Filmmaker 1 “So what’s new in the modern horror genre?”
Filmmaker 2 “Zombies?”
Filmmaker 1 “Come on, they’re a dime a dozen these days.”
Filmmaker 2 “How about that B-Horror staple: Nazis?”
Filmmaker 1 “Didn’t we see some Nazis in that French horror a year or so back? Uninspired.”
Filmmaker 2 “Hey…how about…Nazi Zombies?”
Filmmaker 1 “Holy crap?! Why didn’t I think of that?”
However it went, the result is Dead Snow (or Død Snø if you feel the Viking rise in you); a film stacked to the hilt with dirty and deadly Nazis rising from the grave. And if you that don’t make you want watch this film then maybe you should head to the romantic comedy section of the store ‘cause we ain’t hanging out tonight.
So, a bunch of med school buddies head away to a cabin in the middle of snowy nowhere for a commune-with-nature holiday. Unfortunately antisocial old man #47 turns up in the middle of their first night and informs them that this remote area – Øksfjord – has a troubled past reaching back to the Nazi occupation in WWII. Writing him off as a freaky old drunk our docs continue in party mode until the non-appearance of their friend Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) the next day (she was hiking across to the cabin cross country) begins their fast slide into horrific weirdness.
Created by Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola (veteran of only one short and one Tarantin-parody-feature Kill Buljo) Dead Snow, like so many films today, is rife with direct references to the cinema which spawned it. Part Peter Jackson early-splatter, part Tarantino/Edgar Wright-cine-literate-meets-comedy-homage Wirkola fashions an enjoyably gruesome zombie romp with a very Scandinavian sensibility.
Majoring on the cinematic-meta-narrative Wirkola makes group geek, Erlend, a self-confessed “film buff” and has him begin the film with a game to keep them occupied as they hike from the car park to the cabin. Everyone has to name films that start with a group of people going to an isolated cabin. This device results in direct references by the characters to the classic Friday the 13th, the mighty Evil Dead franchise, and the lesser known 80s horror filelr April Fool’s Day. And in a nice bit of NZ homage Erlend traverses the entire film wearing a Braindead t-shirt (Peter Jackson, 1992) and proceeds to instruct his fellow cabin buddies in zombie lore – i.e. “don’t get bitten” – which the filmmakers then turn on its head and ignore in favour of their own mythology. Other examples of Wirkola’s avid referencing include a later sequence in the film where the surviving members of the group go up against the undead Nazi horde. They stumble across a line-up of weapons reminiscent of a scene in good-ole-boy Maynard’s shop from Pulp Fiction where Butch (Bruce Willis) has to select an appropriate weapon to deal with his captors. In Dead Snow the harried doctors-in-training select a range of anti-zombie hardware including a shotgun, a hand axe, a sledge hammer, a sickle, and Ash’s weapon of choice, a chainsaw (Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness). And just to go a step further – because they can – a snowmobile!
Wirkola and crew don’t restrict their film references just to the horror genre though. Upon discovering a box of treasure buried in the under-floor chiller Erland quotes a piece of dialogue, in English, fromIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: “Fortune and glory, kid” – a moment of lightness pre fast approaching bloody massacre. And there are references in the shot construction as well as in the dialogue. For instance, a scene where jock-type-hero Vegard (Lasse Valdal) digs his way out of the snow covered tomb of Colonel Herzog and his rotting Reich garrison into which he has inadvertently fallen. Wirkola frames a shot above ground of Vegard’s arm working its way upwards out of the snow further perpetuating that iconic gesture to be seen in many horror films (a recent example of a less wintry version can be found in Neil Marshall’s excellent 2005 underground scare-flick The Descent).
The shooting and effects on this film are pretty good, particularly considering the budgetary constraints. You never really find yourself thinking too much about whether an action sequence or piece of makeup looks real or not. I think the stunning setting helps: there is a lot of snow flying about to capture the viewers’ attention; though perhaps a few too many indulgent shots of the snowmobile jumping the crest of a snow laden hillock. But who cares when it’s so damn beautiful. I guess Norway has this stuff in spades so they might as well turn it to good use. Unfortunately the decision to shoot Dead Snow in this far-flung location almost hamstrung the filming due to the hour-by-hour unpredictability of the weather. Sudden snowstorms halted production multiple times with a significant number of whole shooting days lost without budget to lengthen the schedule to make up for them. Nevertheless Wirkola and team were able to capture what they needed and it comes out looking crisp and compelling.
And it has to be said that wide open white vistas create a great backdrop for buckets-o-blood. And buckets there are when the film hits full stride in its third act climax. Purists may cry blue murder at the genre reimagining: zombies who move very quickly; are smart and capable of strategic thought; appear to have a little, or no, interest in brains; are compelled out of death due to haunted treasure?! Ok, it does get awfully Pirates of the Carribean on this point. On the film’s slim budget this ‘treasure’ looks so pathetically inadequate as a motivating factor for eternally cursed murderousness that it ends up playing out as another of Wirkola’s comedic rim shots. Perhaps that was the best way to handle it.
For the most part this is a fresh and clever take on a wearied genre. The mixing of these two iconic horror tropes – Nazis with Zombies – was an inspired idea. If occasionally Wirkola and co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen’s screenplay crosses the line into cheesy melodrama – which it does: e.g. the overacted pre-action tension builder scene where the crazy old man appears at the door of their cabin that first night – then this can be forgiven for the warmth for genre films that Dead Snow exudes. On top of the smarts, the creative gore, and the unique angle, you get the feeling that the cast and crew really enjoyed being a part of this film– not something you can say about all films of this nature.
DVD Info + Special Features
Like the true indie enthusiasts the filmmakers have made sure there were plenty of little extras to accompany their film should it get DVD distribution; and good on Madman for packing them in on this single disc release. The hefty’ making of’ featurette – which weighs in at close to an hour of extra footage – really highlights the indie nature of this production. Made with friends and favours, on borrowed time and deferred payments, Dead Snow, like many other films, was lucky to even get finished. Beset by unaccountable weather problems due to the remote location chosen for its authenticity the production lost valuable shooting days which threatened to blow it over schedule and did blow it over budget. Even as tensions flared on the set the family working atmosphere created in the remote environment saw bulk of the cast and crew stick it out. Wow: almost as much drama in this as in the film!
The second featurette is a mini doco following key cast and crew as they follow the film to Sundance where it had been selected in competition. Seeing these unknown foreigners invade Utah in rotting Nazi garb is quite a sight and certainly stirred up much excitement with the locals. Rounding out the extras bag is a couple of mini production FX sequences illustrating how the crew accomplished what they did on a very tight budget.
The sound and picture quality is as good as you would hope for on a standard DVD transfer making this as serviceable a single disc edition as you might hope to find. If we’re lucky and the film does well we may even be treated to a collector’s edition – presuming the filmmakers haven’t used up all their extra material already!
Single Disc Edition
Region 4 PAL
16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby 2.0
Language: Norwegian with English Subtitles
Making of Dead Snow (50min)
Cast and crew at Sundance (20min documentary)
Visual FX featurette (4min)
Make up FX featurette (6min)
Madman Asylum Trailers
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: 16 – contains horror, violence, sex scenes and offensive language.
Duration: 91 mins
Genre: Splatter-Horror | Comedy
Director: Tommy Wirkola (2009)
Actors: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Røsten, Jeppe Laursen, Jenny Skavlan, Ane Dahl Torp, Bjørn Sundquist, & Ørjan Gamst.