Sarah Kremen-Hicks reanimates the Norwegian horror film Dead Snow and realizes that the last ten years of history has rendered it far more terrifying than your average midnight movie.
The important question to answer when watching Dead Snow is whether it is a Nazi zombie movie, or a zombie Nazi movie. Which one is the noun and which is the adjective makes all the difference.
When I first watched it in 2009 (at a midnight screening at the Egyptian, because sometimes the fates conspire to give us the best possible viewing experience), I was quite certain it was about Nazi zombies. I was a connoisseur of zombie movies, and I was seeing it in the same theatre and timeslot in which I had previously enjoyed Lucio Fulci’s Zombie—up there with George Romero’s oeuvre as a classic of the genre, for my money. The fundamental nature of the monsters in Dead Snow was their zombiness.
I suspect Dead Snow saw itself the same way, as a zombie movie with Nazis painted on top to stand out from the crowd. Certainly it follows all the beats of a zombie movie so precisely that it might have been written by Mad-Lib: The movie opens with the first zombie kill, seen in a confusing flurry of camera angles. From there, we meet seven twentysomethings on their way to a weekend and a mountain cabin. Even if their names weren’t Norwegian, I doubt I’d remember them. We don’t see most of them long enough to get attached, and they’re only types anyway: Nice Boyfriend, Scared-of-Blood Boyfriend, Horny Guy, Nerdy Guy, Girlfriend, Single Girl, Horny Single Girl. (Sporty Girlfriend, although the rest don’t know, fell prey to the zombies earlier.) They leave the car far away and split up to establish that there is only one snowmobile available. A weird loner guy drops by unannounced to tell them the story of how once upon a time there were Nazis in them thar hills. Evil Nazis. More evil than usual. Tread lightly to avoid waking the evil, he tells them. They laugh. Then the disemboweling begins, starting with Horny Single Girl and Nerdy Guy. The only plot point out of the ordinary is when they find the hidden box of Nazi gold under the floorboards and, in clear violation of every horror movie ever, disturb it. The music cues suggest that the gold hitting the snow is what calls the zombies, although it’s unclear why they woke up and left their Nazi cave to eat Sporty Girlfriend earlier. This, too, is in keeping with zombie movie tradition—people are usually too busy getting eaten to worry too much about how the whole thing started. Maybe zombies just hate skiers.
It was good fun when I first saw it, and parts of it still are today—the snowmobile-mounted machine gun and Scared-of-Blood Boyfriend getting his junk bitten off remain highlights, and blood on snow is always a pleasing color palette. However, I can’t help but see it as a zombie Nazi movie now. Fascists are marching in the streets, carving swastikas into bullets before their shooting sprees, and the fascist in the White House claims that there are “good people on both sides.” Nazism has clearly dug its way out of its grave and is shambling around turning the populace. I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to watch this movie with the same early glee at the bloody absurdity of it that I once had. Nazis aren’t funny anymore. Maybe they never should have been.
When the real-life fascists started parading around openly a few years back, people would dismiss my concerns. “You’re in Seattle!” they’d say. “It’s not like anything will happen here!” In some ways they were right; we’re more insulated here than many places, and it’s taken a little longer for the infection to take hold here. It was hard to ignore the fact that the people saying it were exclusively white goyim, though. I remembered these interactions when, in the movie, Nerdy Guy shouts to his friends that as long as they barricade the door, the Nazis circling the cabin can’t get in. He’s got his back to a giant picture window when he says it, and a few seconds later we hear glass breaking, and he gets dragged out for a midnight snack. So long, Nerdy Guy. So long, sense of security.
Similarly, a scene that played as funny before looks different these days: when Scared-of-Blood Boyfriend gets bitten and worries about turning, Horny Guy reminds him that his grandfather was Jewish, and that the Nazis wouldn’t want him as one of them. Funny. Except that token Jews are out there as we speak, acting as fig leaves for this administration. How could someone with a Jewish daughter be antisemitic? “Never again” can hardly mean now when a Jew is masterminding the concentration camps.
We call these people shandas, and they’re so very loud.
The climactic scene, when the zombie Nazi leader, flanked by two lieutenants, steps over the hill to face the three who are still alive, is still beautifully shot, but the chill I get on seeing it isn’t the pleasurable horror movie shudder anymore. The intervening ten years have rendered Dead Snow properly horrific, and far too close to home. These days, I find myself scanning crowds for red hats and iron cross tattoos with the same feeling, worried that I might find myself surrounded. When the Nazi leader shouts “Rise!” in a voice that echoes back from the mountains, and the snow erupts with hundreds more zombie Nazis, the plucky heroes (now down to two) look at each other and realize they aren’t going to make it out. I sympathize with that look, because I’m afraid I’ll find it on my own face in the not-too-distant future.
Unexpectedly, accidentally, Dead Snow, a goofy midnight zombie flick, has become a horror movie for our time.