War of the Dead (2012)

War of the Dead takes two of film’s notorious whipping boys, combining Nazis and zombies to create a recipe for a giant evil pie. And is the result awesome?! Somehow no. War of the Dead fails miserably to capitalize on its premise, creating a lacklustre and shockingly dull experience instead of the insanely brilliant zombie-war film we’d hoped for.

Nazis were evil fucks and did ultra-weird experiments on prisoners. This we all know from Hellboy and Nazi Dawn and basically any Nazi-related horror films. In War of the Dead they’re making themselves a zombie army and – having shut the program down – some American & Finnish soldiers seek the truth about something… it’s mostly unclear on their actual motivations, even on hindsight.

Having been ambushed by some free-running zombie soldiers (NOT Nazis, as promised, but Russian soldiers), the group is slowly whittled down to a few stereotypes and one-by-one they’re assaulted by the evilest of evils… Nazi-made zombie rage-monsters. Can they stop the zombie tide? Can they find out the truth about ‘the bunker’? Do we care?

War of the Dead’s major flaw is the lack of attention on character. Throwing zombies and Nazis and explosions together doesn’t make a compelling movie unless we remotely care about at least one character and in War of the Dead the pickings are slim.

Effective and tense at times and wildly ridiculous at others, War of the Dead is also tonally awkward. One moment we might be creeping through a spooky forest and then suddenly growling monsters are falling out of the trees! Marko Mäkilaakso’s direction is excellent throughout, packing every penny / cent / euro cent of the budget onto the screen with explosions aplenty and lots of extras leaping about in the darkness.

Despite this decent directing, War of the Dead significantly sags when grenades aren’t exploding and zombies aren’t crashing through windows. The ‘creatures’ appear out of convenience rather than any semblance of motivation, sprinting or leaping into action whenever the script requires. It feels heavy handed throughout and horribly dull when the characters are just chatting to each other.

In fact, Mäkilaakso’s script is overly-familiar and as subtle as a bullet in the face. At one point a character actually yells “He’s biting me!” when a zombie starts chewing on his neck. Thanks for the explanation! For something with such a cartoonish, B-movie topic (they even give ‘Special Thanks’ in their credits to Lloyd Kaufman and Stan Lee) there is also a lot of confusing ideas that are never explained; a creepy old man in the woods, some weird clockwork devices which may or may not control / unleash the undead, some weird sentient black ink /blood (which may or may not be stolen from the X Files) and the presence of a few remaining Nazis, hiding in a bunker… it’s all rather baffling.

War of the Dead isn’t even laughably bad as it’s relatively competently made, perhaps the only amusing things are seeing ex members of The Bill being attacked by zombies or the fact one of the undead monsters looks a LOT like a fat undead John Barrowman in full Captain Jack Harkness mode…

Despite these in-jokey titillations, by the time the characters actually reach the mysterious bunker the audience has slipped into a disappointment-coma, having expected Swastika-wearing machine gun-wielding evil undead Nazi scum like all the marketing material suggested -

- but instead of the above we received a slow-as-a-dead-slug yawn machine that should’ve been called Bore of the Dead. At no point does a swastika-wearing Nazi zombie pick up a machine gun and fire it. The marketing people should be ashamed of themselves.

Nazis and zombies; how can you screw it up? Easily, apparently. The focus on explosions in the darkness, jumping zombies and some scrambled bullshit about covert missions eclipses any attempt to make you care about the people involved. It is a dull slog because of this and incredibly hard to recommend. Disappointing stuff.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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