Thursday, November 12, 2009
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews "Dead Snow"
Before Hollywood begins rolling out its serious Oscar contenders, I wanted to enjoy one more guilty pleasure – a horror film from Norway called “Dead Snow" (opening November 13 exclusively at Reading’s Gaslamp Stadium 15).
"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." That’s the way George Romero explained the sudden rise in reanimated corpses back in 1978. Right about now hell must be pretty crowded because the undead are invading every corner of pop culture, even reaching into the frozen landscapes of Norway.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: This is the first zombie film ever made in the whole of Scandanavia.
That’s 29-year-old Tommy Wirkola, the director of “Dead Snow.” For Norway’s first entry into the undead genre, Wirkola wanted to think of something particularly evil so he looked to local history.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: When we needed something more evil than a normal zombie and that’s a Nazi zombie. In Northern Norway we have a strong war history.
The Nazis occupied Norway for four years. But Wirkola doesn’t use this for satire like Romero would. Instead, Wirkola draws on the films he grew up with in the 80s, films like “The Evil Dead” and “Braindead.” So he's more like Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson, horror humorists with a knack for splatstick – a kind of yuk-yuk gorefest that finds a horror equivalent to slipping on a banana peel.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: After you’ve seen it you still go out with a smile on your face.
Like the Evil Dead films, Wirkola's "Dead Snow" reinvigorates the genre with zombies, gore and humor spilling off the screen in equal measure. It takes Nazi zombies to new heights… or depths depending on your point of view. Wirkola mixes in other horror elements of the 80s most notably "Friday the 13th" and its premise of a bunch of young people isolated in a cabin.
Then these young people uncover a secret Nazi treasure…and end up awakening an army of undead German stormtroppers who have little in common with the lethargic zombies of Romero’s films.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: What do you think when you think Nazis, you think fast, efficient, organized. So we tried to incorporate that in our zombies.
These Scandinavian youths are warned about an old legend involving something evil lurking in the snowy woods. Of course they laugh it off but in no time at all, the cabin comes under siege from some ruthless flesh-eating creatures. The kids rely on their movie knowledge and whatever weaponry they can find around the cabin to try and fight off the attackers.
The carnage that follows is excessive. This film is not for the squeamish. In fact there’s one scene that caused problems with censors involving a point of view shot from one of the zombie’s victims.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: It's a really cool effect in horror films to use the point of view shot. And we wanted something new with a death scene.
If you're a horror fan then you’ll be quite pleased by this – everyone else is sure to be disgusted. But delivering this level of gore isn’t easy in 40 below weather says Wirkola.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: Our blood kept freezing up. We used the syrup blood and we wanted to keep it naturalbut it was impossible because the blood kept freezing up on certain days.
That can be a major problem for a horror film like "Dead Snow," which is a lot like a video game for killing Nazi zombies and splattering red on the lovely white canvas of the snow-covered Scandinavian woods.
TOMMY WIRKOLA: That's the fun part when we wrote this was thinking about ways for zombies to die. Nobody ever feels sorry for a zombie especially a Nazi zombie. For a filmmaker you can really do whatever you want with them with a clear conscience.
Not everyone will be able to watch “Dead Snow” with a clear conscience; it’s a guilty pleasure. It takes you someplace dark, asks what you’d be willing to do to survive, and then allows you an escape from the horror through laughter. Some people will never appreciate horror comedy but for those of us who do, “Dead Snow” (in Norwegian with English subtitles and rated R for language and gore) is a welcome, over the top entry.
You can read my full interview with Tommy Wirkola.
Companion viewing: "The Evil Dead I & II," "Braindead," "Friday the 13th," "Pontypool"