Dead Snow: Red vs Dead

Divine Silliness — A Zombie Movie for Everyone

Sequels have a bad rap. But there is no reason this has to be. In general, they are bad because the producers are just trying to make some quick cash. Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is an outstanding sequel.

In 2009, I almost died and ended up staying in a hospital for 7 months. Most of that time, I was in long-term care, meaning that I didn’t feel bad, but had to be there because they were still doing a great many medical procedures on me: three times daily IV injections of one kind of antibiotics, two other forms of oral antibiotics, CAT scans, ultrasounds, and much more. And since I was at a cheap hospital, there was no internet, little television, and a terrible selection of books. As a result, I got into the habit of reading the newspaper everyday.

Nazis, Zombies, and Lots of Intestines

One day, I came upon a short article buried deep in the culture section about an upcoming horror film out of Norwway. It was called Dead Snow and was about some young people who were vacationing in northern Norway. They unwittingly reanimate a hoard of Nazi zombies and spend the rest of the movie dying.

It sounded like too great a film a miss, but I was stuck in the hospital, and I’m not sure the film had even been released by that time. But it stayed in my mind for the few years before I actually got to see it. The film is played about as straight as a zombie picture can be at this point. And it had many chilling scenes. I’ll show you a collection of some of the more impressive scenes. (And if you are wondering, yes, intestines play a big role in Dead Show and its sequel.)

I thought no one survived the first film because everyone but Martin had clearly died. Martin gave the gold back to the Nazi zombies and was allowed to go. But when he got in his car, he found that he had inadvertently kept a gold coin. On seeing it, he picks it up, looks at it, and says, “Oh Fuck!” Now we see the Nazi commander at the driver side window; he punches the window and the film cuts to black. Credits.

Thus, I was surprised when the sequel Dead Snow: Red vs Dead came out. I was afraid it would be bad. It could, of course, have been one of those sequels where there are all new characters — like The Blair Witch Project sequel Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Or some ghastly prequel like the 2011 The Thing.[1] But this was not the case.

I was wrong to figured Martin was dead. It’s actually the perfect opening for Dead Snow: Red vs Dead. This is a movie, after all! People don’t just die because a zombie breaks their car window and grabs them. (See for example the excellent remake of Night of the Living Dead.) And indeed, after a brief explanation of what happened in the first film, this is exactly where Dead Snow: Red vs Dead starts.

Dead Snow Ending / Dead Snow: Red vs Dead Beginning
Dead Snow Ending and Dead Snow: Red vs Dead Beginning


Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is often refereed to Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead or just Dead Snow 2. So it is a sequel. Frankly, I don’t see how a film with Nazi zombies couldn’t be a success. It’s kind of like a movie about zomeie zombies. Or for Americans, who are horrified by ISIS, ISIS zombies. But Nazis are better because they have all symbolism. We have all seen a bunch of films with Nazis in them. Add the zombie element and you are golden. I’m shocked someone didn’t think of it sooner. But I think the problem was that the Nazis were never on American soil. So we had to leave it to the Norwegians. Americans couldn’t have Nazi zombies, but Norwegians could!

The first film was a pretty typical zombie film. It’s good — well worth watching. But after Dead Snow: Red vs Dead, it really acts as little more than a set-up for the sequel. And without the first film, the sequel never would have been made. According to Wikipedia, the film made a modest profit. But with DVD sells and distribution in other countries, I assume it made a lot of money. And when that’s the case, there will be financial-zombies lining up to invest in a sequel.

The only question is whether the sequel will be a by-the-numbers film that will impress no one other than 17 year old boys or whether it will be a work of art. Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is a work of art — a film that scares, thrills, and makes you laugh out loud. Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is a better film that its original. And its original was a good film.

Dead Snow was shot in Norwegian. But when the film took off, they dubbed it into English. And they did a great job. I doubt that most viewers would have even noticed. I recommend that English speakers watch the dubbed version. When the team came to make Dead Snow: Red vs Dead, they did something different. They shot it in English and then some. See the Trivia section below.

In order to cut costs, most of the film was shot in Iceland. The start of the film was shot in Norway, I assume to match the first film. But the rest of it was Iceland. Who would have thought that Norway’s Canada was Iceland.

What’s Interesting about Dead Snow: Red vs Dead

The two Dead Snow films share much in common. They have the same overall sensibility. When Tom Savini was hired to direct the remake of Night of the Living Dead, he asked himself, “How do I make zombies frightening again?” After all, zombies had now been used in television commercials to sell beer. Zombies aren’t, in their own right frightening. His solution was to focus on what zombies do: they eat your brains. In other words: zombies are frightening if you can get people to see them in terms of death. As much as I love the Savini Night of the Living Dead (and that’s a lot), I more agree with what Tommy Wirkola and company came up with.

And that is simply that zombie movies are ultimately silly and thus comedies. It’s true that when I was a kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Last Man on Earth (really the first modern zombie film) scared me to death.[2] I had so many dreams about it that I still remember them. But Dead Snow doesn’t take the zombies seriously. It has to make them Nazis to give them any horror at all.

The gore is there for laughs. And hey: Nazi zombies! But the film still maintained the pretense that we were all watching a horror film. And some of the film really is scary. When Hanna is hiding in a tree, it’s suspenseful. But as Nigel from This Is Spinal Tap would say, “Dead Snow: Red vs Dead brings the silly up to 11.” Or more like 12 or 13. It is not only very silly, it is in love with its own silliness.

Here is a short list of some of its divine silliness:

  • Martin and the Nazi commander each have their arms cut off and get the other’s arm reattached. This leads to things like Martin attacking a black guy because his arm is racist.
  • The Zombie Squad, professional zombie killers, come from America. They consist of three nerds whose only actual experience is watching films. Nonetheless, they manage to kick some major zombie ass.
  • Martin raises an army of Soviet zombies killed by the Nazis during World War II and there is literally a war between the Red Zombie Army and the Nazi Zombie Army.
  • The film ends with Martin reanimating Hanna — his girlfriend who he accidentally killed in the first film — and they, well, do it. But it’s even more delightfully twisted than you are thinking.
  • The core of the film is Vegar Hoel’s wonderful performance as Martin. He’s the only person in the film who seems truly to grok that there are Nazi Zombies roaming the land. Even the police seem strangely disconnected as they watch the two zombie armies fight each other.

When I watch a film, I get lost in it. This is one of the reasons that I insist upon watching a film several times before writing about it. But I don’t recall being scared at any time the first time I watch the film.

That’s not a put-down of the film. It just isn’t trying to be scary. It’s trying to be funny. And if you have a slightly twisted sense of humor, you will find it very funny.

Plot Summary

The film tells the story of the aftermath of the first film. Everyone but Martin is dead and so the police think that he is guilty and just making up all the nonsense about the Nazi zombies.

A thorough summary is presented below.

What Critics Say

Overall, critics liked the film okay. They didn’t love it. They didn”t appreciate it the way it was supposed to be. But mostly, they didn’t pan it. And that’s saying something because one of the foundations of this site is that critics are some of the stupidest people on the planet. The reason that it didn’t get any really bad reviews was because even critics aren’t stupid enough to notice that the film is parodying the genre.

Dennis Harvey of Variety noted that while the first film built up to its over-the-top gore, Dead Snow: Red vs Dead starts at the end of it. “Thus, the original’s gradual buildup toward inspired outrageousness is replaced by immediately full-on gore-horror comedy in a broader, dumber Troma-style vein.” The Troma reference is a low-blow. Yes, other people make horror/spatter comedies.[4] Who cares? But actually, the gore as comedy was used more in the first film.

Of course Harvey is the exception of “critical” opinion. I can’t find a review of his of the first film. So I wonder if he even saw it and rather just read a plot summary. Overall, the “critics” liked Dead Snow: Red vs Dead a lot more than they did the original. And that makes me think that they really didn’t get the first film. That’s one of my biggest complaints against film “criticism.” “Critics” see the film once and write a review of it. Other than reviews of live performances, I don’t know of any kind of criticism that works this way.

So if the critics of Dead Snow had been able to see the film two or three times, they probably would have liked it more. In the case of Dead Snow: Red vs Dead, they got a chance to effectively see the film twice and — Oh my God! — on the second viewing they got it!

Critical Nationalism

The worst thing about the reviews were the constant references to Evil Dead 2. I see some reference to it, but not nearly as much as these “critics” do. One even called Sam Raimi a “master of the genre.” Sam Raimi hasn’t even directed many of these films. He did Evil Dead, which was fine. But then he made Evil Dead 2, which is just a remake that shows he learned a bit about directing and had a bigger budget. And finally he made Army of Darkness, which is just pure comedy. The horror is incidental. Sam Raimi is not that interesting a director. I prefer Bruce Campbell to be honest. And he is nowhere near the caliber of Don Coscarelli.

So these American “critics” comparing Tommy Wirkola unfavorably to Sam Raimi sounds a lot like pure nationalism. Maybe these critics should be writing for National Review and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.


There’s something more. The film starts off with something of a serious observation. When Martin wakes up in the hospital, he finds that the police think that he killed his friends. That does make sense. I can imagine the Nazi zombies collecting their own bodies. That’s what armies do, right? So it really does look like Martin is guilty. Lucky for him, the rural Norwegian police are not used to dealing with serial killers and Martin gets away. What’s more, because of his Nazi arm, he ends up becoming an actual serial killer.

At the same time, there are many things in the film that are ham-handed. In particular, the plot wouldn’t make much sense without clumsy expositions numerous times during the film. For example, when all seems lost, Monica the Star Wars quoting Zombie Squad member says, “Wait! We have to kill him [Nazi commander]! They’re all bound to him like the Russians are to you. If he dies, the others will too.” If only she had realized that a half hour earlier, we could have skipped so much nonsense and death.

But the truth is, there is no reason for her to conclude that. They just killed the Nazi commander. It didn’t cause all the Russians to die. They would apparently require Martin to die. So it’s just a little exposition to provide a resolution for the film. It is, in other words, bad screenwriting.

But it doesn’t matter. When a film is working the silly zone, it can’t really go wrong. Awkward exposition, bad jokes, inexplicable plot devices: it all works to the film’s advantage. But even if none of it worked, we’d always have Nazi zombies. And that’s worth looking at, kid.

Dead Snow: Red vs Dead - Why You Must Watch This Film

What to Watch For

Unless you are squeamish, I don’t see how you can help but to love this film. Vegar Hoel is so compelling playing Martin. He’s the ultimate hero because he’s a total badass at the same time that he’s scared out of his mind. I will be looking for anything that he’s in. Dead Snow was really his first big film, and he only had one really great scene where he saws off his arm and cauterizes it. Sadly, after his fantastic performance in Dead Snow: Red vs Dead, he’s done a lot of work, but mostly in television. And not a lot of Norwegian television makes it to America.

But there is more than enough in this film to delight the lowbrow and highbrow alike.

Lowbrow Goodies

It’s hard to list everything worth noting in this film. It has a lot in common with the early Peter Jackson films, but the execution is much better. (That’s not a slight of Jackson; technologies evolve and Tommy Wirkola had much more to work with.)

  • Intestines: both Dead Snow films do more with intestines than I ever thought possible. Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is not as fascinated with them as the first, but there is still more than enough.
  • Good-guy Martin constantly being defeated by his Nazi zombie arm.
  • The truck driver giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the zombie leader but having trouble because the smell of his rotted flesh is so terrible.
  • Excessive gore.
  • Tank rolls over two police cars.
  • The arm switching
  • I’ve already mentioned it, but it’s too great: siphon gas from a bus to tank using one man’s intestines. That alone is worth the whole film.
  • The use of Sidekick Zombie to get the car unstuck from the snow. I must admit that I didn’t particularly like this scene. I see its brilliance. But truthfully, they could have used Sidekick Zombie in a less horrible way.
  • Zombie sex!

Highbrow Goodies

There are clearly a lot of elements of Dead Snow: Red vs Dead that are adult in nature. But it is explicitly a comedy. I wouldn’t even call it a horror comedy, because there is so little horror in it. Perhaps a better name for it is “splatter comedy,” but that’s more true of Dead Snow than its sequel. I think it is a film for adults who still enjoy The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.

Just the same, I fear that Americans in particular will miss some of the more important aspects of the film. We tend to think of World War II as involving Germany, the UK, the US, the USSSR, Japan, and France. But the Nazis were a lot more busy than that. They secured control of Norway in June of 1940. And they remained in control of the country for five years. Norway did not have a large Jewish population, but about a third of them were sent to concentration camps outside Norway. Others were simply murdered by the the Nazis. And some lucky Jews managed to flee to Sweden and the UK. But remember, at that time, fleeing to these countries was not the escape it appears today.

And even though Americans tend to leave the Soviet Union out of history books when it comes to Word War II, it was the Soviets who freed Norway from the Nazis. As was official policy of the Nazi government, the Nazis used a scorched earth approach to their retreat: stealing any valuables they could and destroying everything else. When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that the Soviet Union was a great and humanitarian country, although I’m not at all sure the people were worse off under Gorbachev than they are under Putin. But my main gripe is that Americans do not generally know how important the Soviets were to defeating the Germans and Japan, just because we don’t like them.

  • Shows that the Russians were the ones who liberated Norway. The rest of the Allies didn’t show up until the Nazis had been expelled.
  • The police officer in the hospital acts the way cops always do: thinking they have everything figured out based on little evidence.
  • Demonstrates that a man can love a woman, even when she’s dead.
  • Clever device to switch the arms between Martin and Herzog, allowing the whole film to exist.
  • Sidekick Zombie as a puppy dog. You can’t help but love him.
  • Shows what would really happen after a zombie attack. No one would believe the zombie story so the survivor would be arrested. Indeed, I’m sure the police would still try to arrest him even after seeing a battle between a hundred Nazi and Soviet zombies.


One should never worry too much about movies making sense. But there are several problems with the film.

The first one has to do with Dead Snow. At the beginning of the film, a woman who we later find out is Sara, is being chased and eventually killed by a Nazi zombie. The first time I saw the film, I didn’t think about it. I assumed that the Nazi zombies were awakened when the medical students found (and stole) their box of treasure. But that’s not the case. There are two Nazi zombie killings before the box is found.

So why doesn’t everyone know that there are Nazi zombies roaming around. And why has no one done anything about it? I know: the point of the film is to show Vegard (Sara’s boyfriend) dangling from a cliff from a Nazi zombie’s intestines. But really, I think they could have worked the screenplay so that the Nazi treasure reanimated the zombies. It would have made more sense. And they still could have kept the great scene with The Wanderer (Bjørn Sundquist). (Actually, I think that scene could have been expanded; Bjørn Sundquist is great!)

The second problem has to do with the tag where the Nazi doctor finds Herzog’s head, still alive. This was clearly place in the film so they could produce Dead Snow: Zombie Love. But it makes no sense. First, a tank fires at your head, it doesn’t just decapitate you. It turns your head into about a million little bits. But okay, I can accept that. What I can’t accept is how the Nazi doctor is still alive given that the whole point of the ending of Dead Snow: Red vs Dead was if Herzog died, all the other Nazis he controlled would be dead.

Also, if Herzog is still alive, why did the other Nazi zombies die.

These are the kind of questions you ask when you’ve watched a film way too many times! But admit it: you’re glad I have.


Dead Snow was shot in Norwegian. For the US release of the DVD, they dubbed it into English. It is probably the best dubbing job I have ever seen. I suspect that most people would not even know it was dubbed if they had not been told. I think next week, my blog post will be on dubbing. Unlike most film lovers, I think dubbing is great if it is done correctly. Having to read subtitles while watching a film is a total pain.

For Dead Snow: Red vs Dead, the film was shot in both Norwegian and English. Unfortunately, the US DVD only includes the English version. I would love to see the Norwegian version and compare the scenes. I’ll work on it. If I can do it I will add it to this article and also probably create a blog post for it.


Writer-director Tommy Wirkola is thinking about making a third film. I’ll leave it to you to decide if it is a good idea. He said:

As you know, [Martin] has a woman now, so we can deal with that. Maybe he has half-zombie kids. We haven’t seen half-zombies. We talked about opening the next film showing a zombie birth and it being the worst birth ever.

Also, of course, we find out at the end of the credits to Dead Snow: Red vs Dead that the Nazi commander’s head is still undead. So sure: there’s a film in there. It’s just a question of whether this second outing didn’t reach peak silly and that anything more would drift into tediousness. I will stay optimistic.

Update: since Tommy Wirkola has become a big-time Hollywood director, and I’ve heard nothing more from him, it appears a third Dead Snow will not be made.

Technical Information

Information about the movie itself:

  • Release date: January 2014
  • Length: 100 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Film: color
  • Language: Norwegian and English (two versions
  • Location: Iceland and Norway.

Obviously, so many more people are involved in the making of a film. And it is particularly hard in this film given it was made by northern European production companies. But here are some of the most important people behind it:

  • Director: Tommy Wirkola
  • Producers: Terje Strømstad and Kjetil Omberg
  • Screenwriters: Tommy Wirkola, Stig Frode Henriksen, and Vegar Hoel
  • Cinematographer: Matthew Weston
  • Camera operators: Mathis Ståle Mathisen (Norway), Hans Kristian Riise (Iceland?)
  • Editor: Martin Stoltz
  • Composer: Christian Wibe
  • Actors: Vegar Hoel, Ørjan Gamst, Martin Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, Ingrid Haas, and several others.
Frank Moraes (20 September 2016)


[1] Note that a prequel for The Thing could have been great. The original film is set up for it. Better would have been a sequel given the wonderful uncertain ending of the film.

[2] This will probably be the first DVD that I will release with commentary and extras given I can get a fine quality version, and I have a huge amount of stuff to discuss about this film. But don’t hold your breath; I plan to spend the next two years building an audience. It’s a great film. As Michael Weldon put it, “An end-of-the-world vampire/zombie thriller with an undeserved bad rep.”

[3] I do not advocate violence. What’s more, my understanding is that the book has a lot of misinformation that harm or even kill you.

[4] Troma is a film distribution company that that specializes in low budget horror. They made, for example, Zombiegeddon. I have no doubt that Troma would have distributed either of the Dead Snow movies and that no one at the company thinks their films are better. But the “critic” who made the comment was more interested in showing off his knowledge (which would be know mostly by insiders, but I guess since Variety is a trade paper that’s okay) than discussing the film seriously

DVD image taken from Wikipedia and licensed under Fair Use. Stills taken from the film and licensed under Fair Use.

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