Looking Back On: ‘Dead Snow’ (2009) 10.15.14

As we enter the second half of October in the final 2 weeks leading up to Halloween, you’re going to start noticing some new changes to the site. One is a “Spotlight On” section featuring specific directors whom I admire and the other being a “Looking Back On” focusing on older films that I’ve seen and recently revisited. Many of which leading up to Halloween will be horror films. A genre that if done correctly is probably my favorite of them all. First up is the granddaddy of the horror-comedy genre. One that I’ve seen probably a dozen times and each viewing gets better and better than the last. Tommy Wirkola’s genius 2009 “Dead Snow”. I remember it vividly like it was yesterday when I first saw the trailer for it prior to it coming out and my initial reaction was wow. “Nazi zombies are awakened from the dead to prey on a group of unsuspecting vacationers”. I’ve seen just about everything but I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on something like that. I watched and rewatched the trailer over and over again. Then when it was time where I actually was able to finally sit down and see it, it was if all of my dreams for how I had hoped it would turn out had come true. This Norweigian delight has just about everything for fans of the genre. But in order to discuss it with any sort of fair amount of credibility. One has to mention the film that preceeded it and has had more influence on the genre than any other film of its kind. That being Edgar Wright’s brilliant and incredibly influential 2004 film “Shaun of the Dead”. What’s really in most film circles considered to be the granddaddy of the post-aught horror-comedy genre. I personally think “Dead Snow” takes the cake though. Because for someone like me it’s almost like a Master’s level piece within the genre if you look at it right.

The basic premise is a simple one. And just expands on the tagline I already mentioned above. A group of medical students on winter break decide to take a trip to the mountains to go skiing. Their seemingly normal vacation starts out fun enough – they go inner tubing, play Twister, and drink beer. A typical college break. That is until one night they meet a weary old traveler. He informs them that (get this) – During the Second World War, the grounds their cabin is on was a gateway for the German army. That and it’s where they stored all of their riches in gold coins (yep). The opposing enemy eventually invaded and a Colonel by the name of Herzog (an obvious nod to the German director Werner) and a group of followers escaped into the mountains. Cut to the present, next day, and the vacationers find a treasure chest (uh huh) of gold and silver. This is when the fun really starts.

What impresses me so much about this film is how Wirkola (only 30 years old at the time the film was released) seems to be in complete control of every aspect of the film. The difference between this and say “Shaun of the Dead”, a film I referenced earlier, is that this movie does everything that could possibly be done right from a cinematic stand point, on an incredibly small budget. Sure a lot of it looks cheap and fake yes, but that’s all part of the point. Wirkola knows it does, but he revels in mastering everything that he has control over, which is all of the aspects of the film – one of which I find to be one of the best location decisions I’ve seen in horror. Filming all the chaos and madness against a pure white snowy backdrop is highly effective and an absolutely perfect choice for setting. Second, the music plays a pivotal role in that we get everything from old classical style music “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” (which takes on new meaning) as well as Norwegian punk and metal music that’s infused into it. In many ways it can be looked at as a “punk rock horror film” as it totally goes all out balls to the wall and gives a big middle finger to everything that anyone could even conceivably think of as censorship. Nothing and I mean nothing about this film holds back even in the slightest. There’s a little something for any horror movie lovers delight: from decapitations, to chopped off limbs, eye gouging, brain splitting, intestine cliffhanging (oh yeah), the ripping off, biting off, and pulling off of skin, head smashing, self amputation, all with chainsaws, mowers, hammers, and shotguns. Literally every possible limb on the human body is torn to pieces at one point or another during this movie. It’s probably the goriest, bloodiest, and all out crazy horror-comedy film that I’ve seen next to maybe Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2” (1987) or Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” (aka “Braindead”) (1992). This is a must see for fans of the genre. And one, in front of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil”, earns my coveted #1 slot of the best horror-comedy I’ve seen since the year 2000.

Grade: A-