A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?”
For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep.
Dead Snow 2009, Norway. Directed by Tommy Wirkola. Written by Tommy Wirkola and Stig Frode Henriksen. Starring Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal.
“We’ve been attacked by what look like Germans from the Second World War! And we set our cabin on fire by accident!”
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: this movie is stupid as hell. The premise is not especially original, a group of college students going up to a cabin in the mountains to get drunk and laid, only to find death, dismemberment and unspeakable horror. Plotting seems like an afterthought, with characters who are set up to look like the eventual survivor, fighting their way out of almost certain death, only to be killed before the end of the movie anyway. Not that you might realize it right away, since they seem more like character sketches than real living people. You’ll probably forget their names, calling them That Guy, The Other Guy, or Outhouse Chick. Despite all of them being in medical school, none of them seems particularly brilliant. Like the point fairly late into the movie when a girl wearing bright red tries to hide in a tree. In winter. In broad daylight. And yet, somehow, the monsters chasing her don’t see her at first.
But forget all of that. None of it matters, this is still one helluva horror movie, and for one simple reason: Nazi zombies.
We get things started with a chase in the dark and a really good jump-scare. A girl is running at night through the snowy woods of Norway, with something pretty nasty close behind her. I think she might be Sara, who’s actually part of the group that comes to stay in the cabin, though I’m never entirely sure. Doesn’t matter, she’s dead anyway. Every time I’ve seen this movie, the beginning makes me jump, and what pops up when it pops up wasn’t exactly a surprise the first time. But this director, Tommy Wirkola, knows how to work us. He gives us a bunch of likable, if not somewhat interchangeable, characters and makes them trudge way out into the snowbound mountains. The cabin is so ridiculously secluded, in fact, that our doctor wannabes have to park the car and follow the snowmobile tracks that somehow still lead to it. One of the guys, Erlend (aka, Horror Movie Guy), notes that a bunch of good-looking Norwegians are heading to a cabin in the woods where evil will probably ensue. We know that we can trust his judgment because he’s wearing a BRAINDEAD t-shirt, and anyone who loves Peter Jackson’s best movie that much can’t possibly be wrong.
A couple of the doomed campers bicker about cell-phones in FRIDAY THE 13th, while others have a snowball fight. The soundtrack rocks out to some Norwegian heavy metal. There’s some drinking involved. Everyone is having a great time. Well, other than someone’s girlfriend Sara not being at the cabin when they all get there. But nevermind. Then Creepy Hiker Guy shows up, getting himself invited in so he can regale the youth with his tales of hidden Nazi gold. There were years of German occupation in this region during the war (the only part of the entire movie that is more-or-less true), and these weren’t just those nice Nazis. These were some evil sons of bitches. They did some killing, probably some raping, and they definitely did some looting. At least until the villagers, or whatever, eventually rebelled and drove those Nazi sons of bitches, along with their gold, into the mountains in the dead of winter. Everyone assumed that they all froze to death. Well . . . thanks for letting me drink your beer. Sorry about scaring the shit out you with my random story, but I’ve gotta be going now. Here’s to hoping you don’t find a big box of gold right here under the floorboards or anything.
With that little bit of expository narrative out of the way, the movie is able to concentrate on what’s really important. We have chainsaws, scythes, hand grenades. There are ocular traumas, sliced throats, gratuitous intestinal injuries, and body rippage. I lost count of the head decapitations. There’s a character, I think it was The Other Guy, fighting one Nazi zombie while swinging from the guts of another Nazi zombie. We’ve got someone getting hit in the head with a hammer and then disemboweled by a tree. There’s some sex in an outhouse. There’s someone saying “We should have gone to the beach like I told you”, which is really funny. There’s a bloody, kick-ass EVIL DEAD power tool jamboree, just in case you weren’t sure what movie to bring if you’re invited to hang out at Tommy Wirkola’s house.
And there’s those Nazi zombies, hundreds of them, just rising right up out of the snow. If that image alone doesn’t get you, despite all of this movie’s stupidity and terrible plotting, well, then you’re probably pretty hopeless anyway.
In case you didn’t notice, some of horror’s undisputed masters are all over this thing. Secluded cabins. The living dead. Prophetic dreams. Chainsaws. We can almost hear the movie giving a shout-out to grandpappies Romero and Raimi up in the stands. And let’s not forget about Horror Movie Guy and his choice of apparel.
Unlike some fright flicks that feel like they were assembled by a board of directors for the sole purpose of making money, these filmmakers have obviously grown up watching the same stuff that hardcore horror fans did. This movie wears its influences on its bloody sleeve. First of all, what’s more loathsome than a zombie, but a Nazi-zombie? No doubt these guys have seen SHOCKWAVES, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, THE FROZEN DEAD, and numerous other instances where gut-munching and goose-stepping have appeared on the screen together. They seem completely aware of the unspoken rules of horror, as American as they are, making a point of breaking them all. In the midst of a Nazi zombie attack it’s never a good idea to split up. Characters are having sex, and everyone knows that if you get laid, you get killed. Everyone also knows that you never, ever mess with the Nazi’s secret stash of gold coins.
Unless you want to see something really, really cool just before you die.