“We should have gone to the beach, like I told you”
Tommy Wirkola’s comedy horror Dead Snow (Norwegian: Død snø) first premiered at Sundance Festival in 2009, then quickly became a zombie classic, with its sequel Dead Snow: Red vs Dead released in 2014. Scandinavian cinema is best known for its offbeat humour, dark style and philosophical parametres that stretch both the dialogue and characters to unthinkable lengths. However, the North has more to offer if one digs a bit deeper in the snow-covered mountains.
Heavily influenced by – and directly referencing – the work of George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) and Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, 1981), this film does away with standard categorisation of somber and parodic horror in order to relish the irresistibly outlandish qualities of cult classics.
A group of young medical students decide to spend their short holiday break in a cabin. With no phone reception and mounds of milky snow flanking them on all sides, they are cut off from the rest of the world. When a strange local starts informing them about the bloody events that had taken place in the area during World War II, the group’s winter adventure seems doomed right from the start. Things turn chilly when one of the girls disappears. The hills are soon swarmed by snarling Nazi zombies, leaping out of the forest to retrieve their stolen treasure and finish their deadly mission, which ended abruptly in 1945.
Nazi zombies have served as inspiration for many films, including Ken Wiederhorn’s horrendous Shock Waves (1977) and Steve Barker’s frightfully disappointing Outpost: Black Sun (2012). It would seem that Dead Snow‘s saving grace is its brazen self-awareness. Rather than overpronounce the gravity of the situation, the film settles for frolicking in the creative space dictated by the hilarity of the topic at hand. Moreover, the plot is ironed-out into a clear path through the characters’ self-deprecating actions, provoking the audience to jeer and guffaw at will.
Dead Snow‘s low budget production makes itself known on every turn. But, interestingly enough, it works in Tommy Wirkola’s favour. The garish make-up, for one, induces disgust and snickers in equal measure. The foul gut-spilling scenes spurt thick blood, sending mutilated parts flying in all directions of the snowy Norwegian landscape. Matthew Weston’s cinematography captures this exquisitely. To add to the depth of the surroundings, Dead Snow‘s numerous close-ups are charged with tense music, the stiffness of which culminates in thunderous rock beats when the zombies finally flood the screen.
The gore and violence are creatively enhanced quite early on, straying from any attempts to petrify an unsuspecting audience. It is all delivered in an ingenuously comedic manner, which will please Shaun of the Dead (2004) enthusiasts with the protagonists’ ludicrous attempts at fighting back the swarm of decaying bodies. As an avid horror fan himself, the director allows his creativity to peak in one particular scene, which depicts the use of slippery intestines as a life-saving rope in the moment of an unfortunate tumble off a cliff.
It is, nonetheless, the hilarious dialogue and goofy lines, injected between the gory attacks, that save Wirkola’s film from slipping into the dark pits of kitsch horror. Though it is a surprisingly enjoyable option for comedy horror fans, and blatantly inspired by every horror cliché that has ever existed, Dead Snow will most likely fail to appeal to those looking for a real scare.
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