Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dead Snow

Posted as part of Operation 101010
Category: Eurovisions (Norway) / In category: 8 of 10 / Overall: 81 of 100

With neighbouring Sweden quick to declare neutrality, Norway suffered the brunt of Nazi oppression as brutally as any other occupied country. The Norwegian Resistance remain one of World War II’s least celebrated underground movements, certainly in terms of cinematic representation. I can think of only two: Sunday afternoon favourite ‘Heroes of Telemark’ (an overly Hollywoodized account of the sabotage of a heavy water plant) and ‘Max Manus’ (aka ‘Man of War’), which I’ve not seen but apparently stirred up controversy in Norway, some reviewers accusing it of glorifying Resistance acts which resulted in harsh reprisals against Norwegian citizens.

One day, someone will make the definitive Norwegian Resistance movie. A movie that celebrates the heroism of the underground fighters and is honest about the hardships they endured. A movie that is brave enough to tackle the moral complexities and grey areas of the subject and doesn’t just simply paint the German characters as a batch of straight-out-of-central-casting rent-a-Hun type.

In the meantime, though, there’s ‘Dead Snow’.

Which is about Nazi zombies. In Norway.

It’s a strange quirk of cinema that there are more Nazi zombie movies than there are movies about the Norwegian Resistance. It’s perhaps less surprising that most of them are truly dreadful. Jean Rollin’s ‘Zombie Lake’ – whose production values were so bargain basement it should have been retitled ‘Swimming Pool of the Zombies’ – springs to mind.

‘Dead Snow’ is easily the best Nazi zombie movie I’ve seen. That in itself isn’t saying much. Although it’s entertaining, properly gory, often darkly funny and all done in the worst possible taste (the shithouse sex scene with the finger-sucking: eeeeeeeewww), it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

Let’s take a whistlestop tour through the delights of ‘Dead Snow’ with parenthetical observations where similar tropes have previously been employed: a group of students (pick your favourite 80s stalk ‘n’ slash franchise) repair to a remote cabin in the wilds (let’s just go with ‘Cabin Fever’ and leave it at that, the article will get too long otherwise) for the purposes of drinking, shagging (pick your favourite 80s stalk ‘n’ slash franchise) and extreme sports (‘High Lane’). During the first evening there, a vaguely creepy old guy turns up and tells them of the horror that happened there many years ago (‘The Fog’).

The students discover some hidden treasure which is connected with the macabre events (‘The Fog’) and decide to divvy it up. Bad decision. In short order, several of their number are decimated by zombies (anything with ‘Dead’ in the title) while the others try to barricade the cabin against the flesh-eating hordes (‘Night of the Living Dead’) who turn out to be an undead Nazi platoon (‘Zombie Lake’, ‘Shock Waves’). When an attempt to fight them off goes tits up and the survivors almost immolate themselves in an accidental fire (‘Night of the Living Dead’), they decide to make a run for it.

There’s more: two characters take on a bunch of zombies using some things they find in a shed (‘Shaun of the Dead’); a second wave of zombies appear towards the end, rising from beneath the ground, decomposing hands reaching upwards (‘Carrie’); a scene of gruesome black comedy is wrought from someone’s intestines spilling out (‘Dog Soldiers’); likewise from a makeshift chainsaw arm amputation (‘Evil Dead 2’); there’s some derring-do off a precipitous ledge (‘Where Eagles Dare’); and a character tries to assuage the zombies, late in the game, by giving the gold back (‘The Fog’ again).

‘Dead Snow’ doesn’t have a single original idea. And while this is forgivable in many films – particularly trashily entertaining horrors – much of the fun in recycling tropes and trading in clich├ęs and stereotypes comes from how imaginatively filmmakers can subvert or satirize them. The only subversiveness going on in ‘Dead Snow’ is that – for a Norwegian film – it happily lets loose the Nazi horror on the fjords all over again and cheerfully watches its hapless protagonists get killed off by them.

The biggest disappointment, though, not just with ‘Dead Snow’ but with the small handful of other Nazi zombie titles I’ve seen, is that it takes an awesome concept – Nazi zombies!! fuckin’ zombies who are Nazis!!! – and does absolutely nothing with it. At the end of the day, it’s just the same zombie movie you’ve seen before, whether it was made it Pittsburgh or London, except the zombies are wearing uniforms. Maybe one day someone will make the definitive Nazi zombie movie, where the threat becomes so widespread that a band of desperate citizens form an underground resistance movement …


Bryce Wilson said...

Between "Rent a Hun" and the irony of the outnumbered Norwegian Resistance pictures, I really need to learn to just stop drinking things while reading Agitation Of The Mind.

I was disappointed by this to. To me the biggest problem was it never set on a tone, it wasn't funny and crazy enough to be a Peter Jackson/Sam Raimi style film, and wasn't grim enough to actually be scary.

Thanks to the few beers I consumed during the runtime I even started nodding off during the end.

When you're struggling to stay awake during an orgy of nazi zombie violence it's just a bad sign.

Aaron said...

Nice! I haven't seen DEAD SNOW, but it's cool to read your take on it as opposed to a horror blogger's. I never bothered to watch this because it got shit on a lot when it first came out. There were a few people here and there who praised it, but I listened to the majority. It's gotten to the point now where I have a pretty vivid picture in my head of what the movie will be like. And apparently taking the idea of Nazi zombies and fucking it up seems to be the trend, because I have not seen a single NEW-ish Nazi zombie movie that I like. I can imagine film-makers being attracted to the absurd idea of Nazi zombies and trying to build a movie around it, but not really knowing how or what to do with the concept, ultimately.

What did you think of SHOCK WAVES?

Neil Fulwood said...

Bryce - agreed; 'Dead Snow' falls between two stools. The director definitely failed in not making his mind up what he was making. Which is a damn shame, because 'Dead Snow' has some great moments. The attack on the old man while he's camping in the wilds, his tent a tiny cone of light against the massive wintry background, is brilliantly done. But that's all those kind of moments are - just moments. The movie never adds up to the sum of its part.

Aaron - spot on: the whole Nazi angle was just a concept; nothing was done with it. My wife commented after we finished watching 'Dead Snow', "They could have done so much more with that."

Re: 'Shock Waves', it's been ages since I've seen it, but at least Ken Wiederhorn did something with the idea, having the zombies bred to survive under water so they can crew u-boats without having to surface. I remember it being a bit ramshackle effects wise, but moving along at a good pace and featuring some effective underwater sequences.