It’s rare to find a new angle on the prolific zombie subgenre. Ever since Night of the Living Dead mixed Creole superstition with a tasty slice of exploitative cannibalism, we’ve seen zombie apocalypses, zombie comedies, zombie romantic comedies, and even a zombie superhero movie starring Brad Pitt. Hell, George Romero still has the cottage industry cornered with his endless assembly line of zombie social satires.
Yet when Dead Snow somehow dragged its half-frozen carcass into 2009 film festivals, with its right arm permanently stiffened by rigor mortis in the position of the Hitler salute, audiences took notice. Never before had a horde of the Undead seemed so amusing than when they were goose-stepping into the Norway snow in search of “Nazi gold.” Discovering a secret the exact same year as Quentin Tarantino, Tommy Wirkola’s career-making Dead Snow proved once again that no matter how viciously you slaughter a Nazi (or Nazi zombie), audiences will never feel bad.
Thus seeing Wirkola returning to this gory Aryan well five years later might be treated apprehensively by fans, particularly after his intervening transition into Hollywood budget formulae with last year’s cellophane-made Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Well gorehounds, it’s safe to say that you can put down your snowmobile blades and icepicks, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead lives up to the Ice and Reich mania of the original. If you liked that first film, this one will have you spilling your guts—and kidneys, and colon, and probably a minimum of one lung—from laughing at a follow-up that’s almost as entertaining as the first film. Yes, it’s a sequel, and as such it is aware that it’s not quite as fresh as a newly fallen snow decorated with intestinal swastikas. But there are still joys to be had. You can only see a Nazi zombie for the first time once. But you know what you haven’t seen? A Stalin-era marauding comrade zombie with a long bushy beard to catch all the brain and skull fragments that fall out of his mouth. Nor have you likely seen a guy outfitted with a zombie demon arm that gets to do all the bad stuff that Sam Raimi only hinted was possible for Bruce Campbell.
Dead Snow 2 isn’t about continuing the story so much as refining its own unique zombie mythology. As a movie’s character ever so humbly surmises to the original film’s lone surviving protagonist, “You’ve created your own genre here.” At least, Wirkola has surely individualized it with influences as varied as Evil Dead II and heroic Martin’s own version of a Short Round sidekick introduced early on at a hospital.
Martin, played by the returning Vegar Hoel, got there because he retroactively survived the original film. Previously, he had seemed like a dead duck when the S.S. Officer Herzog (Ørjan Gamst) cornered him in his car after a self-amputation of the arm. However, Martin merely ducked and took Herzog’s own appendage with him to boot.
Sadly, nobody believes that his friends were gutted by Nazi zombies. Rather, Martin improbably is blamed for all of the murders, including ones involving German grenades and hundreds of mutilated Aryans. But the greatest horror of all? They assumed a long-dead arm that has been frozen in permafrost since 1945 was his own, giving our hero more than a touch of evil when they sew it back on.
Easily providing the best and most unique sight-gags, the zombie arm is soon aided in its war against the Undead Third Reich when Martin is allied by an American Zombie Squad comprised of three Comic-Con styled nerds that have always dreamed of getting into a zombie apocalypse (Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Ingrid Haas). Throw in some human friendly Soviet zombies, and it appears that the Second World War is heating up again in the cold north.
Like most sequels, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead relies on the logic of “more is more.” There are more zombies, more zombie attack scenes, and a much higher body count than in the 2009 cult classic. Some of this is advantageous with the aforementioned Russians, but the most amusing aspects of this trip back into the freezer comes from original aspects (or at least reimaginined ones from movies besides Dead Snow) shaded by Wirkola’s depraved style. To be precise, the shenanigans Martin gets up while trying to help people in the film’s first act with a zombie arm is dark comedy gold that would even get a reaction out of the influential Raimi.
Further, the introduction of the American characters makes the film work both as a parody of its fans, as well as a culture clash of Americans and Norway. Notably, there is a scene where the geeks arm themselves for zombie war at the nearest home depot store and lament that they can’t buy actual weapons (or guns). “What is wrong with this country?” Martin whines.
A small advantage of their involvement is that it has allowed the film to be shot partially in English. Unfortunately, so was the rest of the picture since the version that I saw screened was wholly presented in English, despite the first film’s Martin speaking only Norwegian. There is a European cut of the film that avoids this pandering, but it is a disappointingly cynical choice that is only alleviated by American characters couching the indulgence. After all, one of them asserts early on that he “does not speak Thor.”
The other drawback is that while the cast is infinitely larger, their deaths feel noticeably smaller. With the “cabin in the woods” scenario of the first film, the filmmakers felt obligated to come up with creatively repugnant set-pieces for each character’s demise, but the “war scenario” of Dead Snow 2 eventually becomes 100 minutes of Nazi zombies just killing nameless civilians, one diminishing set-piece at a time. The joke eventually wears off, and Wirkola is forced to rely on shock value that occasionally veers more towards the grotesque (such as two deaths involving strollers).
If the first film seemed to take a long time to get to the mayhem, Dead Snow 2 takes even longer for it to end.
And yet, the ending will make the whole movie worthwhile. It is no spoiler that the climax of the film features Nazis and Soviet zombies doing battle in a suburb, but that is only the tip of a finale so obscenely perverse that it reanimates the whole experience.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead is not a perfect follow-up to the original, but it offers more of what made certain audiences love that 2009 movie in the first place. When it’s at its best, it also offers something just a little bit different. And for those grossly terrific moments, this howler marks the first time in history that opening a second front with Russia seems like a good idea.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead will be in select cities and on VOD on Friday, October 10th.