• Gabe Powers

Dead Snow 2 Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)

Martin (Vegar Hoel) hasn’t had the best vacation. He accidentally killed his girlfriend with an axe. He cut his own arm off with a chainsaw. And his friends still got devoured by a battalion of Nazi Zombies. This morning, he woke up in a hospital bed with a new arm – but it’s a super-powered Zombie arm that wants to kill him and anything else it can reach. Martin’s pissed. And, with the help of his new Zombie Squad pals, he’s gonna deliver some payback to Standartenführer Herzog (Ørjan Gamst) and his precious Nazi gold – by raising an undead army of his own. (From Well Go USA’s official synopsis)



Nazi zombie movies are prolific little subgenre that technically pre-dates George A. Romero’s flesh-eating dead (as in, the zombies of Night of the Living Dead [1968] and its sequels/companion pieces) by a few decades. Beginning with Steve Sekely’s 1943 Revenge of the Zombies, movies about undead SS soldiers became a subgenre following the success of Kevin Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1976) and the usual round of short budget cash-ins. The most notable of these was an otherwise unconnected trilogy from three of history’s most notorious cheapo filmmakers – Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) director Joel M. Reed, who made Night of the Zombies in 1981, Spanish über-producer Jess Franco, who made Oasis of the Zombies 1982, and French erotic horror provocateur Jean Rollin, who made Zombie Lake in 1981 (coincidentally, that film was designed to be helmed by Franco, who dropped out). These three films started the tradition of applying Romero’s rules to Nazi zombie movies, as they were also clearly designed to cash-ins on Dawn of the Dead’s (1978) box office grosses. After a few decades of break (though I suppose Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys from Brazil [1978] almost counts) the subgenre was reprised along with the rest of zombiedom with the one-two punch of Rob Green’s The Bunker (2001) and Michael J. Bassett’s Deathwatch (2002), and apparently a mod for the popular video game Call of Duty (2020 edit: add to that list Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein’s Army [2013], Marko Mäkilaakso’s War of the Dead [2011], Julius Avery’s Overlord [2018], and a trilogy of Outpost movies [2008, 2012, 2013]).


This brings us to Tommy Wirkola’s Norwegian-helmed Dead Snow (2009). Wirkola’s film had more in common with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (1988) than Shock Waves and brought the referential, dumb fun of turn of the millennium Asian living dead flicks, like Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus (2000) and Wilson Yip’s Bio-Zombie (1998) to Nazi zombieism. A simple stew of slasher, cabin in the woods, and zombie tropes, Dead Snow opted for gore gags above storytelling and gave Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka: Dead Alive, 1992) a run for its money, especially in the unraveling intestines department. It was positively dripping with mollifying fan-service, as well – besides recreating a dozen scenes from old favorites, one character was literally wearing a Braindead t-shirt – and overstayed its welcome with a protracted climax that managed to make outrageously goopy violence kind of boring. But it was a good enough time for a rainy afternoon viewing. Following its release, Wirkola found surprise success with his Hollywood debut, the similarly outrageous Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013 – it wasn’t a blockbuster, but it quadrupled its budget). Given the chance to make more medium budget horror, he opted for the nostalgic choice and returned to Norway to make Dead Snow 2 (subtitled Red vs. Dead for its US release) in 2014.



The obvious impulse for a sequel would be to make the same movie again and escalate the action, but, with nearly six times the budget at his disposal and the blatant callbacks to other films out of his system, Wirkola is free to create his own brand of gory chaos. Amongst the fast-paced, high-energy violence is a budding Nazi zombie mythology, brimming with fun and original ideas. The key addition is the lead zombie’s magical capacity to raise legions of loyal living dead with a mere touch – an ability he passes on to the returning hero when a confused doctor accidentally switches their severed arms following an accident at the beginning of the film. Wirkola uses the new story elements to increase the scale of the production, eventually building to an epic, Braveheart-inspired Nazi zombie vs. Soviet zombie melee. Besides advancing the Nazi zombie narrative far beyond any previous movie, the pre-battle plot also feels like an alternate Evil Dead sequel; one where the hero is blamed for killing all of his friends in the cabin and pursued by the authorities while simultaneously finding a way to stop the supernatural evil. The obnoxiously nerdy in-jokes have been carried over from the original film, but don’t overwhelm the genuinely funny gore gags, the dry-witted, absurdist police interactions, or the cynical comedy – children, the elderly, and the handicapped are all killed for a laugh without any sentiment. I could’ve done without the casual homophobia, though.



Video

Dead Snow 2 was clearly shot using digital HD camera rigs (I’m not sure which, but would guess that Wirkola returned to the Arri Alexas he used on Hansel & Gretel) and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p video. Wirkola and cinematographer Matthew Weston utilize the digital format’s smooth blends and strong colors effectively, but the overwhelming clarity makes some of the more expansive images look ‘cheap’ (for the lack of a better word). It’s not really good for the film and the lack of texture is kind of disconcerting, but makes for an impressively crisp and consistent HD image. Even the fuzzy, soft focus backgrounds feature near-perfect gradations (and little or none of the banding that often appears on WellGo discs). The color palette is informed by the overcast skies of the surrounding area, which, along with the blooming white highlights, desaturates the more middling hues. Still, a number of more vibrant colors, like the rich red of the Nazi flag, punch out against the thick blacks and grayed environments.


Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack pretty thin during dialogue-heavy sequences, but there are plenty of standout moments that keep the channels busy, including various scenes where magic zombie-raising powers are used and the sloppy, crunchy battle sequences. The explosions are big, the zombie groans are bassy, and the impacts are squishy. Christian Wibe’s music has a digital tinge on some occasions, but his compositions are pretty sophisticated and include some big, brassy action cues that are well-integrated into the already busy sequences. Note that, unlike its predecessor, Dead Snow 2 was shot in both English and Norwegian (with some German and Russian thrown in for zombie language). It was not dubbed in post, so viewers should not be concerned by the lack of a Norwegian language option. The ‘international’ or Norwegian version is included as a Blu-ray exclusive extra.



Extras

  • International version of the film – the aforementioned Norwegian version, presented in 1080p, with lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. There doesn’t appear to be any difference in terms of gore between the two cuts.

  • Audio commentary with Wirkola

  • A®men (14:00, HD) – A short film directed by Thomas Lunde a poor sap that loses an arm in a machinery accident. The arm grows back, but has a mind of its own.

  • VFX breakdown (1:50, HD)

  • Dead Snow digital comic book (2:20, HD)

  • Trailers for other WellGo and eOne releases



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