October 25, 2010

Watch Out Where The Wehrmacht Goes

Good Hallow's Eve, my children of the night, my darling spectres and succubi. Gather close. Closer still. Are you sitting comfortably? Right. Let me tell you a tale, my little sex pumpkins.

Let me tell you what a shitty movie
Dead Snow

This derivative Norwegian lump (
Død Snø) made a stir on the festival scene back in 2009, and its trailers became an online sensation. Nazi zombies! How fun! How new! But I'm pretty convinced "Nazi zombies" was just the incantation that summoned earnest money from investors, who'd never heard of a little gem of Cushingiana called Shock Waves.

Look at that! Not just Nazi zombies, but underwater Nazi zombies. That's amping things up a bit.

I digress. Thing is, Nazi zombies, unless deployed in a correct context, are no scarier or more dangerous than regular zombies. Once risen, all zombies are equal, no matter what they did in life. We know that barricading oneself in a snowbound cabin with an undead horde outside is an untenable position, so does it really matter if the walking corpses are wearing Schutzstaffel armbands, or lederhosen, or nothing at all?

Not unless you're going to take it all the way. What do Nazis do that's bad? Two things come to mind, and since the setting of
Dead Snow is the ass-end of the fjords, we can discard "annexing the Sudetenland." If the trapped protagonists, each just vague silhouettes of slasher-flick victim stereotypes, had some personal or ancestral stake in the matter -- if one or more of them were Jewish, say, or if they were the only ones in a position to repel a Nazi zombie putsch into the population centers -- that makes a difference. If the zombies had some ultimate purpose beyond, apparently, safeguarding the gold they looted during the war and killing any warm human who snowshoes onto their glacier -- that makes a difference. If their undeath spread like disease, as zombiehood usually does, and victims risked being transformed not just into walking corpses but into doctrinaire National Socialists ... you see where I'm going. Real monsters are metaphors, and these monsters are devoid of any meaning deeper than a uniform and a snarl.

The filmmakers would probably rather we not discuss politics, but they brought it up. Nazis are political, and any cinematic impact they carry is rooted in their well-recorded misdeeds. (I mean, they recorded them themselves.) I fear we're moving too far away from that history, so there's no shame in proving Godwin's Law anymore. Dead Snow is like a facet of the Tea Party protests, where fringies decry national health care with reductio ad Hitlerum placards -- for shock value, just to get the cameras turned their way.

Dead Snow's posthumous brownshirts, although acting in an organized military fashion, aren't driven by any racist or nationalist ideology or even a hunger for brains. It's dangerous in that it's so free of real-world reference. Even
Shock Waves had the sense to touch on Nazi medical butchery, to make the gimmick matter. Raiders of the Lost Ark highlighted the Nazis' territorial aggression and racial doctrine, and then meted out God's incinerating justice.

Halloween movie fests are a tradition. It's fun to select a stack of flicks for your party or sleepover and indulge in a case of the creeps, or the titters. Dead Snow is available on Netflix Instant Watch. Avoid it. Don't rent the disc, don't torrent the stream. I don't care how much you love ScandiHorror -- this is not Let the Right One In. As horror spoofs go, this is not even Shaun of the Dead and it's a hell of a long way from Evil Dead 2. It's just a waste.

Okay, I misspeak -- there's
one good kill. One! A Nazi zombie hooks his fingers into a fat guy's eye sockets and pulls until his skull splits and his still-living brain flomphs out on the cabin floor. That's ... pretty awesome. But it's just a garnish on a bucket of vacuous bilge, something that's hollow and desperate at best and, at worst, subtly corrosive to the untutored conscience.

You know what else is on Netflix Instant? Shock Waves.

To end on a positive note: I'd love to know the fright films, if any, that find their way to your home screen around Halloween time. My touchstones are the Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and From Beyond, the first Alien, and select Hammer fare including, but not limited to, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Please share in comments ... and Happy Halloween, my tumescent sin biscuits.


Rick said...

Similar to Dead Snow, A Serbian Film completely lacks any sociopolitical depth and contains missed opportunities for meaningful subversive ideas, but I would recommend the film for the It-Did-Not-Just-Go-There moments. Empty-headed and full of shock for shock's sake, A Serbian Film is well-made, effective, and worth it for the endless boundary-smashing. A good new choice for this time of year! And the first movie in a while to make me feel physically and emotionally sick.

braak said...

Hahah, yeah, that movie was dumb. It's actually the reason that I wrote that post ("On Horrible Things"), because you're exactly right--since zombies are mindless killing machines, giving them the accoutrements of ideology is a pointless exercise in...well, I don't even know what. Smug self indulgence, I guess? A bit of a, "look how clever we are, we're equating ZOMBIES with NAZIS, heh heh heh," (only you say it in Norwegian).

Because I find it hard to believe that any actual film-maker (or even human being--I'm sure it's the product of corporate committee) could genuinely accept the SyFy channel's system of Monster Combinatorics.

If Nazis are bad, and Zombies are bad, we could combine them into something EVEN WORSE THAN THAT. Also, let's make some of them robots, and give on a jet pack. ALSO A MUTANT SHARK.

Jefferson Robbins said...

"Se hvor flinke vi er, vi likhetstegn zombier med NAZIS, heh heh heh."

Anonymous said...

Exactly right, Jefferson. But so it goes with zombie movies in general--which is why I'm so sick of the genre. This modern incarnation is breeding a whole new generation of sociopaths who believe that, under the right circumstances, it's okay to go on a mindless killing spree. Of course, George Romero has been warning us about that for forty years, but how much stock are you supposed to put into his social allegories when he keeps making zombie movies? Nazi zombies, ironically, only accentuate that absence of moral dimension. Two shorthands for "evil" that require no further explanation! That's prime fodder for a first-person shooter, right there.

You're right that Shock Waves is smart enough to acknowledge that history of human experimentation, but within its premise is the subtle implication that the Nazis only performed experiments on themselves; to go any farther down that road is too horrible a prospect for these fatuous fictions to contemplate. But even the idea of kills in a Nazi-horror property should be a queasy one. At what point do you address how the SS tortured their victims? Or, furthermore, the Aryan connotations of a lone white badass mowing down an army of stormtroopers? (To be fair, the "Wolfenstein" series establishes its hero as Polish-American--I'm sure many others make similar concessions, but it's still a problem.)

Perhaps Inglourious Basterds will set a different tone for the cinematic landscape.

Jefferson Robbins said...

See, "Nazi zombies" is a perfect first-person shooter. The entry point is golden. But in the case of a whole movie (when that movie is Dead Snow), the entry point is all you're left with. I don't necessarily agree that zombie couture is desensitizing players/moviegoers in and of itself, but I do think there's danger in removing "what Nazis signify" from the real conversation.

For those not familiar with Braak's "On Horrible Things" thought-exercise, there it is. He is a person who has spent far too much time thinking about monsters, to our benefit.

jer fairall said...

As a horror non-enthusiast, I generally like to spend the week or so leading up to Halloween filling in some of the gaps in my viewing with films appropriate to the occasion. This year, so far, I've watched Murnau's Nosferatu (some great images and a brilliantly rat-like vampire, sure, but often tedious and surprisingly soft in the end; sacrilegious as it may be to say so, I really do prefer Herzog's version), Ernest B. Schoedsack's original The Most Dangerous Game (crushingly unsubtle in establishing the "hunter has become the hunted" theme, but lots of fun overall) and Guillermo Del Toro's Cronos (naming the undead protagonist Jesus is a bit much, but Del Toro clearly knew what he was doing from the very beginning), with Dolores Claiborne and William Friedkin's Bug (and Murnau's Faust, if the library can get it to me in time) still to go.

Generally like to watch an actual favourite on the day itself. Last year was The Blair Witch Project. This year will probably be The Shining.

braak said...

I agree about Murnau's Nosferatu; ground-breaking for what it was, I suppose, but more than a little dull. Herzog's version, of course, had the benefit of being made in a world in which Murnau's already existed, thus proving that there's actually a lot of artistic merit in the idea of the remake.

Alex Jackson said...

I'm sure we're going to get somebody to stand up for conventional wisdom, but I'll third the notion that Murnau's Nosferatu is overrated. It's good, but it's minor Murnau that isn't in the same category as Faust, Sunrise, and The Last Laugh. What's the point of taking the sex out of Dracula?

Herzog's remake is, in fact, much better.

Bill C said...

Strangely, PET SEMATARY has become something of a Halloween perennial for me. Even though I don't think it's especially well made, its clunkiness dilutes its bleakness just enough to make the movie palatable, and it's a brisk horror fix. Fred Gwynne is magnificent in it--and his performance usually puts me in the mood for a few episodes of "The Munsters" afterwards.

Mostly I try to seek out previously-unseen stuff during Halloween season, and I don't mind scraping the barrel a little--that's part of the fun. I haven't done enough exploring this year, though. Sad emoticon.

Fourthed on the Murnau NOSFERATU. Feels too much like homework.

Kyle Puetz said...

Sigh. And right before I potentially take a date to a local showing of the Murnau Nosferatu on Thursday, you all have me second-guessing myself.

Bill C said...

@Kyle: Don't not go--it should be pretty cool on the big screen!

matthewlha said...

Murnau's Nosteratu does not take the sex out of Dracula; when he finally gets the girl, he rubs his creepy hands all over her left breast. Still kind of a dull movie, though, overall.
Every Halloween I watch An American Werewolf in London, which I find more moving and clever each year, probably more so than the movie itself deserves. Walter Chaw's review of the 70's Body Snatchers makes me want to re-visit that one, which I haven't seen since I was a kid, but of which I still remember so much.
And always The Shining.

Alex RoQ said...

Strangely (or not?) enough, the only really concrete horror tradition I've developed over the years is to the watch Bob Clark's excellent Black Christmas some time before December 25th, usually followed at some point by the so-bad-I-can't-take-my-eyes-off-it Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (speaking of, I was surprised to see how much I differ in my views of some of the more well known "awesomely bad" movies here in recent posts- while I have no problem laughing off The Room as a bizarre, incompetent vanity piece, I find Troll 2 completely affecting- it's like if Lucio Fulci had directed my childhood fears/delusions). As for Halloween movie traditions, I'll usually try to watch Carnival of Souls and catch a few hours of whichever channel is having a Friday the 13th marathon on TV.

While we're on the subject of horror movies that may or may not deserve their reputations, anyone here catch The Human Centipede yet? I finally found it at my local movie rental place and honestly, I loved it. To my surprise, the focus really felt more on the weirdness and novelty of the premise (a wonderfully literal-minded take on Cronenberg's man-as-insect) than on the rather silly torture/gross-out stuff with which it was hyped. The tagline that it's "100% Medically Accurate" is rather silly, but maybe that was part of the charm for me.

DJR said...

Here's a guy who prefers the Murnau Nosferatu. Matter of fact, I found the Herzog remake kinda shoddy in many respects. The footage of society going to shambles was spectacular however. I actually prefer Coppola and Maddin's flamboyant interpretations over Herzog's.

Every Halloween season I try to watch as many horror movies I haven't seen before as possible, trying to mix it up with the old and the new, the popular and the obscure, etc. I actually just watched Shock Waves a week or so ago and rather liked it, but the best so far has been Raw Meat.

Anonymous said...

I like Chaw and I realize that we all have our political biases, but you really, really have to stretch to lay the existential horror of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a film usually read as a satire of I'm-OK-You're-OK new age bullshit) at the feet of Reagan. More than one kind of conformity in the world, you know.

Alex Jackson said...

Funny that I only remember the groping session from Herzog's Nosferatu. This is despite seeing the Murnau film fairly recently, years after seeing Herzog's.

At least, the Dracula in the Murnau film isn't really personified. You don't really get a feeling for his perspective like you do in the other Dracula films. There's no sense that he has a (sexual) hunger for blood.

And accordingly, no sense that the film's Mina is so turned on by the idea of being this ghoul's concubine that she will willingly leave her comfortable real estate broker fiance for him. Like there is in Coppola's, Browing's, and I guess Herzog's. She's dutifully pure about having to have her blood sucked by Dracula all through the night, but she sure does moan through the whole thing.

New Halloween tradition: burning through the Halloween series! One a year. It's surprisingly satisfying. These are consistently good stylishly made films and they all genuinely manage to capture some of the magic of the original. I really look forward to revisiting Haddonfield, Illinois every year.

Also yeah, I try and spend the month plugging up blind spots. Only really gem I've seen so far is actually Abel Ferrara's Driller Killer, but I have Deathdream at home right now.

Alex Jackson said...

I like Chaw and I realize that we all have our political biases, but you really, really have to stretch to lay the existential horror of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a film usually read as a satire of I'm-OK-You're-OK new age bullshit) at the feet of Reagan. More than one kind of conformity in the world, you know.

Speaking of which, I hope we can be forgiven for viewing Nosferatu as proto-Goebbels with that ratlike vampire fucking the German women. There's definitely something to that though, given that Dracula is inherently xenophobic.

But I think I might not have made myself very clear in the above post. Murnau's Nosferatu isn't as much a person with needs as he is an abstract concept (like "evil").

Jefferson Robbins said...

Reagan was governor of California for eight years. He was probably still governor when the Body Snatchers script was being written. I might not take it as far as Walter does, but for a movie about paranoia and conformity set in San Francisco (remember that Reagan occupied Berkleley to quell civil unrest there), it lends a kind of context.

Mike A. said...

Although I've not seen the film yet, isn't it implicit that Dead Snow is about the de-politicization of Nazi imagery in popular culture?

The entire premise of the film is that these Nazis have been stripped of their ideology. So of course they're not Nazis anymore! They've been reduced (or arguably elevated) to the level of pure image - the same way pirates and ninjas (and zombies) have been rave been recently.

Nazism may be dead, but its iconography simply cannot be destroyed. See what I mean? Intentionally or not, the Nazi Zombie is really the perfect metaphor.

Dan said...

I rented Dead Snow, it arrived, and then I mysteriously just sent it back -- sensing it would be terrible somehow. I rarely do that. The universe helped me out, it seems.

I tend to watch The Shining once a year, often around Halloween. This year I'm keen to revisit The Exorcist III for some reason.

DaveA said...

I know this should be posted under one of the videogame threads, but here you go:

Super There will be blood


Jefferson Robbins said...

Hickenlooper. Man. A serious shock.

John Bishop said...

To celebrate the purchase of a new HD home theater system, my October 31 was devoted to a trilogy of terror that included John Carpenter's The Thing and William Lustig's Maniac, both long-time favorites, but also an odd choice due to holiday theme that might stick with me next year, that being Bob Clark's Black Christmas.

I heard of Lisa Blount's passing and so wanted to program "Dead & Buried" into the mix, but that was eventually a November 1 choice.

I revisited Invasion of the Body Snatchers in time for Walter's review and will definitely consider it a perennial favorite on the basis that it is such a tense experience. I had to interact with the film by the time Donald Sutherland's Matthew was napping during duplication ("Wake up!"). Here's hoping "Don't Look Now" is reissued by Criterion for its eventual Blu-Ray release.

Anonymous said...

This review sucks.

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