasn’t been the sole focus, the pace is good, going from slow and tension-building to more manic towards the finale (even taking the time for a slow, almost “campfire tale” telling of the backstory which is effective) and the characters are nicely drawn with a few surprises to be had in the way in which they’re treated, in that it takes genre stereotypes and uses them in ways which are non-formulaic. Nor does it vie for a position as a “cult” movie, director Tommy Wirkola doesn’t seem to have deliberately tried to make it quirky or ironic. Yes, it does reference heavily both Braindead and The Evil Dead, visually as well as actual namedrops, but it does so more in the way of homage than trying to pass these ideas off as its own or via the increasingly irritating “sly wink at the audience” method.
Maybe it’s because it just played it straight, no grandiose air of pretension or total laziness, but I enjoyed it for what it was and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a good tongue-in-cheek zombie flick. A classic? Not in my opinion, as like Dance of the Dead (2008) it’s not really innovative or special, but it is disposable fun with an all-round good mix that’ll probably allow occasional repeat viewings – I chuckled here and there, there are a few “jumpy” moments and plenty of gore (although the one “eww” moment for me had nothing to do with viscera nor zombies, but a couple having sex in a toilet). Overall it’s good, clean fun that’ll entertain you for 90 minutes and not outstay its welcome, and you can’t say fairer than that.
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