We know certain things about zombies, based on decades of monster movies. One, that they just keep coming, no matter how many of them you kill. And two, that one bite from a zombie mouth dooms the victim to joining their ranks.
Zombie lore is so ingrained at this point, that parody seems the best response to their continued movie assaults. When a zombie manages to chomp on medical student Martin’s (Vegar Hoel) arm in the Norwegian cheese-ball horror film Dead Snow, movies have taught him what his response should be and he takes dramatic action. The gross-out, ridiculous, occasionally very scary Dead Snow, is not so much a parody, as it is a tongue-in-cheek exercise in eye-rolling self-referentiality. More Evil Dead than Shaun of the Dead, Dead Snow features wall-to-wall Norwegian hard rock and an absurd premise: the hills are alive … with Nazi zombies.
The film opens with two cars full of young medical students speeding toward a rendezvous in a remote cabin accessible only on foot or snowmobile in the mountains surrounding Øksfjord (translation: Ax Fjord). Behold the horror movie trifecta: remote cabin, carefree kids, and a haunted landscape. In the boys’ car, there is Martin, smart-aleck Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen), the self-sufficient leader Vegard (Lasse Valdal), and a chubby (aren’t they always?) film buff Erlend (Jeppe Beck Laursen). In the winking logic of a horror film about other horror films, Erlend — who sports a Brain Dead T-shirt — quotes liberally from other slashers throughout Dead Snow. As the boys and another car filled with their girl companions (save Vegard’s lady, who has decided to ski through the Alps solo) prepare to walk up the mountain, Erlend wonders what film their situation most resembles: Friday the 13th? The Evil Dead? Evil Dead II?
In the purposefully exposition-tight grade B horror flick, setting the stage for the tortures to come is privileged over character development. We learn early on which girl is most promiscuous (and thus, in the misogynistic logic of slashers, will be the first to go) and who is afraid of blood. So when pretty, artsy Hanna (Charlotte Frogner) mentions that she is claustrophobic, you bide your time until the filmmaker reveals just what special torture he has up his sleeve.
Once ensconced in their mountain cabin, the kids virtually guarantee their future as zombie lunch. They make too much noise inner-tube skiing and snowmobiling through the pristine white snow. Even worse, they drink lots and lots of beer (which requires solitary walks through the dark to the distant outhouse). And they have sex. Establishing the usual fan boy cluelessness about women, director Tommy Wirkola imagines Chris would find portly Erlend’s trip to the outhouse to do his business the perfect moment to initiate sex. Like, ewww. Most disastrously, the kids dismiss the words of the scary older drifter who drops by their cabin to warn them of some of Øksfjord’s Nazi lore. “I reckon you small, spoilt brats couldn’t be bothered to read a little local history about the area before you snow-scootered in here?” the Norwegian redneck goads. It is the only moment of anything relating to commentary or subtext in the film: the young’uns are oblivious to the past. And they will, inevitably, pay the price for their ignorance.
In short order, murder and mayhem ensue, much of it centered on Wirkola’s favorite special effect: yards of ropey intestines, apparently a favorite zombie snack. In one outlandish scene, a zombie and Vegard fight while dangling from a cliffside, holding onto a length of zombie intestine. Gore is at a premium in Dead Snow as thumbs are plunged into eyeball sockets and bodies dismembered before the eyes of the horrified premeds who are picked off one by one. Those that remain wear faces coated in streaks of blood.
The very notion of Nazi zombies attacking a bunch of fresh-faced 21st century kids in Gore-Tex is absurdity stretched to the breaking point into farce. Aren’t zombies scary enough, without dragging in the Third Reich? And the zombies don’t do anything particularly Nazi-esque beyond keeping a swastika flag in their underground lair. But they make great bogeymen when the kids begin to exact their revenge in a full-scale zombie slaughter.
Dead Snow is ludicrous and often irredeemably stupid, but it is a small, guilty pleasure that takes great advantage of its unique Norwegian setting. From the opening Shining-reminiscent aerial shots of the kids’ cars snaking across the remote mountain road to the sight of a tiny tent, lit from within in the vast white wilderness, Dead Snow is memorable for exploiting the fear factor in avalanches, freezing cold, and the stark winter landscape illuminated at night by a single beam of light from a flashlight. Nature is scary, and when zombies are involved, scarier still.