Monday, October 26, 2009

October Horror-thon #26: "Dead Snow" (2009)

As countless clodhoppers have before them, the youthful stars of Dead Snow embark on an innocent holiday that gets really ugly, really fast. Some randy lads and their fetching dates head to a cozy mountain getaway for some drinking, snowmobiling, and anything else they can think of to pad out the running time. The kids run into a passing stranger, whose ramblings of a great evil in the area they attribute to Crazy Ralph Syndrome. But are they in for a surprise when none other than Nazi zombies rise from the snow and commence a blitzkrieg of the dead. With little else to fight back with, the group must use knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of watching horror movies in order to survive a predicament torn from the pages of a Troma script.

I hate spending half of my horror reviews denouncing the genre for being gimmicky. It's great when any film, not just horror, embraces something special to flag down potential viewers, but not when its core remains resolutely tame. Dead Snow was obviously made by people who grew up watching scary movies and meant this as a means of tribute. But despite an increase in technical competence, there's not enough ingenuity to help them surpass the very flicks they're riffing. Is the idea of teens doing battle with undead SS officers unique? You bet your exposed innards it is, though what's the use when it's just another zombie flick underneath?

Brains splatter, limbs are severed, and corpses get blown asunder, all of which could have been encompassed by a knowing satire. Yet director Tommy Wirkola insists that much of the film be taken at face value; films about flesh-eating Gestapo are many things, but "serious" should not be at the top of the list. There are some terrific examples of dark comedy, as when one kid hangs precariously off a cliff by a Nazi's unraveled intestines. It's hard not to chuckle at moments like these, but it is easy to lament how infrequently they appear. That Wirkola pulls off some great photography and impressive special effects on a budget less than Megan Fox's monthly Ego Cream order is beside the point. It's all still sub-par zombietainment, with a few token references a la Scream and enough energy to summon one stereotype (the movie geek) before flat-out giving up.

Dead Snow has been hanging ten on a wave of hype for some time now, but I just don't get it. Perhaps I'm horror's version of some old geezer who listens to Gershwin albums whenever I'm not requesting those damn kids vacate my lawn. But a missed opportunity is a missed opportunity, and for Dead Snow to render Nazi zombies boring is to fail in a way only future historians will be able to understand.

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