Dead Snow features a scene in which a man rappels down the side of a cliff using a zombie’s intestines as a climbing rope. If you like that scene, writer/director Tommy Wirkola has something to show you. His follow-up, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is akin to Cameron’s Aliens or Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn in the way that those films took the set-up of their predecessors and turned the volume up to eleven. There’s no set-up here. There’s no time for dialogue or deep character development. Bigger, brasher, bloodier, and with more bowels, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead is a blast.
Red vs. Dead picks up immediately where the first film left off. Martin (a fearless Vegar Hoel) is the only survivor of the Nazi zombie attack that left his friends and girlfriend dead. Having cut off his own arm to survive and delivered the Nazi gold to the undead SS that he thought would end their assault, Martin traverses dangerous ground to the town at the base of the mountain at which he just wanted to have a lovely weekend getaway. Of course, the Nazi zombies follow. More devastatingly, Martin is blamed for the gory deaths of his friends. He’s captured, sedated, and he even gets his arm reattached. Oh, wait, that’s not his arm. Yes, Red vs. Dead features a protagonist with a super-powered zombie arm. Just so you know what you’re in for.
As Martin is trying to convince the locals that he’s not a serial killer and keep his arm from destroying those who get close to him in an undead rage, the brain-crushing Nazis are amassing an army to destroy the village, ending a decades-old act of vengeance. Martin gets in touch with a group called the Zombie Squad, a trio of people who have built their lives around planning for the zombie apocalypse. They’re not what you might expect as a fan of The Walking Dead. They are Star Wars-loving dorks led by Daniel (a hysterical Martin Starr of Freaks and Geeks and Apatow fame), who may not look like your typical action hero but has clearly done the research. A montage in which Daniel and his team shop for zombie-killing tools at a hardware store would make Ash proud.
There isn’t an ounce of pretension in Red vs. Dead. It is designed as a full-frontal assault on your zombie-loving cortex. From the very first scene, in which a zombie’s intestine gets stuck on a car door and ripped out as it pulls away, there’s no social commentary or dense philosophy to unpack here. It’s a thrill ride and it’s a way more effective one than the genre has provided in recent years. The film never lets up. And the brief dialogue exchanges in between zombie-smashing insanity are actually quite clever and fun, often courtesy of the totally game performances by Starr, Hoel, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, and more. Even little visual gags like a Nazi zombie being unable to Sieg Hiel because he’s missing an arm, or the most disturbing CPR attempt in history, contribute to the overall glee of the project.
The “this is just fun” critical approach to Red vs. Dead shouldn’t minimize how difficult this kind of film can be to pull off. First off, the make-up team on this flick deserves praise they’ll never get. This is Tom Savini-esque, practical effect brilliance. Yes, brilliance. It’s a film that features near-constant make-up effects in the over-the-top gore. Most horror gives you a few remarkable set-pieces. This is ALL set-piece, and maintaining that level of entertainment without turning into monotonous garbage is quite a feat. This isn’t a roller coaster; it’s a bullet train.
The worst thing a horror sequel can do is repeat the first film, and yet it’s the most common sin of the genre. Show me a hit horror movie and I’ll show you a sequel that proved the law of diminishing returns. Red vs. Dead is no mere repeat of Dead Snow. It is crazier, smarter, and simply more fun. It won’t only appeal to those who liked the first film but likely cast an even wider net; a net filled with zombie arms and intestines.