'Dead Snow': From Norway, With Nazis, By Kurt Loder

Now for the scary part...

[movie id="416563"]"Dead Snow"[/movie] is a Norwegian splatter flick built around an idea that seems so classic, you almost wish no one had risked turning it into a movie and thus possibly screwing it up. The idea is this: Nazi zombies. Perfect, right?

Not unprecedented, of course. The 1977 "Shock Waves" is a hardy cult item along these lines, for one thing. I haven't seen the German "Golden Nazi Vampire of Absam: Part II," released into instant obscurity last year, but Jean Rollin addressed the Nazi-gut-muncher theme in his 1981 "Zombie Lake," as did fellow hack Jesús Franco that same year with "Oasis of the Zombies." Both of these characters, as you may know, screwed it up royally. So while "Dead Snow" may not be the first movie of its mini-genre, I think we can safely say it is, by simple default, one of the very best.

Young director Tommy Wirkola has a knowing fondness for gore history, but not in the self-congratulating fanboy manner so common in English-language horror films. Wirkola is more subtle — a stray "Evil Dead" mention here, a "Braindead" T-shirt there. And he and Australian cinematographer Matthew Bradley Weston have put a lot of effort into giving the movie a sleek, stylish look. But enough of that.

Two vans full of vacationing med-school students are driving up into the snowy mountains of somewhere-in-Norway to spend their Easter break at a remote log cabin. In another departure from common practice, these youths are not all hunks and babes. One of the four guys is standard-issue handsome, but the other three are geeks and wiseacres. (One's a horror nerd: "How many movies start with a group of friends on the way to a cabin?") The three women (a fourth is en route, skiing cross-country — uphill, presumably) are entirely presentable, but you don't feel it's imperative that they get naked. (Well, maybe.)

So, they arrive at the cabin. They party and flirt. Night falls and there's a knock at the door — a snow-dusted old geezer wanting a cup of coffee. He comes in and tells the kids a story about World War II Nazi invaders and their brutal depredations among the local populace. As the war wound down, these goons were driven off into the woods, never to be seen again. But their malign spirit still haunts the mountains: "There is an evil presence," coffee man says. Then he leaves. As we learn later, he really should have stayed.

The rest of the film is an exercise in cautionary instruction. Never hike off to an outhouse to have sex when big groaning creatures are lurching around outside. Never pitch a tent in a zombie neighborhood. And don't stand too close to windows unless you want your face ripped right off your skull. The zombies are what you'd expect — gray-skinned and droolly, their once-spiffy uniforms sorely in need of laundering. They're very fast-moving, though. The students do their best to fight the creatures off with hammers, scythes and Turbo Saws, but some of them still end up with their intestines swinging from trees.

The movie definitely delivers in the gore department — it's hard to imagine who could want more in the way of ripped throats, knife-poked eyeballs and self-amputated extremities. There's also a nifty subterranean ice cave filled with Nazi memorabilia and, nestled among the helmets, a startling severed head. (Cross-country girl won't be coming after all.)

The movie's problem — you knew there had to be one — is its uncertain tone. It's smart and funny in parts (there's a fairly hilarious bird-throttling moment), but genre demands keep leading it off in predictable directions. And although it only runs 90 minutes, the picture goes on too long — especially at the end, when the zombies keep coming and coming and never seem to quit. Another downside, for some, will be the English subtitles. It's not a great movie, but it's trying for something a little different, so let's be appreciative. And hey: Nazi zombies!

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Year One" and "Whatever Works," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Dead Snow."

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