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Return of the Hitler-Loving Dead

MOVIE REVIEW
Dead Snow (2009)

STILL7
Sveinung Svendsen/Euforia Film

With an ingenious premise that needs only two words ("Nazi zombies") of sales-pitching, "Dead Snow" is a film that benefits from a small level of expectation. Deliver an excess of flesheaters clad in SS uniforms ripping limbs and chomping on innards, and audiences will applaud. Fortunately, for any moviegoer hooked in by the film's paper-thin arch, Norwegian director and co-writer Tommy Wirkola does just that by simply frowning upon the old adage, "less is more." A free-wheeling, anything-goes homage to America's glory days of blood-soaked camp, "Dead Snow" never takes itself seriously, piling on one grossout gag after another, all streamlined with a consistent tone of corpse-skin-dark humor. The end result doesn't quite reinvent horror's zombie subgenre, but it's still one hell of an entertaining ride despite its flaws.

Nothing more than a grab-bag of gore shots and visually-inventive kills, "Dead Snow's" plot is anorexic. It's the same set-up used in films ranging from Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" classics to Eli Roth's more recent "Cabin Fever" – a group of poorly-developed college-aged characters see their weekend of debauchery in a secluded cabin go to hell. The difference here is that the surrounding woods are inhabited by an all-new opposition, the re-animated bodies of a Nazi troop that froze to death in 1945 while hiding from Russian enemies. Now undead and totally pissed off, these Nazis run, strategize, snarl like hungry lions, and appear convincingly grotesque thanks to efficient make-up work.

As a director's showcase, "Dead Snow" is up-and-comer Mr. Wirkola at his most schizophrenic. Whenever the living protagonists take centerstage for bland exposition, Mr. Wirkola shows little in the way of stylish flair. He pulls back, depending on the characters' dialogue exchanges to anchor, which is a problem since none of the script's humor is all that amusing. Instead, "Dead Snow's" plodding first half is left with only uninspired types, including the overweight film nerd who wears a "Braindead" shirt and namedrops 1980s horror movies, the wisecracking antagonist only concerned with sex, and the humorless heroine who flinches at every suspicious sound.

Thank Wirkola's affinity for prosthetic dismemberment, then, that "Dead Snow's" anarchic latter section saves the film from disappointment. Over the course of a breathless 30 minutes, the film turns into "Night of the Living Dead" as reinterpreted by Mr. Raimi, a self-aware splatterfest that features a man using a zombie's intestine as a rope while dangling off the side of a mountain, and a poor fool's head being split open like an oyster, causing his brain to hug the floor in two halves. To Mr. Wirkola's credit, the kills in "Dead Snow" are all shot with a refreshingly unconventional eye. One particularly clever sequence uses a soon-to-be victim's roaming flashlight as a catalyst for misdirection, and later the zombie film standard multiple-creatures-dining-on-a-person's-ripped-open-stomach-without-utensils scene is recreated by showing the carnage from the dying victim's hazy point of view.

Mr. Wirkola essentially could've clothed his zombies in Civil War garb and "Dead Snow" wouldn't have changed a lick. Other than the costumes and one character joking that their assailants wouldn't want another to join their side due to his half-Jewish background, there's no mention or utilization of anything Nazi-related. In that regard, "Dead Snow's" "Nazi zombies" conceit only goes so far. Mr. Wirkola's inspired direction of the film's many red-drenched action set pieces, though, ultimately elevates "Dead Snow" into the positive tier of pretention-free horror.

This one isn't for the squeamish, and especially not for those who require food for thought in their cinema. "Dead Snow" offers a whole other type of visual cuisine – guiltless eye candy, sprinkled with more blood and guts than an overcrowded slaughterhouse. Go with that in mind, and you'll leave the theater more than satisfied.

DEAD SNOW

Opens on June 19 in Manhattan.

Directed by Tommy Wirkola; written by Stig Frode Henriksen and Mr. Wirkola; director of photography, Matt Weston; edited by Martin Stoltz; music by Christian Wibe; production designer, Liv Ask; produced by Tomas Evjen and Terje Stromstad; released by IFC Films. In Norwegian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Vegar Hoel (Martin), Stig Frode Henriksen (Roy), Charlotte Frogner (Hanna), Lasse Valdal (Vegard), Evy Kasseth Rosten (Liv), Jeppe Beck Laursen (Erlend) and Orjan Gamst (Colonel Herzog).

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