Some of the best horror is absolutely stupid and downright hilarious. Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness, and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead have all appeased various generations looking for a giggle and a gasp. In 2009, Norwegian film director Tommy Wirkola continued that tradition by turning heads with his spectacular horror comedy, Dead Snow. The film worked off the stupidest pitch, making Kevin Smith’s Tusk appear like the work of David Koepp, as it focused on a group of medical students battling Nazi zombies during a ski vacation. Thanks to respectful nods and a number of peculiar subversions on the zombie genre, the film became a cult hit, enough that Wirkola landed a high-paying gig directing 2013’s not-so-good Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and, yes, the sequel everybody secretly wanted, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead.
Similar to Halloween II, The Karate Kid: Part Two, or, hell, Hostel: Part Two, Wirkola picks up the action right where Dead Snow left off, focusing on Vegar Hoel’s unlikely hero, Martin, who was last seen running away with a chopped arm and some mangled genitals, the latter of which has since been conveniently ignored. After a series of hilarious events, Martin finds himself in a hospital, where he’s accused of killing his friends after the authorities refuse to believe they were decimated by a dead Nazi regime led by the late Colonel Herzog. Here’s the twist: He has a new arm, and it doesn’t exactly belong to him, and it’s pumping all sorts of dark magic through him. Needless to say, meet your new antihero.
That’s by far the greatest strength of Wirkola’s young series. Martin was a forgettable pest all throughout Dead Snow, fourth (possibly even fifth) to the rest of the gang and especially that film’s Henry Cavill/Taylor Kitsch-look alike, Lasse Valdal. But that’s what makes him such a great hero; he’s unexpected and unassuming. In a way, Hoel comes off like a cross between Bruce Campbell, Tim Heidecker, Simon Pegg, and Jason Statham, all wrapped up as this low-brow badass who won’t stop fighting regardless of how many walls he’s tossed through. This time around, he’s surrounded by a bevy of characters to spitball with, from Martin Starr as the geek hero leader of the American Zombie Squad to Stig Frode Henriksen as his cat-loving, emo sidekick.
It’s a sequel in every possible way. The rogue’s gallery of heroes and villains have doubled. The action’s heavier. The stakes are higher. The violence blows through the stratosphere. Seriously. Nobody’s safe in Wirkola’s world, from the handicapped to the elderly to even toddlers. Those with faint hearts might scowl at the gore, but they’d be missing the point — it’s supposed to be asinine! You shouldn’t be wincing; you should be laughing — Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear-styled cackling, cigar and all. It’s impossible to take this movie seriously. Once again, it’s about Nazi zombies who, yes, eventually fight Russian zombies, if you were wondering about that equally ridiculous title. Wirkola has expanded his ludicrous mythology to add in the Ruskies, which only ensures the longevity of this series.
The sequel has its faults, though. The original was in Norwegian with subtitles, and this one’s in full English, which does take away from the overall spirit, even if it makes sense with the addition of Starr, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Ingrid Haas. Speaking of DeBoer and Haas, while their characters are funny and charming enough, they play up the nerd role in a way that’s quite intoxicating despite being self-aware. Towards the end, DeBoer delivers a line from a famous franchise that’s somehow more torturous as its implied on screen. These character quirks do add to their foundation, but it’s also questionably pandering in a way that’s slightly insulting. In other words, if you’re a self-proclaimed dork, you’ll probably feel embarrassed for them. Maybe that’s the point?
Regardless, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead is even more fun than its predecessor, thanks to tight pacing, clever plotting, and an expanded mythology that stays true to its aura. As Raimi showcased with his Evil Dead trilogy, any succeeding film must turn the valve up on something, whether it’s the gore, the action, or the comedy. Wirkola does all three. What’s more, he also has a series regular in Hoel, an antihero worth championing and eventually owning as an action figure from NECA. So, apologies to Ashley Williams, but it’s time to make room for Martin. Christ, what a world we live in.