Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shocktober Revisited: Dead Snow

Tommy Wirkola's Dead Snow is a fairly entertaining Norwegian horror film with one very enticing gimmick: Nazi Zombies. That it doesn't quite live up to the expectations one might expect from that premise shouldn't scare genre fans away from the film; there's enough quality gore to overcome a slightly derivative script that, at times, relies heavily on Sam Raimi's early work to get from plot point to plot point. It's funny enough to distract you from a familiar plot and even more familiar story beats, and while the zombies aren't exactly zombies, they're certainly a fun twist in otherwise well trod territory.

Stop me when this sounds familiar: college students (in this case, all med-school) go to a secluded cabin on a mountain to spend the weekend. There's an even mix of girls and guys, with two couples and four singles of recognizable types - the missing girlfriend who everybody assumed would be there, the guy who always talks about movies, the girl that's kind of nerdy herself, and the squeamish guy with the self-reliant girlfriend.

Okay so far? Let's add the "Creepy Older Guy" who warns them about the history of this particular mountain - Nazis occupying Norway that stole the village valuables and were killed by the townspeople... or were they? - and then leaves. Where's the girl who owns the cabin? Is she okay? What's all this gold from 1942 doing in the cabin? People start dying? Could it be undead Nazis? Oh, you know it is! Let the evisceration commence!

I say that the Nazi Zombies aren't exactly zombies, in part because while yes, they are undead, they don't behave like traditional zombies. They behave like undead Nazis, ones that really like fist fights, using knives, and in one instance, gutting a girl to put a grenade inside her torso. The makeup is pretty nice, particularly on General Herzog, who just happens to be missing his lips. All of the Nazi zombies (who do bite people, but don't really seem interested in eating them) are menacing, if easily dispatched with late in the film.

Since I mentioned General Herzog, now's as fair a time as any to talk about how intertextuality-laden Dead Snow is. Not only do the characters discuss other horror films with a similar premise at the outset of their trip, but at least one of the films mentioned comes into play repeatedly during the film. There are two explicit references to Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn - one is part of a "if this were a horror movie" conversation and the other one is a direct visual reference to Ash cutting off his hand, used to set up an "Oh yeah, now what are you going to do?" joke involving a crotch-level Nazi zombie.

Erlend, the character constantly quoting films (including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Terminator) is also wearing a Brain Dead shirt (better known in the States as Dead Alive). Fans of Machete are going to be saying "Dead Snow did it!" when they see a very similar gag involving guts from two years earlier. The references aren't overly distracting, but they do underscore how much of Dead Snow is familiar territory, particularly the end, which lacks the kind of punch I suspect it was supposed to have.

That being said, you're going to have a lot of fun moments, and a few surprises - the nerdy film fan is the only character to have sex with someone - and for horror fans, plenty of gore. I'm not really sure I've seen a film so obsessed with intestines as Dead Snow is, and the fact that the protagonists are medical students does actually come into play in a meaningful - if totally unrealistic - fashion. Also, the crow scene is pretty funny. Dead Snow isn't going to reinvent the zombie wheel, and the Nazi Zombie concept isn't as developed as one would hope, but it's still definitely worth renting or (as the Cap'n did) "Watch(ing) It Now."

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