Hematophagous audiences dissatisfied with Drag Me to Hell could do worse for a double feature than Dead Snow, a Norwegian love letter to American camp-horror. In fact, in many ways this highly derivative, second- (or possibly third-) generation blood-and-titter flick is more appropriate to juxtapose with Sam Raimi’s latest offering than, say, the original Evil Dead, because it captures the voracious cadence of an impassioned conversation about slasher romps without trumping the sanguine delirium of the genre’s zenith. Neither new release has the gallows wit or poetic carnage of a camp-horror masterpiece, but taken collectively they suggest that the eager spirit of Raimi’s most celebrated franchise, and its many disciples, is as easy to annihilate as a platoon of undead demons.
While it’s doubtful that Dead Snow will wrangle a following comparable to the cult films it prolifically alludes to (like April Fools Day), the balanced tone throughout gives it an advantage over most recent entries in the camp-horror canon (the unsavory unevenness of Cabin Fever comes to mind). Writer-director Tommy Wirkola maturely resists the urge to shove his plot—which concerns a small group of young adults on a ski trip who collide with Nazi zombies over the osteoporotic plot device of some gold coins buried under a secluded, snowbound cabin—toward either side of the laughter/fright divide, instead allowing the scenario’s spooky buffoonery to organically evolve. This restraint eventually pays off as Dead Snow climaxes in a collection of crisply-edited scenes that curiously mingle grotesque gratuity with subtle slapstick, such as a laugh-provoking sequence where a character is accidentally impaled on a tree branch and peers down in shock at the extended tube of his small intestine.
This approach naturally engenders a myriad of missteps as well: The cheap-o dialogue would’ve benefited from fewer smug references to films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the rapid-fire pre-battle weaponry montage is a bit too obvious of an Evil Dead homage, and the grumpy old timer who appears at the cabin doorstep to warn off the skiers with local ghost lore seems borrowed from Scooby-Doo. The smattering of death scenes are also fairly garden variety, save for the aforementioned entrails-entangling example, and a tragic instance of friendly fire that dispatches a lovely girl endowed with a Liv Ullman forehead and Harriet Andersson cheekbones. And as with most monster-driven horror films, the WWII-era zombies themselves are a visual disappointment. Their skeletal, gangrenous faces seem more the product of makeup mishaps than epidermal decay, and the Nazi motif is far too delicately utilized; there’s not a single somnambulistic “heil Hitler” from the resurrected ranks.
Still, the clever ways in which Wirola bucks tradition prove stickier than the standard flaws: The final zombie shoot-out, staged counter-intuitively in broad daylight, proves nearly as piquant as a scene where two of the characters get their rocks off in a tundratic outhouse (or are frozen turds a standard Scandinavian aphrodisiac?). While there’s no escaping that there’s nothing here beyond well-aged, finely grated gore-cheese, the vaguely bemused apathy toward the rancid subject matter is about as infectious as swine flu.