If those two words don’t make you perk up your ears like a great dane that just heard the treat bag rattle, then this movie is not going to be for you. But if you feel as if your life could be immeasurably improved by the application of the aforementioned Nazi zombies plus copious amounts of gore and a not inconsiderable amount of vomit? Welcome home, my friends. (Warning, this review will contain spoilers for the original Dead Snow.)
- This movie is from: Norway and Iceland
- Language: Norwegian and English
- Released: October 7, 2014 (USA)
- I watched it: at the Alamo Drafthouse in Houston
- Genre: Action-comedy with horror elements (aka the Evil Dead genre)
- IMDB Link: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead
It’s basically impossible to talk about Dead Snow 2 without first mentioning the original Dead Snow (2009). That movie opens with a young Norwegian woman being chased through a snowfield by unseen monsters. To the tune of In the Hall of the Mountain King. It was tense, terrifying, and sublimely ridiculous. In terms of setting the tone for the film before the opening titles, it’s one of the best examples I’ve ever encountered. Dead Snow promised Nazi zombies tearing their way through a group of hot young Norwegians who really just wanted to get drunk and have a vacation — and it delivered.
Dead Snow was a reasonably scary movie (at least to a horror wimp like me) that used its jump cuts and gore to good effect while still being shockingly funny. There’s an amazing scene in the final act when the remaining men from the party (the women having gone to get help) are trapped in the cabin by the Nazi zombies, and one of them makes a molotov cocktail to throw at the zombies coming through the window. And promptly misses his throw, setting the wall on fire instead. If I was a character in a horror movie, I would be that guy.
The movie was genre savvy to the extreme. Martin, after being bitten by one of the zombies, cuts off his arm with a chainsaw because he knows how these things work, and it’s the only way to stop the infection from spreading. Unfortunately for Martin, these zombies are motivated by a curse, not a plague. Martin also tragically kills his girlfriend by accident, going just a bit too far while hacking zombies apart with an ax.
These things are all important for Dead Snow 2, which is a very direct sequel of the first movie. In fact, the movie starts at the same instant the original Dead Snow ends, with Nazi zombie Commander Herzog punching in the window of Martin’s getaway car. There’s a struggle, during which time Martin accidentally turns the radio on to the Ding Dong Song.
In the following escape, Herzog’s arm gets snapped off and left in the car, which Martin then crashes due to presumably a combination of blood loss, trauma, and exhaustion. He wakes in the hospital to accusations of having messily slaughtered all of his friends, but there’s one good piece of news: hey, we reattached your arm. The new limb, which Martin dubs “Satan’s arm,” has a mind of its own and mystical powers that come into play in the second act of the film.
Because despite the fact that he’s been given back all his cursed treasure, Herzog has a new mission: to wipe an entire town off the map. As you do. The zombies are tired of just hiding in their snow cave with its tattered Nazi flag and want to take full advantage of the thoroughly expanded budget for location shooting. It’s up to Martin, slightly emo World War II museum gift shop clerk Glenn, and three Americans calling themselves the Zombie Squad, to stop him. And yes, as the movie’s subtitle would imply, this eventually involves Soviet zombies.
The inclusion of the Zombie Squad was somewhat surprising at first, but ultimately works well because they are a collection of nerds that are actually shockingly competent while still being just socially awkward enough to prevent things from being too serious. They keep the obviously shell-shocked Martin moving and provide the necessary zombie lore that he has no way of knowing. So as an exposition device they work extremely well. They also provide an excellent opportunity for director Tommy Wirkola to work in a lot of Star Wars references and poke some understated fun at Americanisms that the rest of the world find particularly annoying. Because come on, who doesn’t want to roll their eyes every time someone starts chanting “USA! USA!”
In Dead Snow 2, all of the original tension and scares found in Dead Snow have been transformed into manic, hilarious gore. You want intestines? There are a lot of intestines, unspooling like pink, rubbery rope in every direction. And blood. And vomit. Splashing the camera. Don’t eat before you see this one if you have a weak stomach. Every time you think the movie couldn’t possibly get more over the top and disgusting, it reaches deep within, fishes up another bucket of viscera, and throws them at the screen. It’s gross humor done perfectly, and only horror in the sense that there’s a lot of gore — and zombies are technically horror, right? But the humor isn’t just the bright red splashes, but also the meat of the story, the one-liners, and the ludicrous coincidences that are carefully built. Even the film’s conclusion, which one might consider a happy ending, is so wrong that words cannot begin to describe its many levels of complete, unapologetic, disturbingly funny wrongness.
The zombie effects and makeup in this film are even better than its predecessor. The amount of emoting some of the zombies do through prosthetics and layers of fake blood is fantastic, particularly Kristoffer Joner as the bizarrely soulful “sidekick zombie.” By the end of the film, you can’t help but root for that faithful and thoroughly abused little zombie.
It’s impossible to watch Dead Snow 2 without thinking of Shaun of the Dead a bit; in a way, it’s Shaun plus a lot of gore and zombies, minus (mostly) the romantic subplot. There are clear visual references as well, such as Edgar Wright-style fast cut sequences. But as the movie goes on, it refers, at least in spirit, again and again to the original Evil Dead series, which also went from scary and a bit ridiculous to completely, gleefully, goretastically over-the-top hilarious.
There are definitely worse footsteps to follow.