Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (UK Blu-ray / DVD)

UK Dead Snow 2Starring Vegar Hoel, Ørjan Gamst, Martin Starr

Directed by Tommy Wirkola

Distributed by Entertainment One

NOTE: The main body of this review, pertaining to the film itself, is taken from our previous review as part of the 2014 Film4 Frightfest. The reviewer’s opinions have not changed.

Tommy Wirkola’s 2009 feature Dead Snow was a victim of hype. A low-budget homage to the likes of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive), it rode high on the fuel of the (still ongoing) modern craze for Nazi zombies. But it wasn’t very good. While it did offer up a few laughs, it was a very rough and inconsistent piece of work that seemed to gain much of its favour merely through its offbeat premise and inventive gore.

Now, five years later, Wirkola is back with a sequel that not only addresses almost every failing of the first film, but rips them out and beats it savagely around the head with them.

Picking right up where the original left off, Vegar Hoel is back as Martin, the sole survivor of the Nazi zombie attack seen previously. Having chain sawed off his arm and escaped to apparent safety, Martin discovers that one of the gold coins that initially spawned the undead ranks is still on his person – cue an attack within the first couple of minutes. Martin narrowly escapes by car, but dozes off behind the wheel and awakens in hospital, where he learns that the doctors have reattached an arm discovered in the car. An arm that actually belongs to the zombie commandant, Herzog. From here, Wirkola goes absolutely nuts with the material – Martin initially can’t control his powerful new limb, and the ensuing slaughter puts him firmly in the sights of the authorities. Via a procured mobile phone, he gets in touch with the American “Zombie Squad”, who advise him that they are on the way to help. Except it turns out that they’re just three geeks who are soon to be in way over their heads. Meanwhile, Herzog and his now expanded army (including a nefarious-looking doctor zombie) are on the march and headed towards an undisclosed target. You see, gold is no longer the objective here – rather, there’s some unfinished business for the Reich to carry out; orders direct from Hitler that were never fulfilled.

The only way to bring an end to Herzog’s march of doom is to raise an army to fight against him – something which Martin soon discovers is a power of his newly obtained arm. Thus begins a race against time to raise from the dead a Russian POW and his troops who gave Herzog a run for his money before he had them executed, before the encroaching Nazi army reach their target and unleash mass annihilation. The stage becomes set for a climactic battle, and the bumbling local cops looking to make a name for themselves by catching Martin are headed straight into the middle of it.

Honestly, the above seems like way too many elements to be trying to cram into a sequel to something as basic as ‘Dead Snow’, but that isn’t even the whole of it. Wirkola also manages to chuck in various other things, including a brilliantly handled zombie sidekick dedicated to doing anything he can to help Martin’s cause. As a film, it should be all over the place – but it isn’t. Dead Snow 2 is absolutely brilliant. The characters are lively, likeable and well rounded (especially Stig Frode Henriksen’s turn as Martin’s initial unwilling sidekick and closet gay war museum employee, Glenn), and it never lets up on a sense of wonderfully reckless humour. There is so much employed here in lovingly self-aware bad taste – not even kids, pregnant women, the disabled, elderly or young infants are safe – that you’re only ever minutes away from the next gut-busting moment that will make you feel like a really, really bad person for cracking up over it.

The gore level is off the scale, and Wirkola’s improvement as a filmmaker is clearly evident straight from the off. The entire thing looks solid and professional, sporting some excellent natural environments and gorgeous expanses offering a sense of scale that the first film could only dream of. Hell, there’s even a bona fide super hero movie shot and a climactic battle scene that sports some seriously well choreographed carnage and fisticuffs. On a technical and directorial level, it’s leagues ahead of its predecessor.

Simply put, Dead Snow 2 is a riot from start to finish. It doesn’t just improve on the original, it obliterates it. Those of a sensitive disposition should stay far, far away from this one but if you don’t mind having your morals tickled and can take your share of gore then you’re going to have one hell of a wild time. It isn’t just the best Nazi zombie film ever made, but quite easily the genre film of the year in terms of the sense of adventure and experience that it offers. It’s just THAT damned fun. There are minor quibbles to be had in terms of the story (Wirkola appears to do away with the fact that Martin also had his penis bitten off at the end of the first film), and the Zombie Squad members can be annoyingly trite at times, but these are easily forgiven in a film whose sheer level of unbridled craziness leaves you never knowing just what is going to happen next, and loving every single bloody moment of waiting to find out.

Entertainment One brings Dead Snow 2 to DVD backed up by a quick look at some of visual effects work, revealing how CGI layers were incorporated with physical effects work to create some of the excellent gore gags and action sequences. Next up is Thomas Lunde’s short film The Arm, which tells the story of a prim and proper factory worker who loses one of his arms in an industrial accident. Shortly after, though, the missing limb grows back… but in keeping with the early stages of Dead Snow 2, he’s having serious trouble keeping it under control.

It’s a darkly humorous piece of work, well shot and finely edited as the wayward arm leads our protagonist down a path of debauchery on a booze-fuelled night out, leaving him with a rather difficult personal choice to make…

Finally, Dead Snow 2 director Tommy Wirkola and co-writer/supporting actor Stig Frode Henriksen step into the recording studio for a rip-roaring commentary that rarely, if ever, lets up. While Wirkola tries to focus on the technical and story aspects of the film, Henriksen just can’t help himself when it comes to laying out a constant stream of jokes, puns and Sean Connery/Michael Caine impersonations – occasionally to the director’s exasperation.

The jovial nature of it means that even Henriksen’s worst attempts at humour manage to raise a chuckle with their badness, and it all comes together to make a commentary that is not only informative, but frequently hilarious. You’ll want to watch the film again after you’ve seen it for the first time, so it’s a no-brainer to do it with this commentary.

On DVD, the film will also be released in a double pack with its predecessor – handy if you don’t already have the first film amongst your collection.

Special Features:

  • VFX Breakdown
  • “The Arm” Short Film
  • Audio Commentary with Tommy Wirkola & Stig Frode Henriksen

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Gareth Jones

Copywriter and critic sporting a lifelong obsession with all things horror. A little bit sane.

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