Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of 41-year-old Troma Entertainment, directed many of their feature films, including The Toxic Avenger, The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Tromeo & Juliet and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Kaufman has written six books and presented his “Make Your Own Damn Movie” masterclasses globally. His latest film, Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1, produced in association with Starz, premiered in 2014 and screened in The Contenders series at MoMA. He is currently working on Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 2 and The Toxic Avenger Part V.
Do not make the mistake of calling writer-director Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (which I saw earlier this year in Helsinki at the fantastic Night Visions Film Festival) a “genre film.” This movie is far beyond that. With great contributions from Wirkola’s co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen and leading man Vegar Hoel (Martin), Dead Snow 2 is made by master filmmakers in every aspect of the creative process: photography, writing, acting and direction. The sequel to the 2009 hit is a vast improvement on an excellent original. It is more ambitious, more original, more daring. This is a risk-taking film, and I loved it.
Whereas the first film was a clever twist on the “spoiled young adults head into the forest for a getaway and are soon terrorized and killed off one by one” story, Dead Snow 2 really opens up the universe in which these characters dwell. The action takes place all over the colorful and quaint towns and countryside of Norway. We are reunited with Martin, our protagonist from the original Dead Snow, who now finds himself being hunted by undead Nazi commander Colonel Herzog (Ørjan Gamst), who wants revenge on Martin for defeating him in the first film. Herzog beefs up his undead Nazi following tenfold, even adding a Tiger tank! Martin gets help from several others and in the finale he leads his own zombie army of Russian POWs into a thrilling battle that puts most Hollywood battles to shame. The film ends in an entertaining, emotionally satisfying and even touching manner. In a clear homage to Titanic, Martin revives his dead lover from the grave and engages in steamy zombie-necrophilia in his car.
Humor plays a vital role throughout the film. One of the best scenes happens during the climactic battle. The Nazi zombie doctor heals the wounded soldiers as they come off the field by stuffing them with straw and, at one point, by using a toilet plunger for a prosthetic leg. There is a great moment when Herzog is standing in front of the tank and the turret begins to turn, finally stopping with the barrel directly behind his head. Those few seconds of anticipation of what is coming next are a thrill. There are many tiny details and moments that deepen and enrich the quality of the film, and whether it’s humor or horror, they always come across perfectly.
Another fantastic scene is the one in which Martin comes across a Nazi heritage museum in the middle of nowhere. Here he meets a peculiar character, Glenn, played by aforementioned co-writer Stig Frode Henriksen (who sensibly balked at getting naked and taking a sauna with me in Helsinki). Fans may recognize him from his performance as Roy in the first Dead Snow film. Glenn is the very effeminately gay curator of the museum. The Nazis soon find their way to the museum and attack the innocent tourists outside. Martin and Glenn hide in Nazi uniforms and pretend to be mannequins. Herzog and his zombie army are considerably confused by the contents of the museum but take the opportunity to re-arm themselves, most notably with the vintage Tiger tank parked outside.
The first Dead Snow was produced on modest budget of $800,000. After the success of that film, and Tommy Wirkola’s subsequent entry into mainstream films with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, the budget for Dead Snow 2 was boosted to a very healthy $5.4 million. We have seen many filmmakers play it safe, too terrified to keep being bold because they’re afraid of blowing their big chance at mainstream success, but not here. Much as James Gunn held onto his artistic vision and personal worldview even while directing the mega-budgeted Guardians of the Galaxy (which had heart and emotion and didn’t become a soulless Star Wars clone), Tommy Wirkola rewards his audience by expanding the story and its scale, all the while keeping the characters close and at the forefront. In addition to keeping things gory and scary, Wirkola successfully manages to make this film original, hilarious, romantic, touching and totally his own.
With all the extreme and bizarre ideas realized here, I have to congratulate the filmmakers for not going too far. If Troma and I had produced Dead Snow 2, it would have certainly crossed the line. There would be Nazi zombies pulling zombie Jews out of their graves and throwing them into zombie ovens and zombie gas showers. As with all Troma films, the filmmakers would have definitely ended up economically blacklisted.
Every shot of Dead Snow 2 makes sense and is crafted with beauty. Even something as simple as a distant wide shot of a car driving right to left is beautiful. I believe that in the fullness of time Dead Snow 2 will be recognized as a masterpiece. Following mind-blowing films like Headhunters and Trollhunter, this is not merely one of the best films to come out of Norway since 1987’s Pathfinder, it is among the best films on this big blue marble we call Earth.
[Troma presidential assistant Danilo Cordani also contributed to this piece.]