First, a little fear…
Dead Snow (2009); Directed by Tommy Wirkola
Zombies. Nazis. Zombie Nazis.
Now if you are of that certain type of horror fan, which I myself am a part of, that is just about all you need to know to dive into the 2009 Norwegian gore delight Dead Snow without hesitation. And to be quite honest right up front, you aren’t going to find a lot more than that. It turns out, however, that nothing more is needed for Dead Snow to be a riotous good time!
In a kickoff heavily borrowed from just about every ensemble horror to date, we join seven medical students as they are driving deep into the mountains of Norway for a snow cabin vacation. In a heavy handed way that tells the viewer “pay attention for a minute and then we will get to the good stuff”, we learn that our group of friends is going to be just the sort of youth that we love in horror movies…the sort that is asking to get slaughtered. Within moments we know who the horror film geek is, who is afraid of blood, who is sexually promiscuous; everything we need to identify with this group and begin to guess how they will meet their end. We also find out just how remote their destination is, that cell phones aren’t working and that they are planning on meeting an eighth friend soon. A friend we already know isn’t coming…
Soon after reaching the cabin, the group is living it up. Snow ball fights, inner tubing behind their snowmobile, chugging beers, playing card games and jokingly suffocating each other with pillows. Wait, what? It becomes apparent early on in this film that either these characters were written to have some pretty strange idiosyncrasies or things are just done different in Norway. Either way, one thing remains the same in horror flicks from all lands: Creepy Narrative Exposition guy!
After establishing just how remote and isolated this cabin is, no sooner are these kids settled in then a weird stranger starts knocking on the door and inviting himself in for coffee. There is no explanation as to why he is out in these parts or how he knew that this was the night a bunch of Med School students would have a fresh pot of Joe brewed up for him, but other explanations are not in short supply with this guy. So begins the set up of zombie-ish things to come! After professing his abject disappointment that this group of vacationers did not read up on the history of this particular area over the last half century before choosing it as their getaway destination, our exposition weirdo drops the knowledge on them all like he was reading it off the napkin writer/director Tommy Wirkola jotted it down on.
Back in World War II, a group of Nazi soldiers set up residence in these here parts, soon to go rogue far beyond occupation and begin tormenting the townships in the area. Torture, murder and the theft of all valuables drove the locals past their breaking point. Arming themselves, the Norwegian peoples launched a revolt against the soldiers, killing most and leaving only a few survivors who were driven into the mountains. Here they surely froze to death, laden down with the horde of stolen loot they ran away with. Leaving the group with an ill-fitting, yet oh so accurate warning that “There is an evil you don’t want to awake!”, Mr. Exposition then decides he is going to physically assault one of these kids to drive his point home. All that AND he tells them their coffee sucks. What a jerk! Then again…they did say it was organic.
Now we are all set and ready for this thing to get off to the races. We’ve got our baddies set up, our foolish cabin kids properly warned and everyone properly liquored up. We just know that at any moment this cabin is going to become ground zero for Nazi zombie mayhem. Got ya! Dead Snow has other plans. Namely, the overly concerned and highly informed Narrative Guy finds himself on the receiving end of our first good and gory, getting himself murderized in the very mountain area he just got done spewing warnings about. Hilariously ridiculous!
Of course, our group splits up because that is just what you DO, right? One guy goes looking for the friend who has never shown and the others remaining in the cabin find a box full of Nazi hoarded treasure. I can see how the inclusion of this treasure might throw a few audiences off a bit…with the exception of John Carpenter’s The Fog it seems most zombies would rather munch yer guts than come after your coinage. But it turns out this is one of the neatest parts of this film.
In Norse legend exists a creature called a draugr. These zombie-like creatures were thought to live among their graves, guarding their treasures and possessions they were buried with. These draugr, were less reanimated and more repossessed and could be killed again by destroying the body, much as they would be in their original life. This allows the filmmakers to go wild with zombie death scenes that don’t all involve crushing a cranium or well placed screwdrivers in the skull. While this is not explained in the movie (perhaps Scandinavian audiences would be familiar enough with the draugr mythology to pick up on this right away), I think things are a lot more enjoyable when you go in armed with this bit of trivia.
Another thing I do really love about this flick is that as soon as the zombies do start showing up for the Med Student buffet line, the characters instantly identify them as such. In so many zombie flicks, it is assumed that the events depicted are humanities first exposure with the reanimated dead. The viewer is then drug along while the characters battle with the the realization of what they face, moral dilemma of how to handle the problem and of course all the nuance of Zombie Killing 101. But not here. Upon first glimpse, our horror nerd is proclaiming “Zombies! Don’t get bitten, okay?”, all while wearing a Braindead (Dead Alive) shirt in what is the most obvious of many nods and tributes to other horror films.
The practical effects start to shine the moment we have zombie on living action. Hands chopped off, a head ripped in half (yet another tribute moment), guts spilling on the floor and blood spraying like crazy are all done in glorious latex and corn syrup fashion. And the intestines! I’ve never seen intestines get so much screen time love, and it is awesome every time.
There is, however, a switch thrown about 75% of the way through Dead Snow in which the brief comedic moments and sillynesses thus far turn into full-fledged Grand Guignol absurdity. While I loved every minute of chainsawing, Nazi grenading, axe chopping and machine gunning which was to come, I was saddened by the fact that to really turn it up the effects became more and more dependent on CGI blood spray and quick cut cover-ups. In the end, this didn’t lower my overall enjoyment of Dead Snow, but it sure would have been nice to continue on with the great non-digital FX.
With few moving parts and absolutely zero concern for what coulda/shoulda/woulda been added, Dead Snow delivers a well paced bit of fun that jumps from scene to scene abruptly at times, but only to keep the ball rolling. The pacing is good enough to keep you interested in what is going on next and the level of humor is spot on with the best of them. I was a big fan of what I came to call Zombie-Vision and Victim-Vision as well, as the POV would often give us a glimpse of what the characters on screen were seeing. It was clever to watch humans doing stupid crap from a zombie’s eyes and then see a similar goofiness to what the reanimated Nazis would get up to.
All in all, Dead Snow gives us a vacation from the same ol’, same ‘ol zombie flick, and while it breaks no substantial new ground, it gives just enough of a twist on things that it FEELS new. I first watched Dead Snow more than five years ago now, and thought it was a very fun and funny take on the genre. I am very pleased to have the exact same feelings for it this time around.
…then a little beer!
Rogue Ales Yellow Snow IPA (6.5% ABV) – Newport, OR
If I’m honest, it isn’t all that often that I get truly excited for a Rogue Ales beer. At one point Rogue were the bad boys of brew in the Pacific Northwest, but Oregon (second in craft breweries per capita in the United States) simply has too many amazing breweries making too many wonderful beers for Rogue to really stand out these days. Their continuous release of the same beers, decent but not head-turning, and seeming inability to properly market more than one or two of them (Dead Guy gets 75+% of their coverage it seems) has led to a stagnancy in their local market and an “Oregon gift shop find” mentality when it comes to how many of us who live here in the Northwest see the company and its brews.
This couldn’t be further than the truth when it comes to Yellow Snow IPA, my favorite Rogue release (with their 7 Hop IPA a close second). Far from what we traditionally think of as a “Winter Seasonal”, Yellow Snow IPA starts hitting shelves every year on November 1st, and I for one am usually counting down the days.
Yellow Snow hits your glass with a deep golden color and instantly rewards an aggressive pour an abundance of head that has impressive staying power for an IPA. The aromas are bright with citrus sweetness and rind, a light spice and pine. Rogue’s very own Revolution hop, grown in their Micro Hop Farm in Independence, Oregon, imparts florals and spiciness to the orange and tangerine bouquet of Amarillo.
The medium body of this beer is well carbonated and feels both smooth and vibrant at the same time. Flavors of pine, resin, citrus rind and spice lay over a manageable sweetness and distinct nuttiness from two Rogue specific malts, Dare and Risk. The real bitterness of Yellow Snow comes late to the pallet and lingers long into the aftertaste with astringency. This quality is what makes this one so fun and honestly what drives every sip thereafter. Your tongue will be asking for more citrus and sweetness moments after every taste, making it way too easy to keep coming back to this 6.5% ABV brew.
So while my advice may fly in the face of traditional wisdom when it comes to putting yellow snow anywhere near your mouth, I have to say that in this case I not only would suggest you do…I down right encourage such behavior.