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By Graham Rae | August 23, 2009

Inglourious Deathterds

Two events in recent history have divested the human race of any dearly-held illusions about itself: the invention of the internet, where all insane human potential can spread out in a vast, mad anything-goes market…and the Holocaust. The latter pogrom, the single most vile and evil event ever perversely perpetrated by the human (disg)race on itself, has produced some caustic experimentation-and-extermination exploitation movies: sick, tasteless stuff like “Love Camp 7,” “SS Experiment Camp” and “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.” Loons carrying out the horrifying and race-despairing systematic wiping out of six million Jews and gypsies and homosexuals screams entertainment?

You’d think that the whole Third Reichsploitation field had been done to death – and beyond. Is “Dead Snow,” a new Norwegian Nazi zombie movie, a fresh and new twist on the genre? Wrong. There have been at least four other Nazi zombie movies made to date (there may be more, but I can’t be bothered searching them out): “Shock Waves,” “Zombie Lake,” “Oasis of the Zombies” (a Jess Franco anti-classic I actually own on a 50-public-domain-horror-film DVD and put off a third of the way through after my central nervous system started to collapse) and ‘Night of the Zombies’ (not to be confused with the excellent trash Bruno Mattei “Dawn of the Dead” rip-off movie).

As new as it seems, “Dead Snow” brings nothing original. What does that title mean? Well…nothing. It’s stupid to me, and pretty much as decorticated as the rest of the part-satire part-homage film. To a bad metal soundtrack, a bunch of University of Oslo students (one of whom, a medical student, is – hyuk hyuk – allergic to the sight of blood) snow-scooter to a remote area of the Norwegian mountains to party in your archetypal cut-off-from-the-world cabin, indulging in some tiresome “post-modern” Kevin Williamson-like dialogue about horror movies with characters going into areas with no cell phone reception. Once they arrive at the cabin, they start partying when a strange old man lurches out of the snowblown night. “This’ll be the old guy to warn them they’re doomed to a horrible death, to explain the plot,” I said to my wife Ellen and friend Elwyn across from Scotland…and I was right. Every self-respecting cheapshit splatter movie in the 80s had them.

It transpires that the area they are in, Oksfjord, was occupied by the Nazis during WWII (Norway, like most of Europe, was genuinely occupied, a fact apparent in the Norwegian psyche) and a group of ubermensch were chased off by the townspeople into the mountains and were presumed dead. Or not. Obviously, or there would be no movie. So the old man buggers off and gets slaughtered, illogically hanging around overnight in a tent in an area he knew to be haunted, and the film really kicks off. The kids find a treasure trove of gold stolen by the Nazis, which causes them to rise from their frigid mountainside tombs to search for their ill-gotten gains, in a move straight out of John Carpenter’s “The Fog.” Pretty soon “Dead Snow” turns into pretty much every “keep the undead outside and us inside” film you’ve ever seen and grows just as tiresome.

I’m tired of seeing old splatter movies from the 80s or so regurgitated, and this limited palette of sometimes-entertaining trash was the stuff that co-writer/director Tommy Wirkola grew up on. When I saw a fat ugly guy in this effort wearing a tee-shirt of Peter Jackson’s splatter comedy classic “Braindead” (U.S. title “Dead Alive”) a few minutes into the film I knew exactly what I was going to be getting; hell, even one of the posters is a direct rip from Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” There’s a ridiculous scene involving that horror nerd, too. He’s in an outhouse taking a dump and a drunk beautiful girl comes out and fucks him (coming while he’s going, in other words), which I couldn’t help thinking was sort of a splatter freak’s wet dream come true – as well as being completely ludicrous and implausible.

I suppose if you’re going to rip off (sorry, I mean pay homage to a la “Shaun of the Dead”) splatter zombie movies, you could do far worse than early Sam Raimi and Pete Jackson films, whose undead lore this film is bloody drowned in. But, to me at least, that’s the whole problem. If I want to see early Raimi and Jackson films, I’ll watch the “Evil Dead” films or “Braindead” again, because they’re great…and not just some halfass spinterpretation of them by somebody else. I love Romero zombie movies but didn’t much rate “Shaun” for pretty much the same reason: seen it all before, and far better done. Just the filmmakers recreating their youth and putting themselves in their favorite splatter movies, which may be fun and fine and fair enough on one level. But even though we now live in an era of popular culture swallowing its own tail and the directors who grew up on it just shitting out the stuff they grew up on (often because they seem to have had no real lives growing up outside of watching movies), can we reach originality, even a vague semblance of it?

* * *

Looking back over this review, I see it’s been somewhat jaded and negative. “Dead Snow” is certainly not a badly made film. It’s of a higher production quality than some of its inspirational material, and some of the scenes work pretty well. There’s a really creepy scene where a knocked-out woman wakes up to find herself being disemboweled by devouring zombies – the screen wobbles, fades, reddens as she dies.

Wirkola can definitely direct a film, and could be a fine director if he just got some better material to work with, something that isn’t an irritating slavish imitation of other people’s seminal sanguinary-spilling work. There is plenty of blood, guts, and chaos here for rabid splatter fanatics, so they’ll definitely get their money’s worth. Other people I know whose opinion I normally agree with and respect watched it and liked it, so the film may be as effective as it is derivative.

I think I’ve said enough.

Next move’s yours.

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