Friday, April 22, 2011

The Significance of "Dead Snow"

While there might be a way to make a serious movie about Nazi zombies, Dead Snow (2009) is not it. It is horrific and exciting, but also tongue-in-cheek, even camp. Yet even a funny zombie movie can contain a profound significance. The significance of Dead Snow is, to paraphrase Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to be eaten by it.

The normals in Dead Snow are young Norwegians all but devoid of historical memory. They are medical students, looking ahead to bright futures, enjoying the toys of their upper middle-class present, such as their snowmobile and their cabin in the snowy mountains. Their memory extends back only as far as Hollywood movies from the 1980s, such as The Terminator and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Their interests, like those of many horror movie young people, are largely confined to beer and sex.

A strange, older wanderer tries to warn the young people in the cabin about the danger around them by telling them a story about the Nazi occupation of Norway in World War II, and the peculiar fate of the Nazis in this region. The medical students are dismissive, and the wanderer dismisses them as spoiled brats. He is not far off. The kids go so far as to play with Nazi gold they find under their cabin. Then the Nazi zombies attack.

Like all zombies, the Nazi zombies wear hideous dead-person makeup, but it is even grayer and wrinklier than usual, as if they have been frozen in this wilderness for six decades. They still wear their Nazi uniforms and follow orders like Nazis. However, the key difference between them and the young people is that the zombies are true to the historical past. For them, World War II never ended. They remember and preserve the predatory dream they were fighting for, even if they are reduced now to nothing but eating Norwegians. The Nazi zombies are, in this sense, heroic. They demand that a younger generation remember what took place in the historical past--even if the only way to force them to remember it is to devour them. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to be eaten by it.

The Nazi zombies are, of course, not purely heroic. As zombies, they are horrible: deformed destructive beings. And as Nazis, they are the embodiment of evil. But the horror movie as a genre is always working contrapuntally, causing the audience to feel revulsion for the same creatures that are causing them delight, and making them think about the underside of whatever they claim to believe. The Nazi zombies are evil, but they are disciplined and wear their uniforms proudly. They remember what the young people have not even worked to forget.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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