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Every now and then I fall apart
Colonel Herzog and his brood of undead Nazis are back to wreak even more spectacular mayhem in DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD [DØD SNØ 2] a sequel that actually surpasses the original in every respect. Gort tools up and joins the Zombie Squad for Entertainment One's Blu-ray.
 

Spoiler alert: In order to give even the most basic plot description of this film, the ending of its predecessor is going to get a mention. So if you've not seen Dead Snow and still intend to do so, you might want to save this review until later.

 

The 2009 Norwegian zombie horror Dead Snow (Død snø – even I could have translated that) managed to deliver two significant surprises. The first was that Norway, a country not exactly renowned for its horror film industry, was perfectly capable of producing a genre movie that could compete on the international market and win. The second was that it was even possible to still make a decent low budget movie involving a band of boisterous students, an isolated cabin and carnivorous zombies. Seriously, how many of these films have we been subjected to over the past twenty years or so? Millions, I'm guessing. And most were complete and utter bollocks. But Dead Snow was a blast. Tommy Wirkola's direction was assured and intermittently witty, the kids were not obnoxious and some of them rather likeable, and the zombies were resurrected WW2 Nazis. Wow, look at the subtext potential on that. No-one really expected a sequel, but five years after the first film was unleashed that's exactly what Herr Wirkola has delivered. It's ten minutes longer, cost five times as much to make and is more ambitious in scope. And against expectations, Dead Snow 2 (yeah, Død snø 2) is that rarest of film beasts, a sequel that outstrips its predecessor in pretty much every respect.

Dead Snow 2 picks up immediately where its predecessor left off (last chance to bail!), as sole survivor Martin, who'd seemingly appeased the Nazis by giving them back their looted gold, is attacked in his car by their leader, Colonel Herzog. [A quick aside. Given that Wirkola is clearly a bit of a film geek, does anyone here think that name was randomly chosen? No, I thought not.] We all assumed that Martin was killed when Herzog popped up beside him and thrust his hand through the car window in the first film's closing frames, a standard end-of-movie twist designed to kick anyone relieved that at least one of the cast had made it to safety squarely in the nuts. But we didn't see him die, and the mad scrabble between the pair that subsequently unfolds in no way feels like a Saturday morning serial cheat. It's also here that we get the first clear signal (although the "It sounds like a cliché" moment during the introductory voice-over certainly dropped a hint) that the black comedy that intermittently underscored the first film has been moved to the fore – as Martin battles to free himself from Herzog's grip, he reaches for what we presume is the gear stick, but instead switches off the radio to silence the insufferably bouncy pop tune that kicked off when he switched on the engine. He eventually gets the car moving and detaches his attacker from the side widow by slamming him into an advancing lorry. The impact tears Herzog's arm off and plonks it on the back seat, which only seems right considering Martin had to saw off his own arm with a chainsaw in the first film after it was bitten by one of the Colonel's men.

Luck, however, really isn't on Martin's side. A few minutes later he's dozing at the wheel and the inevitable happens and he flips the car over. He wakes up in hospital, handcuffed to the bed and accused by the cops of slaughtering his friends. But the doc has good news – they found his severed arm in the back seat of the car and have managed to re-attach it. Except it's not his arm at all but Herzog's, and this new limb not only has its former owner's strength and brutality, it still also appears to be still loyal to his cause. In no time at all it has slaughtered two of the medical staff, and Martin is sedated, strapped down and seriously in the shit.

Herzog, meanwhile, has recovered from his collision and found it's impossible to do a Nazi salute when your right arm has been severed. Luckily for him, the squad's decomposing zombie doctor is able to replace it with one that he found in the snow. Want to guess whose? Herzog has also discovered that he has the power to raise the dead by laying his hand on the face of the recently departed. A touch of religious satire perhaps? Martin escapes from the hospital with the help of a foolishly curious American child and a couple of violent deaths, including a well-meant attempt at CPR that... oh, but you just have to see it. Martin's now on the run, Herzog is slaughtering anyone who gets in his way and raising an invading army, and the only hope lies with the mysterious American organisation, the Zombie Squad. I'd like to tell you more about them, but their unveiling is one of the film's best reveals and I'm not about to spoil that here.

If you haven't fallen in love with Dead Snow 2 by this point then you're probably not going to, but splatter horror fans should be hugging themselves with glee. Some of the influences are clearly visible, notably the possessed arm from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II (although the extra features suggest an alternative source), but Wirkola has so much fun with this and does so much with it that he makes it his own.* This transplanted limb in turn becomes a source of personal frustration, a creator of catastrophe, a weapon of war, and ultimately a tool for resurrecting a regiment of Russian soldiers to take on the Nazis in a spectacular grudge fight on a village green. It also allows Wirkola to deliver an ending that is so outrageous, so blackly funny and so perfectly tied to the chosen music track that I literally had tears of laughter streaming down my face as I watched.

The thing is, by this point I should have been ready for just about anything. Little did any of us know that the Braindead t-shirt worn by film nerd Erlend in the first film was not just a nod to one of Wirkola's favourite films but a statement of future intent, and watching Dead Snow 2 is at times like being transported back to the glorious horror cinema of Bad Taste and Braindead era Peter Jackson. Nowhere is this more evident than the scene in which Herzog's men attack an isolated village and slaughter its inhabitants in a gleeful bloodbath of taste-busting barbarity. Everyone is game here, from the elderly man sitting on the toilet who is bludgeoned with his own bathroom sink, to the disabled woman who is abandoned to a foot stomping fate by her carer, and the two pram-pushing mothers who are blown to smithereens by a deliberately targeted tank shell. Realism plays a disinterested second fiddle to almost cartoon-like mayhem, but this is handled with such wit and technical aplomb that even the most appalling violence is rendered watchable by its blackly comical edge. Thus the disembowelling of a tourist in the film's first large scale massacre turns out to have specific purpose when the zombies use the intestines to syphon diesel from the tour bus to fuel up their tank. Even the zombies occasionally get a raw deal here, something especially true of the hapless tourist (who is listed in the credits as 'Sidekick Zombie') who Martin repeatedly misuses and revives and who follows him and around like a doting spaniel. At one point he's even wedged under the wheel of a car to give it some traction and allow Martin and Zombie Squad leader Daniel to escape from a patch of slippery mud.

Some genre purists, those who insist that the living dead should always be slow moving and driven solely by carnivorous instinct, may well baulk at the prospect of zombies who are fast moving, aggressive, angry and resourceful. Frankly, it's their loss. And for all their blackly comic brutality, Herzog and his men are a still force to be reckoned with, and on the rare occasions when Wirkola plays a secene at least partly for tension – as when the Nazis invade a war museum and Martin and nervous young curator Glenn disguise themselves as exhibits – he scores because of the tangible threat that the zombies represent.

It all works a treat. The cast are great fun (Vegar Hoel's incredulity at some of the things that are happening to him is priceless), Wirkola's direction bristles with confidence, and a sense of bigger budgeted grandeur is provided by Christian Wibe's full-blooded score. The easily offended and those who dislike genre films that go overboard on the violence need not apply, but as far as I'm concerned, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, to give it its full international title, is the best and most enjoyable horror comedy I've watched in years.

sound and vision

As you would expect from any recently made film that was digitally edited and mastered, the 2.35:1 HD transfer here is top notch. Sharp and detailed and without a visual glitch in sight, the contrast is nicely pitched and copes well with a range of lighting conditions (sometimes in the same scene – as Wirkola explains on the commentary track, they were often at the mercy of a tight shooting schedule and ever changing weather), and the detail remains clear even at night or in darker interiors. The slightly subdued but (in the daylight at least – it all goes blue at night) largely naturalistic colour palette is clearly a deliberate mood-setting grading decision.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track really delivers the goods, particularly when the action hots up, throwing effects and music around the room and beefing up the LFE bass for rumbles and explosions. The mix ensures that the dialogue is never overpowered by the effects, and the clarity and dynamic range on all fronts are never less than excellent.

The English subtitles appear to be fixed for the Norwegian dialogue, but you can also select English subs for the hearing impaired, which then provide subtitles for the effects and English dialogue as well.

extra features

Commentary
Director and screenwriter Tommy Wirkola is joined by one of his co-writers Stig Frode Henriksen, who also plays perennially nervous, in-the-closet museum curator Glenn in the film, and just for a few minutes Jesper Sundnes pops in to talk about playing the heavily made-up role of the Nazi doctor. Now some filmmaker commentaries are great, others are not so good, and this one frankly sits somewhere in between. There is good stuff here, quite a bit of it actually, and for that alone it's a welcome inclusion. We learn, for instance, that the opening sequence was shot as a promo and taken to Cannes to raise money to make the rest, that the film was shot in Iceland and the tank that they imported was the first one ever to set its tracks on Icelandic soil, and that actor Vegar Hoel does not have a driving licence and is actually a bad driver, yet keeps getting cast in roles that put him behind the wheel of a car. I also learned to my considerable surprise that the Zombie Squad are a real group and that Wirkola obtained their permission to use their logo and even some of their paraphernalia (they appear to be rather happy with how they are portrayed in the film – check out their website at https://www.zombiehunters.org; they even have their own Wikipedia page). And there's a lot more interesting stuff to digest, but Wirkola and Henriksen also can't resist repeatedly joking around, and despite the wit you'll find aplenty in their film, as comedy commentators go they're really not that funny. Awkwardly poor impersonations of Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Roger Moore are eventually revealed to be the result of them having recently watched Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip, and eventually Henriksen's dreadful puns prompt even Wirkola to sigh in exasperation. Definitely worth a listen, but it's best to go in forewarned.

VFX Breakdown (1:50)
A short and snappy little promo for Finnish visual effects company Troll, showing before and after versions of some of the film's effects shots, sometimes with the various elements laid on one after the other. Don't watch this if you like to believe it was all real.

'The Arm' Short film (13:57)
Actually titled A(r)men, this 2013 Norwegian short film by director Thomas Lunde would appear to have at least a partial influence on the possessed arm element of Dead Snow 2. A factory worker loses his arm in a machine accident; it eventually grows back but appears to have a mind of its own, and its owner soon finds himself in conflict with his own body. Really well done, and a tenuous personnel connection can be found to the main feature in the form of writer and actor Steinar Kaarstein, who was makeup supervisor on Dead Snow 2. The 1.78:1 HD transfer is pristine.

summary

The gloriously successful blending of horror and comedy in Dead Snow 2 confirms not only that the original Dead Snow was no flash in the pan, but that director Tommy Wirkola clearly has what it takes to pick up where early career Peter Jackson left off when he went all legit on us after Braindead. Dead Now 2: Red vs. Dead revels in punching its fist through the taste barrier, but does so with the sort of wit, enthusiasm and solid command of the filmmaking craft that prompts delighted and sometimes disbelieving squeals at moments when we should really take offence. Entertainment One's Blu-ray looks and sounds great and does OK on the extra features. The sensitive and squeamish might still want to give it a miss, but horror fans with a sense of humour should need no prompting whatsoever.

 


* It also serves the budget by sidestepping the need to CG actor Vegar Hoel's right arm out in every shot he appears in.

Dead Now 2: Red vs. Dead
Død snø 2

Norway | Iceland | USA | UK 2014
100 mins
directed by
Tommy Wirkola
produced by
Kjetil Omberg
Terje Stroemstad
written by
Stig Frode Henriksen
Vegar Hoel
Tommy Wirkola
cinematography
Matthew Weston
editing
Martin Stoltz
music
Christian Wibe
production design
Liv Ask
starring
Vegar Hoel
Ørjan Gamst
Martin Starr
Jocelyn DeBoer
Ingrid Haas
Stig Frode Henriksen
Hallvard Holmen
Kristoffer Joner

disc details
region B
video
2.35:1
sound
DTA-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
languages
Norwegian / English
subtitles
English (fixed) for the Norwegian dialogue
English SHD (optional)
extras
Director / co-writer commentary
VFX breakdown

Short film: The Hand

distributor
Entertainment One
release date
12 January 2015
review posted
11 January 2015

See all of Gort's reviews