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Dead Snow (2009)

IFC Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/23/2010

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/13/2010

I hate to state the obvious, but film fans can be elitist snobs. (I'll pause to let the shock set in.) There's nothing that a cinephile loves more than to feel that they know more about movies than someone else, and the ultimate goal is to see a movie that others haven't. Horror movie fans are really bad about this and one horror sub-genre about which elitists can really debate is the Nazi zombie movie. This is a very limited genre and I can only think of three entries in this category, two of which came out over 30 years ago -- so, if you are a completist in this group, you can definitely consider yourself a devoted fan. The latest participant in this small club is the Norwegian film Dead Snow.

Dead Snow opens in a fashion which should be very familiar to horror film fans. Seven friends who are all medical students -- Martin (Vegar Hoel), Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen), Hanna (Charlotte Frogner), Vegard (Lasse Valdal), Liv (Evy Kasseth Rosten), Erlend (Jeppe Laursen), and Chris (Jenny Skavlan) -- travel to a secluded cabin in the snowy mountains. The group reaches the cabin and begins to party. That night, a stranger (Bjorn Richard Sundquist) arrives at teh cabin seeking shlter. He tells the group that during World War II the area had been occupied by the Nazis. After years of torment, the townspeople fought back and drove the German soldiers into the mountains, where they supposedly froze to death. Legend has it they they still roam the area. The group was supposed to meet Vegard's girlfriend Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) at the cabin, but she doesn't show. So, Vegard takes the snowmobile to try and find her. Following this, Erlend finds a box of gold and jewels under the cabin. Suddenly, the cabin is besieged by zombie Nazis (or are they Nazi zombies). Surrounded by the undead, the students fight back as best they can.

When Dead Snow was first released in Europe (actually even before it was released), buzz began to build about the movie. There was talk not only about the film's violent content and over-the-top gore, but the fact that it focused on Nazi zombies, a sub-genre which hadn't been tackled in quite some time. These movies rarely live up to the hype and usually fall into the category of films which sound much better on paper then they are in real life. And a first glance at the film shows that it isn't the most original movie ever made. Again, the idea of a group of twenty-somethings going to an isolated mountain cabin for a weekend getaway isn't new and was probably most famously portrayed in The Evil Dead. The way in which the zombies are summoned (sort of) is reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. And, as noted above, zombie Nazis had appeared in at least two other movies. So, if you go into this expecting something new and original, you are going to be disappointed.

However, some movies survive on sheer tenacity alone and Dead Snow fits that description. The movie knows exactly what it is and it accomplishes exactly what it has set out to do. As you can most likely surmise from the above synopsis, the movie doesn't have much of a story -- the group arrives at the cabin, they learn of the Nazis, the Nazis arrive, violence ensues. There aren't any plot twists, but there are some surprising deaths. The first act of the film is somewhat sedate, as we watch the students play in the snow, but once the zombies arrive, Dead Snow becomes non-stop action. Director Tommy Wirkola was clearly influenced by The Evil Dead and Dead/Alive, as the violent scenes are both incredibly bloody and full of kinetic energy. The rapidly-cut scenes are reminiscent of Sam Raimi's style, especially the tool-shed moment, which feels as if it fell out of an Evil Dead film. The gore is over-the-top and the fight between Vegard and the zombies would have been right at home in one of Peter Jackson's early films. For what was a presumably low-budget movie, the gore effects and Nazi uniforms are convincing, save for the zombie who's wearing a very modern-looking jacket.

My only major complaint about Dead Snow is the Erlend character. For the most part, this is a very slick, professional-looking movie and nothing about it particularly screams "fanboy" -- save for Erlend. He's the resident movie buff who drops references to other horror films and wears a Braindead shirt. For me, it cheapens these films when something this blatant takes place. Perhaps the inclusion of this kind of character was an in-joke making fun of other movies which do this, but I'm not sure.

Despite some minor flaws and a lack of originality, Dead Snow is great fun. The movie features a great blend of action, gore, and humor. The movie clearly works because despite a lack of deep story or character development, when certain characters die or do something incredibly stupid to themselves, we have a reaction to it. Will this film revive the Nazi zombie genre? I doubt it, but Dead Snow can take pride in the fact that it is the best of this elite club.

Dead Snow has more than frostbite to worry about on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of IFC Films and MPI Media Group. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The film opens with a night-time scene which is incredibly dark. Seriously, it was difficult to make out what was happening. This gave me a bad feeling about this transfer. However, after that scene, everything is fine. The daytime shots are incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. Given the fact that much of the movie takes place against a white background of snow, the lack of grain is impressive. The colors look very good, most notably blues and reds. The crisp image provides impressive detail and the picture's depth is good as well. The Disc offers a (Norwegian) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. There is also an English track, but it's only Dolby 2.0. The DTS track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite the fact that we can't see anything in that opening scene, The Hall of the Mountain King blares from the speakers, letting us know that this is a muscular track. Stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation. The action scenes provides good surround sound effects and each stab or chainsaw cut is clearly heard. These scenes also deliver good subwoofer effects. Overall, a nice technical package despite that one dark scene.

The Dead Snow Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. (Most of these are in Norwegian with English subtitles.) "Behind Dead Snow" (19 minutes) is a reel of on-set footage which is interspersed with comments from the cast and filmmakers. We get to see many of the key scenes being shot and get a feel for the laid-back nature of the set. Unfortunately, the speakers aren't identified, so other than the actors, we aren't sure who the people are. "Special Make-up Effects of Dead Snow" (7 minutes) shows the effects artist at work creating the many masks and gore effects for the film. "Madness in the North!" (49 minutes) is an oddly detailed making-of featurette which gives us a close look at the shooting schedule of the movie, but it also examines the boring life of a production assistant. "Madness in the West!" (18 minutes) shows the director and some of the actors going to Sundance to sceen the film. I like the Nazi zombies handing out flyers in Park City. We get a 2-minute reel of OUTTAKES. "VFX" (3 minutes) is a brief look at how layering varous elements was used to create scenes such as the cliff fall. "Burning the Cabin" (1 minute) shows some unused footage of the cabin burning. "The Sounds of Dead Snow" (6 minutes) has Director Tommy Wirkola and Sound Designer Kjetil Troan walking us through the sound process. The final extras are the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER and the TEASER TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long