In Praise of DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

When the audacious Norwegian-made film Dead Snow (Død snø) hit the screens in 2009, no one would have guessed that the splatter-filled tale of Nazi zombies would actually be one of the best horror films of the new millennium. What was even more surprising was that the sequel, coming five years later, would even top the original for fun and gore.

The first film follows a group of friends on a skiing trip in the Alps. When they come across some hidden gold, they unleash the wrath of a battalion of undead Nazi Stormtroopers, led by the sadistic and unstoppable Herzog (Ørjan Gamst). As each of the group is brutally murdered in increasingly gruesome ways, there’s just one survivor: Martin (Vegar Hoel), who - despite hacking his own arm off when he is bitten - manages to return the gold and thus put the zombies back into their icy graves. Or at least so he thought.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead picks up the story right as the first film has ended. Martin is on his way back to the town upset at the loss of his girlfriend and his pals but relieved to have survived the onslaught of the terrifying creatures that eviscerated and slain the group. Unfortunately, a stray coin has fallen in the footwell of the car, and Herzog and his men are not happy about it. They ambush the car and lay siege on the unfortunate Martin once more. Not prepared to give in now, he steps on the accelerator and drives away - with Herzog hanging on and attacking through the window. As luck would have it, a trucker is coming the other way, merrily rocking out to his tunes. Martin slams his hanger-on into the wagon and throws the coin from the window. He doesn’t notice that the impact ripped the Nazi chief’s arm off, too. The trucker, unfortunately, doesn’t realise Herzog is already dead and attempts to give him the kiss of life. Ouch.

Martin continues driving as best he can, trying not to pass out, but he does and the car careers off the road into a tree-filled ravine. Herzog rallies his troops and prepares to enter their icy slumber once more; his mission over and fully completed. That is, until he spots the logo on the truck and remembers a mission he didn’t complete in his lifetime. The Nazis now have another goal: to destroy the village that Hitler had ordered Herzog to do in 1944.

Waking in hospital, Martin is distressed to find that not only do the police blame him for killing all his friends, but the doctor has performed a miracle. “You lost your arm in the crash,” he tells him “you were lucky the snow kept you cold; we managed to reattach your arm”. And lo and behold, Martin is now the not-so-happy owner of Herzog’s arm. More powerful than one could imagine, he breaks through the shackles holding him to the hospital bed and - with a life of its own - slaughters the doctor and a police officer.

Herzog, in the meantime, has gotten a new arm of his own, which just so happens to be Martin’s! The commander needs to build his division up once more, but the method he tries - by using some kind of magical electric pulse that sends shockwaves through the ground to reanimate the corpses in the cemetery - doesn’t work since the bodies have been buried in warm ground. He must find another way, so tries it out on the local priest, with great success. Not only is the recently slaughtered clergyman resurrected, but he’s a fully dedicated Nazi, too! And since Martin has Herzog’s arm, he too will find out that he has the same power to bring people back to life and become their sworn leader. It’s something he’ll find out later on, and like most things Martin does, by complete accident.

While he’s once again strapped down in hospital, a young American boy comes to take a look at this wound. He tells Martin that he follows a group on the Internet called the Zombie Squad and he wants to send them a photo of his arm to prove there’s undead afoot in Norway. Martin persuades the boy to untie his restraints, but as he still has no real control over the strength of his arm, throws the lad through the metal bars of the window, killing him. Seeing his chance to escape, he stops to try to resuscitate the youngster using CPR. Another big mistake, as his hand goes right through his chest, and is elbow-deep in intestines as the police inspector spots him. Grabbing his phone, he steals a police car and makes his escape, calling the Zombie Squad on the way.

 


The team in question are a trio of nerds who have dedicated their lives to the study of the undead on the off-chance that they may be the saviours come the uprising. Oh, and watching and squabbling about the merits of Star Wars and Star Trek. They are clearly out of their depth, but take the trip to Norway and tool up - literally as they run up a large bill at the hardware store buying everything from shovels to secateurs. For all their lack of experience, the Squad - Daniel (Martin Starr), Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Blake (Ingrid Haas) - do seem to have the handle on what’s going on. Daniel tells Martin that Herzog must be trying to complete a mission so he heads off to the war museum to see if he can find out what it is.

He does just that, scaring the life out of the Goth assistant Glenn (played by co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen, unrecognisable from the character he played in the first movie). Glenn doesn’t believe his eyes when Herzog and his men arrive then slaughter a coachload of visitors and raise them to join his ranks, but at least he begins to trust Martin, and the pair - along with the Zombie Squad - hatch a plan to have Martin create his own undead army from Russian soldiers captured and killed by Herzog back during WWII.

The first Dead Snow film was filled with more gore, disemboweling, and splatter effects than many big budget horror movies, but still managed to maintain a lighter tone - offset the shocks with a smile. The sequel not only tops the first on the crimson department but also amps up the mirth. With such a ludicrously offensive premise, there’s no way director Tommy Wirkola could have played it straight. While Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead has become the go-to film for many horror fans wanting to mix their blood and smiles, Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead will surely take its place as a standby option; if not surpassing it.

There are so many standout moments. Whether it’s the zombies using the intestines of one of their victims as a petrol syphon - stealing the juice from museum visitor’s coach to fill their tank, or the complete lack of regard when it comes to that other screen taboo: killing children. Here, they are squashed and blown up without even flinching. Well, if you’ve already taken one of the most sensitive of topics and made a zombie film about them, what’s a little infanticide?

The film’s comical Zombie Squad are actually based upon a real group who make it their business to raise awareness of being prepared for disaster, using - as so many films have done - the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor. Founded in 2003 in St. Louis, Missouri, the group are a non-profit organisation with members all over the world. While not as geekily badass as the trio seen on screen, they actually do some good in the real world. Be it fundraising with community charity events or just turning the disinterested on to the idea that we may need some form of preparation should some monumental end-of-days type disaster happens. Oh, and they throw some wicked parties and play World of Warcraft (probably). Heading the screen Zombie Squad is Martin Starr, perhaps best known for the TV series Freaks and Geeks, and his team are both likable and plucky - Jocelyn DeBoer’s Monica is always Star Wars-quoting, and Blake (Ingrid Haas) is a dead ringer for Doctor Who fan favourite Osgood (played by another Ingrid - Oliver), although that’s likely to be purely coincidental (and a case of both properties using the standard template for sexy geek chic). What’s amazing is although the loft-dwelling team has no experience, they soon become dab hands at dispatching the undead. Hey, we guess when you’re confronted by a mass of reanimated Nazi corpses, anything’s possible - particularly stretching your imagination!

 


While the first film was completely in Norwegian, the follow-up makes the wise move to incorporate the English language. As hard as it is to understand, some moviegoers just can’t get their heads around reading subtitles. Fortunately, a version of the film was made with the Norwegian characters speaking in their native tongue, but apparently, an all-English edition was made available to the US. But whatever the language, there’s no denying how stunning the visuals are. Matthew Weston’s cinematography makes full use of the location (Iceland stood in for Norway on this occasion, though), so when the screen isn’t red with the blood and entrails of the cast, it’s a lush and stunning green, as the action has moved down from the snow topped mountain to the quiet town. Even the way the climactic battle is shot impresses. Not only for the juxtaposition of Nazi and Russian zombies fighting on a playground, but also the clarity amongst the frantic slaughter.

The first Dead Snow movie did so well with audiences that he was signed up to write and direct the big budget Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters in 2013. Although that wasn’t the greatest of films, it wasn’t as bad as we initially feared, and did well enough for a sequel to get the green light, although it’s possible that it might instead be made into a TV series, since that’s where the clever money is these days. Whether Wirkola and stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton will return is unknown at the moment.

Having played festivals the world over to high acclaim and leaving audiences with their stomachs churned and their faces aching from smiling, Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead will be making its début on UKTV. We couldn’t think of anything better to be settling down to as the icy weather begins to bite. After all, what other gore-filled zombie film features a show-stopping scene set to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart?

DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD screens on Horror Channel on May 4th. Tune in via Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freeview 70, and Freesat 138.


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