Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of staring listlessly out the window at the piling snow, wondering if spring actually does indeed come every year. Here in the northern part of the western hemisphere, you’re either buried under piles of gritty snow or you’re drowning in a sea of icy cold rain (unless you’re in California) and the days are still dark as fuck. What better time to enjoy a run of extremely dark humor? And what says dark humor better than a film that features hoards of the walking dead who subscribe to the terrible ideologies of the Third Reich? I’m not going to lie, this was funnier back in the day when there was a clearer understanding in the wider world that Nazis are bad and that we shouldn’t be glorifying or supporting them. That said, there are some absolutely kick ass, cathartic scenes in this film so whether you’re here to kick the winter blues in the balls or if you’re looking to enjoy watching a bunch of the racist undead get taken down, you should grab a cup of something to warm you up while we take in a viewing of Dead Snow.
Just like last week, we’re heading into international frozen waters to enjoy our film this week and nothing evokes the beautiful misery that is winter like lovely Norway. Apparently, since this week’s film is set in the exact same location as last week’s film. Released in 2009 under the direction of Tommy Wirkola, Dead Snow came out in the sensible time frame of January in Norway and the even more sensible time period of June(?) in the US. Unlike last week’s film which was following along with someone who was basically like an unsung public servant with a shitty, thankless job, this week we’re following a group of pretty, young medical students who are off to spend the Easter break in a snowy cabin in the woods. They are completely isolated, there’s no cell phone reception and our group consists of two couples, a wisecracking jackass and a couple of single people. So, you know, nothing we’ve seen before and no one has any idea of where this is going at all. If, for some reason, you’ve never seen a horror film and decided to start with this one, the film doesn’t leave you hanging on how incredibly fucked these kids in the cabin are. The opening scene shows a woman running through deep snow in the woods in a clear day-for-night shot. You don’t get to see much of what’s after her, nor do you actually see her meet her grisly fate as it comes about because we have cannon fodder to meet and this plot isn’t going to wait around for them to get to the killing zone.
Our Norwegian Red Shirts arrive in two separate cars, one of the boys and the other of the girls. They all have names but in this film, it’s best if you don’t get too attached to too many people as you’ve probably already figured out from the plot synopsis that I’ve given. The gist is that the girl in the beginning owned a little used cabin in the woods and all her friends were going to meet her there as she had opted to ski her way there. Alone. Like you do in secluded areas that are devoid of cell reception. Already we are off to a great start as our fresh meat gets situated, starts having fun in the snow and enjoys the blissful part of the vacation that doesn’t involve being dead or getting disemboweled. The holiday gets weird, however, when we have a walking jump scare show up to fulfill his destiny as the grim, scowling plot dumper. It turns out that the students are in an area that was once occupied by Germany during the second world war and, as was kinda the way back then, the locals weren’t too fond of all the killing and raiding and pillaging that was going on. So much so, they chased them out to the woods to die in the horrible cold. Not before our still living Nazis took all the gold and valuables with them, of course, because priorities and all. Thus, mystery man’s purpose was served and he went on to become a corpsicle while our cadavers in training did what horror film characters do best, with the drinking and the sex and the ignoring pleas to get the hell out of dodge. From here, let’s just say that if you like the Evil Dead movies, you will likely be able to figure out what’s coming.
I bring up Evil Dead here because by now, if you’ve seen any of the films in that series at all, you’re probably already raising your hand to signal that you have a plot point Bingo. This isn’t an accident and the film even gets that out of the way right off the bat by drawing attention to the fact that they are going to a cabin in the woods with no cell reception. Not only are the filmmakers aware of this but also they go so far as having the characters directly mention Evil Dead as well as a few other horror films for good measure. Dead Snow can thank Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi for quite a bit of the direction of the plot but that said, from there it goes off on its own rails and trust me when I say this film is far from a knock off. The thing about this film is that while it’s not exactly a mystery of what’s going to happen (young people in isolated area are forced to contend with evil undead and blood happens a lot), it’s somehow a completely novel experience. This film is basically what happens if you take the plot of Evil Dead and feed it a bunch of pixie sticks soaked in Mountain Dew and dial the humor up almost all the way and the tone down to as dark as you can make it while still being able to see. And that’s saying something when you remember that Raimi’s films were campy and funny as hell in some parts. They were also, in a lot of ways, the ones that carved the way through the horror genre, giving us the map to guide slashers and zombie flicks for years. In this film, however, that map is not just a guide but it also acts as a feature in the movie itself. The characters point it out and, in some case, they even point out exactly where along the map they’ve decided to take some detours and where they are totally on formula.
Self aware horror wasn’t new in 2009 and it wasn’t even new when it was given a big flashy film in the form of Scream in 1996. We’ve all seen films that make fun of the fact that the girl should run outside instead of upstairs and how we all howl at them to run when they walk. At this point, even the characters themselves have become so finely tuned into archetypes that something as simple as the list I’ve provided at the top of this review tell you everything you need to know about these people. It’s become such a cliche at this point that when Joss Whedon made Cabin in the Woods with this premise (for the most part), they relied very heavily on the character tropes to really mess with audience in the end. This film is definitely self aware but it comes off as different if only because it’s not meant to poke fun at the genre so much as it is to celebrate it in its entirety. From certain shots, certain plot points, certain lines of dialogue, the filmmakers wanted to be very clear that Dead Snow is nothing if not the goriest, most over the top love letter to these films, especially Evil Dead, that you’ve ever seen.
Right, by now we should be talking about that gore stuff. This film is fucking gory! Hilariously so, even. This is where most of the darkest humor comes from, which is a bit of a statement considering that we’re talking about Nazi zombies here. That said, the only reason we know they’re Nazis, other than our convenient plot dumper, is because they are fully decked out in their uniforms that haven’t aged a bit since the second World War and are magically still pressed and pristine despite the entire infantry being dead. Obviously, this was just to have a very clear case of good versus evil dead and all the better for it because just like you shouldn’t get too attached to the cast, you can rest assured that laying the bad guys to rest isn’t going to be solemn and peaceful. No, this is a motherfucking blood bath and let us all have a moment of silence for the dry cleaners who had to tackle the aftermath of this film. Over the top doesn’t even really do it justice because you’re going to see organs and everything. They don’t shy away from just the blood but also the brains and an awful lot of intestines that are often used in rather creatively disgusting ways. Seriously, be forewarned. If Dead Alive had your reaching for the sick bucket, you’re going to enjoy maybe about half an hour of this film before shit hits the fan and you’re going to end up turning a lot green. That all understood, if you were already itching to see more from the Evil Dead descriptions, this probably isn’t going to be a deal breaker for you. That said, be on the awares that just like this film doesn’t skip on the gore, it also doesn’t go cheap on its effects.
Aside from the initial day-for-night shot that we got at the beginning, everything else is very nicely shot and well done. The zombie makeup alone is very impressive and the aforementioned costumes are really well done as well. There’s a lot of attention to detail that is makes the film look so good and there’s added details, like being able to see through Zombie Vision, that just makes it that much better. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on who you are), this attention to detail extends right into the gore. The intestines actually look like what you imagine they are supposed to look like (and, for real, you are going to see a lot of them so be prepared for that) and you’re going to see the whole thing when they rip someone apart. Still, it’s more than just a parade of nothing but guts and blood. The design of everything from the intestines to what everyone is wearing is enough to make it look great but what makes it that much more fun is that it understands its audience and the film’s writing reflects that in everything it does. They have the film buff making remarks at the appropriate times. They have that moment where they don’t quite know if getting bitten means that they will turn or not (and that scene has some hilarious dialogue). Dead Snow was written entirely with its audience in mind, not as a cheap thrill guide to point out that they know their sources but as a way to proudly display the map that Evil Dead showed us with its own expansions and additions stylishly grafted on.
By now, from my gushing, you can probably already guess that this definitely gets my ultimate thumbs up and you should give it a watch if you can stomach the gore. There will probably be a few people out there who might think that I’m overselling the gross factor on this film and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s by far not the worst I’ve seen in this category. That said, I don’t want to understate this either. If you like your horror more on the psychological side, Session 9 this definitely isn’t and you may not be as enthusiastically excited about the buckets of blood. If gore and dark humor and utterly hilarious moments of using intestines in ways they weren’t intended is your thing, you will have a blast watching this film.
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