War of the Dead Review

When I first saw the cover of War Of The Dead I thought to myself, “Nazi zombies, eh? Didn’t I already see Dead Snow?” This is another instance of not judging something based on its outward appearance. What starts off as a pretty good war movie overwhelmingly takes a careening turn into an equally well thought out zombie flick.

First off, I’ll get the technical jargon out of the way. With a budget of only about 1 million Euros (roughly $1.3M) this movie has a really high quality of production. The use of slow motion throughout the movie seems to be an art in itself and isn’t overdone as is stylized by a lot of modern horror films. Combine this with a variety of interesting camera angles and the viewer is really drawn into the battles and stress that each character in the movie is experiencing. I also always have a special place in my heart for movies that are filmed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It just feels like there’s more film to watch, more to see, more places for the boogeyman to jump out at you from. As a matter of fact, my only real qualm with the production quality of this movie is that the audio track seems to be just slightly out of sync with the video. Typically for a movie with foreign influences this wouldn’t be a problem for me, but with the careful attention that was paid to every other detail this seemed like something someone would have noticed before declaring the project finalized. It’s really not a huge issue but try watching a German Shepherd barking when the audio track is just slightly off. It is a bit perplexing.

War Of The Dead begins with a gentleman who appears to be the unwilling main participant in a Nazi experiment. He is restrained to a table and injected with some type of ominous looking liquid. In moments he is writhing on the table in utter agony before finally going limp. As the camera moves closely in on his face, his eyes suddenly open revealing to the viewer that his irises have now become devoid of color. As has become the standard with this type of film, it is to be assumed that he is now of the undead persuasion.

This scene is followed by a blurb informing the viewer that in 1939 Nazi doctors were performing “anti-death” experiments along the Finnish/Russian border. On the orders of Hitler himself all experimentation is abandoned, leaving behind mass burial grounds. 2 years later a small group of elite American soldiers are dispatched to aid Finnish soldiers in locating and attacking a Russian bunker behind enemy lines.

A soldier knocks on a house’s front door asking the occupant if he can have a light for his cigarette. The man lets him inside and the two have a conversation. The soldier asks why the man doesn’t leave the area since the war is practically right outside of his front door. The old man simply answers that it is his home. While in the house, the soldier notices a bunch of boxes with gears attached to the outside of them, so he steals one before thanking the old man and leaving. The gear boxes play an important role in the movie. Keep an eye out for them.

Outside he rejoins with a group of about 30-40 soldiers as they march through the woods. Realizing the enemy is nearby they make plans to attack at dawn. What’s unfortunate for them is that the Russians are already aware of their presence and ambush the group while they lay in wait. This scene is absolutely nuts. Beginning with the cigarette smoking soldier taking a bullet through his neck and laden with other great slow motion battle shots (including black and white documentarian shots being created by one of the American soldiers), the viewer is given a gritty depiction of how fast life can be taken in mass quantities. That’s a good catalyst for an interesting zombie movie though.

Whittled down to just a small group of survivors, the Americans and Finns retreat further into the woods to recollect and make a new plan. During the night a figure is seen walking through the woods toward their encampment whom they eventually open fire upon. A soldier is sent out to scout the body and realizes it’s the cigarette smoking soldier from before (the same one who received the involuntary double tracheotomy at the hands of the Russian army) and turns around to yell back to the rest of his squad who it is. As the camera comes back to him, the movie takes a diving leap from a pretty high energy war movie into an even higher energy, nearly anxiety-inducing zombie movie. Cigarettes didn’t kill him. A bullet through the neck didn’t kill him. Only after a struggle with the soldier sent to check on him does a bullet through the head finally put him down. If only it were just him though. The ensuing attack from the recently deceased (good guys and bad guys) quickly reduces the surviving party to just three: Captain Niemi and Lieutenant Laasko of the Finnish army and Martin Stone of the Americans. Captain Niemi is eventually bitten but does not change immediately.

Niemi, Laasko and Stone make their escape but not before “capturing” a Russion soldier named Kolya, who narrowly avoids an immediate execution. The three decide that their best bet is to locate a means of communicating outside of Russia in order to be extracted. Kolya informs them that he knows of a powerful radio antenna located in a nearby bunker. The soldiers quickly realize that this is the bunker at the center of their secretive mission and are determined to make it there. They locate a car in the house they are hiding out in and are about to leave when they are again attacked. What’s worse is that Captain Niemi has turned and he doesn’t seem very happy. This is the pace that is consistent right through to the movie’s explosive ending.

Now I generally prefer my zombies to be of the typical Romero style, whose movements seem to be limited due to rigor mortis. It just seems more plausible to me, but I can also make exceptions for the more recently dead. This is an exception I was willing to make for War Of The Dead. Due to the fact that not only are they recently deceased but recently deceased soldiers, these zombies are like Olympians. They run, climb buildings, climb roofs, etc. And they fight; holy crap do they fight. There are some outright awesome fight scenes throughout the movie. They don’t just want to eat your brain, they want to beat it right out of your skull. That intense type of energy which runs rampant in War Of The Dead more than makes up for my classic-zombie-snob preference.

Another great feature of War Of The Dead: fully automatic weapons, particularly in the hands of people who are trained to use them. We’ve all seen that moment in any zombie movie where some poor soul is aced because they can’t aim properly at the attacking ghoul. Not here. And when you’ve got an army of the undead coming at you like some kind of evil Nordic Braveheart, being able to take them down in droves will definitely come in handy. I think this also made the idea of running, agile, downright angry zombies easier for me to digest.

This movie doesn’t give you time to be bored. The amount of time expended on background stories for any of the main protagonists is punctuated perfectly by high octane action horror. The story is unique and well put together. The characters are believable. I’m honestly still astonished that a movie like this was put together on such a limited budget. Honestly, War Of The Dead is an all-around good zombie movie.

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