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WesternSFA
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead
Stars: Vegar Hoel, Orjan Gamst, Martin Starr
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Rating: R
Running Time: 100 min
Released: 2014 - various film festivals;
October 2014 - DVD & limited theatrical
Reviewed by: Hal C F Astell

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The only screen villains better than Nazis are Nazi zombies and the 'Dead Snow' films are where Nazi zombies reach their peak. This is the best gorefest comedy since Peter Jackson's 'Braindead', the masterpiece to which deliberate homage was made on a T-shirt in the first picture.

I really enjoyed 'Dead Snow', a Norwegian film made in 2009, which I watched in wonderful company a few years ago. That allowed Tommy Wirkola to make an English language picture, 'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters', but with that out of the way, he was able to return to the film that made his name for a bigger budget, vastly more outrageous sequel.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of watching 'Dead Snow', it follows a bunch of medical students vacationing in the usual cabin in the woods. They discover a hoard of gold that wakens a horde of Nazi zombies from the Norwegian snow and all the expected gore ensues.

The lead character is Martin Hykkerud, who really hasn't had a great day as the first film ends and this one begins. He's just lost all his friends to reanimated Nazi zombies, he axed his girlfriend to death by accident and he even had to cut off his own right arm with a chainsaw to keep himself alive. 'Dead Snow' ends with a cliffhanger; the Nazis have all their gold back and Martin makes it to his car, but then one gold piece drops to the floor. It isn't over.

Returning five years later for this sequel, Wirkola ratchets up both the gore and the comedy from moment one. We're thrown right into the action, with one-armed Martin trying to drive away from his Nazi tormentors while Standartenführer Herzog tries to kill him. Martin knocks him loose with the aid of an eighteen wheeler, but ends up with Herzog's arm inside his car. After he crashes a little further down the road, he wakes up in hospital with the Nazi's arm transplanted onto his body, acting of its own accord and killing people all around him.

I'm not sure if I laughed more at the 'it's not what it seems' scene after he throws a kid through the hospital wall or the surreal sight of a bearded trucker trying to give the kiss of life to a Nazi zombie, but that's just the beginning of this picture. No, it has to be the moment where Herzog tries to Sieg Heil without a right arm. I didn't know it until now, but I've waited all my life for that moment and now I can die happy.

Vegar Hoel returns as Martin, clearly channelling 'Evil Dead' era Bruce Campbell in the early scenes. He proves as good in the English language as he is in Norwegian, surely a strong sign that he has a versatile future in store. He has a lot of competition here though, because Martin ends up with a quirky team to take on Herzog, his army of Nazis and the other folk he kills and reanimates on his way to complete the mission that Hitler gave him decades earlier, to destroy the entire Norwegian town of Talvik.

First up is Glenn, a young and clearly gay Iggy Pop lookalike who he saves at a Second World War museum (Stig Frode Henriksen was also in the original film but in a different role). Then the Zombie Squad arrive, a trio of American nerds who have been waiting for years for an opportunity like this: the hilariously over-confident Daniel, Monica the cute 'Star Wars' uberfan and Blake, who's too stereotypical a nerd chick for my tastes. There's even a troop of Russian POWs who were executed on Herzog's orders during the war and which Martin's new Nazi zombie arm is able to raise as the undead to wreak their revenge on the Third Reich. Raise a zombie to fight a zombie, right? But not just one, let's do it in battalions!

Best of all, there's Kristoffer Joner whose credited role, as 'Sidekick Zombie', really doesn't cover the magnificence that he brings to what may just be the best zombie character ever created for the screen. He's a wheelchair bound tourist when we first meet him, but he's promptly killed by a Nazi zombie. Martin brings him back to life accidentally, only to kill him again through instinctive reaction. He dies and comes back three times within as many minutes and his treatment really doesn't get any better from there. I adored this character and Joner's performance is pristine. It's even better on a second time through when scenes change and we laugh aloud because we know exactly what's about to happen to him.

While this is clearly a step up in every department from the first 'Dead Snow', it's not perfect. There are conveniences made to time, geography and the laws of physics that are far too obvious, let alone to the choreography. As much fun as some of these characters are, it's hard to take the Zombie Squad or their results seriously. Of course they're here for their comedy value, but they get stuck in the middle of a real war where they shouldn't last sixty seconds. As much fun as they are, how they do isn't remotely believable.

Even on the effects front, the masks of the Germans are much better than those of the Russians. While the gore effects are pretty outrageous not to mention frequent, they're outranked by the imagination that brings them to life. As Daniel points out to Martin, 'This is some unprecedented unheard of mysterious voodoo zombie shit, man.' Wirkola really aims to live up to that line, with violence so far from politically correct that it's hard to believe how much he does to people he shouldn't, but that's much of its charm. While the most overt influence here is from Peter Jackson, there's some of the Monty Python humour that Jackson channelled too.

Wirkola created something memorable in 'Dead Snow', just as Jackson did with my favourite movie of all time, 'Bad Taste'. However he took it to a whole new level with 'Dead Snow 2', just as Jackson did with 'Braindead'. Given where Jackson moved on to after that, the sky's the limit for Wirkola.

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