There’s something unappetizing about a genre that derives its comical foundation from viscera in the most absurd, graphic, and repetitive sense. Like its predecessor, “Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead” heaps entrails and endless liters of blood onto the screen as straight-faced actors combat a Nazi zombie uprising. There are those who want nothing more, but the excesses of this sequel are resoundingly empty.
But the movie naturally caters to its core audience, which delights in the fun of zombie massacres. It takes minimal nuance or storytelling craft to pull that off: Victims this time around include a woman in a wheelchair, children in a sandbox, and an elderly couple bathing and defecating in the bathroom; the finale involves the Nazi and Soviet undead engaged in a melee straight out of “Braveheart." How can you go wrong?
After a brief recap of the earlier entry, narrated like a classic revenge story by sole survivor Martin (Vegar Hoel), “Red vs. Dead” picks up right where the original left off: Martin, haunted by accidentally killing his girlfriend, Hannah (Charlotte Frogner), escapes General Herzog’s battalion but overturns his car on the snow-draped, icy roads. He wakes up in a hospital, momentarily relieved that EMTs got to him before the zombies…until he notices the handcuffs and, in what turns out to be one of the film’s mildest violations of the body, that Herzog’s severed arm has been attached to his elbow. The worst of it: The police are pinning the grotesque murders of his friends on him.
With his zombie arm acting of its own accord, Martin escapes the hospital with a body count in his wake. Fleeing the authorities, he gradually attains better control over his demented arm and narrows in on vengeance. In the process, he corrals the Zombie Squad, who turn out to be nobody geeks (Martin Starr, Ingrid Hass, and Jocelyn DeBoer) and annexes a museum attendant whose life he saves. Does that sound remotely intimidating? But wait. Not only does the hand empower Martin with Herzog’s strength, it also gives him the general’s magic: the power of resurrection. With the guidance of a Soviet history lesson, Martin raises an army for the final showdown with Nazi zombies.
Wirkola employs references with an incessantly self-aware style. “I’ve watched a thousand zombie movies and this isn’t in any of them,” one member of the Zombie Squad says, and in reference to the sorcerer zombies that crop up at one point, he's right. But the referential ingredients and one-note gags abound. George A. Romero surrounded the zombie killing in “Dawn of the Dead” — the most blatantly humorous of the zombie godfather’s zombie films —with scene after scene of complex satire. No such luck here.
Still, “Red vs. Dead” does include some genuinely funny bits. Some of the carnage is shockingly inventive—there’s at least one use of human intestine never before seen on film, and the aforementioned wheelchair death unfolds with hysterical results. Wirkola blissfully rebels against some typical horror rules—don’t mess with the kids, animals, and seniors. And, just like the original, the overall craftsmanship—not least of all the practical effects—is top-notch. Even so, "Red vs. Dead" lacks a sufficient amount of the very element that should rescue it from mediocrity: a healthy sense of irony.
Criticwire Grade: C+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? The cult response can't match enthusiasm for the original, but genre fans will certainly turn to it on VOD, the only real outlet appropriate for this kind of project.