Dead Snow (US - BD RA)
Gabe enjoys a trip to the gory mountains of Norway where he's greeted by natives
The Nazi Zombie film developed into a worthy and prolific little subgenre over the last several decades. Technically pre-dating Romero’s flesh-eating dead by a few decades with Steve Sekely’s 1943 Revenge of the Zombies, the subgenre came into its own following the success of director Kevin Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1976), thanks to the usual round of short budget cash-ins. The most notable among these cash-ins was a trilogy from three of history’s most notorious cheapo filmmakers – Joel M. Reed’s Night of the Zombies, Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies, and Jean Rollin’s Zombie Lake (which was designed to be helmed by Franco). These three films started the tradition of applying Romero’s rules to the sub-genre, as all three were clearly made as equal cash-ins on Dawn of the Dead’s runaway success. After a few decades of break (though I suppose The Boys from Brazil could almost count) the subgenre was reprised along with the rest of zombiedom with the one-two punch of Rob Green’s The Bunker and Michael J. Bassett’s Deathwatch, and apparently a mod for the popular video game Call of Duty. Clearly it’s time for someone to step up and make an end all entry. Leave it to the Norwegian filmmakers behind Dead Snow to take the Nazi Zombie somewhere he’s never been before…the snow. Hence the title. Ahem.
Dead Snow is not quite a member of the Nazi Zombie sub-genre master race, but it’s certainly an amusing modern equivalent, and one of the better genre love letters of the last decade, coming just behind other dumb fun Japanese living dead flicks like Versus, Bio-Zombie and Wild Zero. There’s some awkward lip-service paid to horror ‘classics’ of the past, but mostly writer/director Tommy Wirkola keeps his homage at bay, using it as a structural influence, rather than the defining element. This isn’t to say he and his staff craft a particularly novel tale – to the contrary, your grandmother could probably anticipate almost every narrative angle – but it Dead Snow separates itself from a lot of the stuff I’ve been watching lately by not going out of its way to look like every other movie. The plot is an extremely simple stew of tropes, seeing a group of twenty-something medical students taking a break from classes in an isolated cabin. There’s much drink, sex, games and fun, but eventually everything goes to hell when the monsters attack. The characters mostly fulfill genre stereotypes, which sets up death order and sometimes death type, but are mostly likeable, and natural enough that we buy there interaction. Generally speaking the audience probably isn’t rooting against the people, but we’re not above cheering for the zombies when the time is right. The intended tragic turns rarely work, but the characters do take realistic initiative in the face of danger. The emphasis is definitely on romp, not pomp.
But hey, we’re here for the gore, and there’s quite a lot of it oozing from creative and enjoyable corners of the celluloid. Peter Jackson’s Braindead record clearly still stands for sheer volume of ick, but Wirkola gives Fulci and Romero a good run for their money based on number of gags. The brief runtime is packed with all manners of bloody goings on, including eviscerations, beheadings, skull crushings, throat slashings, limb tearings, bullet hits, flesh stretching bites, and even a particularly original de-braining episode, all equaling more than enough grue to satiate even the most discerning gorehound. Unraveling intestines get extra-special, and decidedly original representations. Unraveling Intestines: The Movie wouldn’t be an entirely inappropriate title. And the vast majority of the effects are created through beautifully clunky traditional make-up and physical effects. The action direction, and use of Sam Raimi like rhythmic montage are the film’s strongest technical points, and when coupled with the wicked, and often surprisingly dry (no pun intended, obviously) sense of humour Dead Snow really works. The whole experience is very funny, much funnier than the never ending parade of zom-coms that have flowed from the gates opened by Shaun of the Dead in recent years, excepting, of course, Shaun of the Dead. And Zombieland, come to think about it. But just barely.
Day-lit snow can look utterly awful on standard definition disc. The harsh white can bloom, and feature ugly edge enhancement, while depleting the overall value of the blacks and colours. Dead Snow features, surprisingly enough, a lot of snow. The daylight scenes look fantastic. The white snow is clean and bright, but well contained, revealing sharp landscape elements almost equal to those of Planet Earth, and perhaps even more important, allowing the occasional colour elements to pop. Just as much of the film is defined but utter blackness, usually highlighted in blue during outdoor engagements. Indoor night scenes are occasionally so dark that the fine grain thickens up a bit and details are obscured, but any good source lighting fixes the problem. Skin textures are lifelike, hairs can practically be counted, and the intricacies of wardrobe and props are clear as day. Occasionally the clarity and depth of field gives away green screen photography, and makes the real thing look a little phony. I was expecting little from this transfer, and I’m pleasantly surprised, with very little to complain about.
Dead Snow’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (original Norwegian, of course) is, like many good horror films, defined by dynamic elements of silence and aggressive noise. The surround and directional work is stylized and impressive throughout, from subtle wind and snow effects, to the threatening rumble of avalanched snow and ground breaking, underground zombies. Directional effects are often defined by screaming zombies, who run left to right, right to left, front to back, and back to front. I caught one or two instances of the centered dialogue bleeding a bit into the stereo channels, but otherwise words are clear and natural, mixed well against the dynamic effects and music. The rock infused score features some room shaking bass, though most of the acquired items don’t stray to far from the stereo speakers. Occasionally these heavy aspects don’t serve the film very well (it’s all a bit obvious if you ask me), but they are certainly big and loud on the track. The subtitles, which seem accurate enough for a guy that doesn’t speak the language, occasionally don’t line up, but the problem usually corrects itself quickly enough.
The extras here mostly consist of a bunch of behind the scenes featurettes, none of which are particularly fascinating. ‘Behind Dead Snow’ (18:40, SD) starts things off with a very rough little spotting of raw footage. This was probably the film’s EPK. ‘Special Effects Make-Up of Dead Snow’ (6:30, SD) follows the same random flow, but is obviously a little more focused, and a little more technically interesting. ‘Madness in the North’ (49:00, SD) is the start of the more substantial stuff, featuring an overlong look behind production in the form of a kind of video journal, where the trials and tribulations of production are told in a linear fashion, occasionally with narration. The most interesting bit comes at the beginning, where we learn via press clippings the brief history of the production’s first film, Kill Buljo, and the pre-production of Dead Snow. The rest of the featurette shows some of the set construction, some cast and crew meetings, locations, make-up, and the general horror of filming in the cold. ‘Madness in the West’ (17:50, SD) finishes things off with footage from the press tour. These featurettes really plod, though I imagine I’d really enjoy them if I were on production myself. It’s like watching someone else’s home movies.
The extras continue with outtakes (2:00, SD), a brief look at some of the compositing and digital effects (3:20, SD), ‘Burning the Cabin’ (1:00, SD), ‘The Sounds of Dead Snow’ (5:40, SD), two trailers, and trailers for other IFC releases.
There’s almost nothing to be said critically about Dead Snow beyond the assurance that I, a rather jaded zombie film fan, enjoyed the experience. In fact, this is the first genuine fun I’ve had with gorier side of the zombie genre in a few years (it was almost as much fun as the slightly more normal-level Zombieland). That should hopefully be enough for most of the folks looking into renting or buying this disc. The Blu-ray steps above and beyond expectations in the video and audio fields, featuring a wonderfully crisp 1080p transfer, and a rambunctious DTS-HD 5.1 track. The extras, though fulfilling from a sheer time standpoint, and relatively informative, are a little boring, unfortunately. Still, a worthy and recommend purchase for the undead elite.
*Reviewer Note: These images were taken from the UK Blu-ray and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 23rd February 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Norwegian, Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Norwegian
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Behind Dead Snow, Special Make-Up Effects, Madness in the North, Madness in the West, VFX Comparison, Outtakes, The Sounds of Dead Snow, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Røsten
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 92 minutes
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