War of the Dead (2011)
I blame Scott for this. In a recent correspondence, he noted how I’d been lucky seeing some decent films lately. So somewhere some ancient Sumerian Trickster God stirred from his eternal slumber, caught that little notation, and in an attempt to prove that he still had what it takes, and fuck all the younger gods out there who consider him over the hill, threw Deggsy a dog.
And Marko Mäkilaakso’s WAR OF THE DEAD is it. To be honest, though, it’s almost comforting. I was seeing so many decent films lately that I was beginning to wonder if my critical skills were slipping, and that maybe I couldn’t recognise a bad film if I saw it. Thank fuck that’s not the case.
Apparently WAR OF THE DEAD was originally titled STONE’S WAR, but was changed after Stan Lee had suggested it. Thanks Stan. I might have overlooked this turd under that other title. Why don’t you stick to your amusing fanboy-erection-inducing movie cameos? This was also apparently the most expensive film ever produced in Lithuania, which is about as relevant to me as telling me that less shoe polish was used on this than in any Yemeni documentary about bootmakers.
Now here’s the thing: It’s supposed to be about Nazi zombies. How the fuck can you miss out on such a concept? There have been plenty of examples over the years of Nazi zombies: ZOMBIE LAKE, DEAD SNOW, NAZIS AT THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH. It instills a thrill in the average horror movie fan, a combination like pizza and beer, Godzilla and King Ghidorah, or Charlie Sheen and Gary Busey: you know you’re in for a good time if you get these things together.
Except in the case of WAR OF THE DEAD. Somehow they manage to fuck this up. I might even forgo selling this DVD on Ebay and just use it as a shovel to scoop out my cat’s litter tray, because I’d sooner sell dodgy contraceptives than subject others to this.
It’s set in Finland, during the Second World War, when a troop of American and Finnish soldiers are sent behind enemy lines because of rumours of Nazi experiments on captured Russian soldiers… experiments to make them… UNDEAD! The troop is led by Captain Martin Stone (Andrew Tiernan, 300, LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS), a man whose tough, grizzled, so utterly stereotyped and lacquered into the stone-faced cliché that in the Afterlife, John wayne is reaching out to tell him, “Express a bit more, pilgrim.” There were others, mostly Finnish or Lithuanian actors, and I shouldn’t sound so parochial about it, but they made no impression on me. If I met them in roles that were actually distinctive and not just cardboard cut-out characters, I might have remembered more about them. The undead Russian zombies appear, and the troop finds themselves constantly on the run.
I know a little bit about Finland during the War. When WW2 broke out, Russia was on Germany’s side via the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and after invading Poland, they invaded Finland, in what would become known to Finns as the Winter War, which sounds a helluva lot cooler than World War 2, because nobody really likes sequels. Anyway, when the Russians invaded, there was this farmer/hunter named Simo Häyhä, an ordinary-looking, 5 foot 3 inch guy who’d made a name for himself during his time in the Fiinnish militia years before for marksmanship, and was by all accounts a true patriot. So when the Russians moved in, the 34 year old left his border town and headed up into the hills, working as a sniper.
To say he was good at his job is an understatement. In temperatures between -40 and -20 degrees Celsius, dressed completely in camouflage white and using an old rifle that had iron sights rather than a scope, in 100 days he had 505 confirmed kills of Soviet soldiers (if you believe the unconfirmed reports, the number exceeded 700). The Russians called him The White Death, and mounted entire mission just to take out this one guy. They sent in a task force. They sent in counter snipers. He killed them all. Finally they had to carpet bomb the entire fucking forest he was in to try and take him out. He was finally shot in the lower left jaw, but the bullet tumbled on impact and exited his head, leaving him fucked up but alive and ready to keep fighting. Had the Soviets not brokered a peace treaty with Finland, no doubt this badass motherfucker would still be out there, making Rambo look like a vajazzled pussy.
Look at what I’ve done. I’ve spent a paragraph or two talking about something that has next to nothing to do with the movie in question, because I’m aware of how much more interesting a movie about Simo Häyhä’s exploits would be than what I’m watching now. Because there really isn’t anything distinctive about WAR OF THE DEAD. It is an absolutely predictable, generic sequence of events. There’s no sense of urgency. It just goes from point to point like a board game. The soldiers hide, they get found out by zombies who leap from the trees or roofs. They lose some of their forgettable redshirts. There’s some bullshit about finding these special keys, but that literally leads nowhere. It’s like watching someone else play CALL OF DUTY or some other generic combat game.
According to Mäkilaakso, the film is a love letter to action films of the 80s, like RAMBO, THE TERMINATOR and INDIANA JONES. But while the action scenes are at least well-established, someone should have told the guy that the movies he cited had decent stories, dialogue and characters to go with them. Watching actors in near-darkness fighting other actors pretending to be zombies will not lift your little opus into the Pantheon of Great Action Movies.
The dialogue is as clunky and unintelligible as listening to a conversation between Jackie Chan and Roberto Begnini. The acting is dire, even among the obligatory British actors playing Germans, and if you can’t have fun playing a zombie-making Nazi, fuck you, fuck you to Hell. The gore is minimal; really, this is a war movie with an attempt at attracting the zombie fan. In Mäkilaakso’s hands, this is less pizza and beer and more tofu and watercress, less Godzilla and King Ghidorah and more Barney and Big Bird, less Charlie Sheen and Gary Busey and more a nude love scene between Kathy Bates and Meatloaf. The director should have stuck to making a war movie, he might have created something decent. And if he’d gone for a real story, like that of Häyhä’s, I might have felt less cheated.
As for the so-called extras on the DVD, if I have to see one more self-congratulatory Making Of Featurette with the cast and crew patting each other on the back and beaming about what a terrific script it was and how challenging it was to shoot at night, I will stab a baby seal in the eye with the rib bone of Chris Farley. I swear to god I’ll do it.
Oh, and the zombies are all Russians. Not even Nazis. Fuck you.
The trailer is here. I’m presenting the shorter trailer, as I don’t want to waste your time with the lengthier ones. Even so, don’t be fooled by what you see into thinking that it’s watchable.
Director: Marko Mäkilaakso (and writer)
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 1 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien
I wanna thank Deggsy for taking this one for me. I almost watched this one the other day but he told me he just bought it and was gonna check it out. I owe ya one, buddy!! –AHS