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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME 86 Minutes
• No Special Features
It’s more of a skirmish, really.
Andrew Tiernan, Mikko Leppilampi, Samuel Vauramo, Jouka Ahola, Mark Wingett
March 1941. Captain Martin Stone (Andrew Teiernan) leads an American unit on a mission to destroy a secret Nazi underground bunker. Fighting alongside an elite platoon, the soldiers find themselves attacked by the same men they killed in an earlier assault. Now, the remaining officers must struggle to survive against the war’s most terrifying enemy… a flesh-hungry army of the living dead.
Nazisploitation is officially back. Those who doubt the truth of that statement need only look around them. Outpost, Dead Snow, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, and on this very disc there are previews for two other Nazi-centric genre movies: Iron Sky and The Devil’s Rock. I’m not sure if this is the result of pop culture having reduced Nazis to moustache-twirling b-movie villains like Ninjas and Cultists or just a result of today’s film-makers dipping back into the schlock cinema of the 60s and 70s; which of course included the original wave of Nazi-sploitation movies. It’s kind of a chicken-or-egg question but it’s probably Quentin Tarantino’s fault.
With Nazis and Zombies being such hot commodities in the genre market right now it’s only natural that they should cross over, yet strangely enough it hasn’t been a major trend. The only two examples of the Nazi Zombie genre I can think of are Dead Snow and Outpost, and both of those took place in modern times rather than their natural habitat of 1930s-40s Europe. So War of the Dead is the first Nazi Zombie movie I can think of that is actually a World War II movie as well. Of course, the cover art exaggerates a bit: there are Nazis (briefly) and there are zombies (for most of the movie) but they rarely if ever cross over.
Early on in the Blitzkrieg, the Nazis were trying to find a “cure for death” by experimenting on Russian prisoners, things went awry and we flash forward to a group of Finnish soldiers (along with some token Americans) as they try to cross the Finland/Russia border to destroy an enemy bunker on the other side. As they make their way toward their objective they are assaulted by some soldiers and they dig in for an assault come morning. Unfortunately, shortly after the sun sets, a large group of snarling super-zombies starts jumping out of the trees and chowing down on everyone.
Five men escape the massacre and find a young Russian soldier hiding in a trench. The Russian takes them to a nearby house where the men barricade themselves in. One character begins to show villainous tendencies, another slides into the unlikely and reluctant hero role. Both of these characters are killed and we are left with the Russian, an American, and a Finn. The latter two characters have not been strong personalities so far and seemed to be cannon fodder but they now step up to the plate. They set the house on fire and escape in a car, having a showdown with the now-zombified villainous guy who is dispatched as they drive away to safety. 30 minutes have elapsed; there is still almost an entire hour of movie left.
War of the Dead is a frenetically paced movie. It clocks in at a mere 86 minutes and feels about twice as short, yet it encapsulates enough plot for a two-and-a-half hour epic. There’s so much plot packed in here that overly-indulgent dramatic beats, excessive use of Zach Synder-like slow motion, and a romantic subplot that goes nowhere barely even slow the movie down.
This pacing works both for and against the film. While the characters are very well-built, especially considering how little time we spend with them, there’s not a lot of time to become emotionally invested in any of them. This makes all the dramatic death scenes fall flat. The pace also makes it very easy to miss important plot points; I had to re-watch several scenes to understand what exactly happened in them. The upside is that even when scenes don’t work they’re over so quickly that you scarcely have time to become annoyed.
I have to tip my hat to the writer. The were several points where I thought I knew exactly where this movie was going and I was wrong every time. So many seemingly important characters are killed off in the first 30 minutes that it feels like no one is safe and that’s a feeling not many horror movies can accomplish anymore.
I also have to highlight Andrew Tiernan as Captain Stone. Stone is the epitome of the lantern jawed Bruce Campbell-ish cocky badass. He hams it up and in a climactic scene has a fist-fight with a boss zombie. I kind of admire how stereotypically American he is and I kind of wish he had a ludicrously thick New York accent, a big cigar, and a spit curl.
War of the Dead is one of the most well-shot low budget movies I’ve ever seen. Camera angles are dynamic but never get self-indulgent. Slow motion does get over-used a bit, but it’s really only to showcase some really good fight choreography. The camera work is very reminiscent of early Sam Raimi but doesn’t ever go overboard and try and rip it off the way Dead Snow did.
The movies I was most reminded of were Outpost and Dog Soldiers and while I didn’t enjoy War of the Dead as much as either of those, I do think this is a favorable comparison. War of the Dead suffers from a few weak scenes and its emotional payoffs feel unearned, but it’s shot beautifully, acted wonderfully, the action scenes work well, and the pacing works to obscure the film’s few downfalls.
War of the Dead isn’t the World War II zombie film anyone asked for but it’s a good enough movie to stand on its own two feet.
War of the Dead contains both a Blu-Ray and DVD edition. Both discs contain no special features and English subtitles. Both discs are presented in 2.35:1 format (16X9 on the DVD, 1080p HD on the Blu-Ray). The DVD has 5.1 Dolby digital sound and the Blu-Ray has DTS-HD Master Audio.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars