Zombie films have proven fertile ground for perceptive directors aiming to bring society’s hidden truths to light—most notably George Romero’s Living Dead series, which first suggested the genre’s complexity in 1968 with its implicit anti-Capitalist and anti-military subtexts. Since then, critics have gazed scrupulously at the zombie film, seeking to uncover what it tells us about the culture we inhabit at a given moment in time. So what exactly do the blood-guzzling Nazi zombies in Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow (DÃ¸d snÃ¸) tell us about what’s lurking in the current collective unconscious? Do the Nazi dead still haunt us?
Dead Snow, the Norwegian director’s second film, starts off like your run-of-the- mill horror flick: Co-eds rent cabin in the woods. Co-eds get wasted, proceed to have sex. Creepy passerby warns co-eds of impending doom. Co-eds await gory death. Except in this film, death takes the form of a squadron of thawed Nazis, driven into the mountains by angry Norwegian villagers 64 years earlier. Needless to say, these undead soldiers come back with a vengeance much more powerful than your average case of freezer burn.
By weaving Norway’s history of Nazi occupation into an otherwise Evil Deadesque blood and guts free-for-all, Wirkola introduces an element seldom seen in zombie films: history. According to Aviva Briefel, associate professor of English at Bowdoin College and noted horror movie expert, Dead Snow can be read as a call to “never forget,” but the concept of regurgitated Nazis is almost too obvious in terms of cinematic symbolism, especially given the film’s over-the-top premise and execution. Instead, Briefel sees the flick as one giant joke about forgetfulness.
“If you make Nazis into zombies,” she explains, “you’re saying you’re far enough from that trauma to make fun [of the past and] turn it into a monster.” It’s as if Wirkola is saying that Nazis are no longer scary on their own terms and need to be brought back as zombies to be truly horrible again.
Despite the fact that the film features a half-Jewish protagonist, Martin, don’t worry. Snow doesn’t degenerate into a hackneyed Holocaust-inspired horror show. Wirkola is far too clever for that. In one scene, a zombified Nazi attempts to scale a cliff using his own entrails. In another—in which Martin is bitten by a Nazi—his friend Roy tries to reassure him that he won’t become one of the undead: “You’re half Jewish. I don’t think they want you on their team.” Martin, unfortunately, is not convinced and takes the necessary measures. We won’t reveal his gruesome gesture, but let’s just say his act certainly suggests that the rules of the zombie universe end up frightening him more than those of the Nazi universe. At the end of the day, Wirkola leaves us wondering what kind of hold the Nazis still have over us.