Norwegian ski kids meet Nazi zombies. This high concept movie is a homage to 1980s splatter, with spectacular snowscapes that add a touch of class to the usual gore gubbins. However, a likeable cast can’t quite overcome the fact that director-co-writer Tommy Wirkola doesn’t work hard on the characters; it’s down to co-scripter Stig Frode Henriksen gives himself a few wry lines as ‘the horniest boy North of the Arctic Circle’, who survives for a surprisingly long time just to keep the running patter going. It’s so ruthless about horror comic grue that it becomes obvious early on that everyone is an incidental victim – there’s no ‘final girl’, since cast-members are only around provisionally until a spectacular death can be arranged. Foremost among the spam-in-a-cabin characters is skilled med student Martin (Vegar Hoel), who is slightly handicapped by squeamishness around blood – a phobia he overcomes when fighting back against a cadre of gut-chomping shock troopers. Martin even has to chainsaw off to his right arm, in a droll parody of the zombie infection cliché – no sooner has he cut off the offending, bitten arm than a Nazi pops out of the snow and bites his groin and he gives a hilarious fed-up glance to camera.
The biggest movie nerd in Norway (Jeppe Laursen) references Evil Dead movies (and, in a sly ‘scenes we’d like to see’ dig, is the only guy in the film who gets laid) until his head is pulled apart and his brain plonks on the floor, while several blonde women (Evy Kasseth Rosten, Ane Dahl Torp) get got relatively early on. There are location-specific set-ups, like the information that if you’re trapped under an avalanche you need to spit to determine which way is up to avoid digging further into the snow – after this discussion, of course someone (Charlotte Frogner) gets in exactly this situation (though, oddly, she wasn’t in on the original chat) and knows which way is up by the direction her snot drips. The opening is wittily scored to the most Norwegian piece of music imaginable (Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’) as a skier is stalked by the Nazi zombies, but thereafter the film uses Scandi pop and rock – including a couple of cheery tunes laid over scenes of gross violence that might well have a specific meaning to the home country audience.
A sinister passerby (Bjorn Sundquist) gives the historical backstory: it seems bared-teeth monster Colonel Herzog (Orjan Gamst) and his einsatz commandoes are after a horde of stolen gold left lying around in the beer cooler under the cabin – but this doesn’t fret too much about the whys of it all (I’m not sure how these Nazis became zombies) and gets on with the chases, avalanches, disembowelments, surprise attacks and enthusiastic sloshing of blood, guts and sundry other messinesses. An incidental line has it that no joke can be funny without ‘poop, pee or semen’ – but Wirkola prefers another body fluid, even if one girl is dropped into a cesspit before decapitation. It homages a great many old horror pictures, from obvious Nazi zombie stuff like Shock Waves to gore comedy touchstones like Evil Dead II and Braindead, but Wirkola is savvy enough to current trends to lift one incident (someone hacks away at a crowd of attacking zombies and accidentally murders his own girlfriend) from The Descent. Though it’s less satisfying than the similar-looking skiers meet psycho picture Cold Prey, Dead Snow is breezily entertaining.