Tag Nazis

Bunker, The (2001)

The Bunker (2001)

The evil is within

In 1944, seven German soldiers survive an American attack in the front and retreat to an isolated bunker manned by an aging veteran and a young recruit. Under siege by the enemy and with little ammunition, they decide to explore the sealed underground tunnels to seek supplies and find an escape route. However, the tunnels were sealed for a reason and once opened, strange things begin to happen to the group. Have the Americans infiltrated the tunnels from the other side of the hill or is there something more sinister at work?

 

There is something attractive to filmmakers in linking Nazis and horror. The idea that Hitler and many of his top ranking officials had an interest in the occult (which is quite well documented), as well as the Nazi’s numerous shady top secret projects from their ‘science’ divisions to develop new superweapons to win the war, is the stuff that the media has played upon for decades now. From comics to computer games, the Nazis and horror imagery have become inseparable. This is no more evident than in the horror genre, where filmmakers since the 70s have been turning to the Germans to add a little extra hate factor to their big screen efforts. However, it’s only over recent years where the fad seems to have gone into overdrive as smattering of input with the likes of Shock Waves and Zombie Lake in the late 70s and early 80s only teased the flood that was to come.

Michael Mann’s ill-fated The Keep in 1983 proved to be more of an arthouse horror dream than a straight-up frightener but that hasn’t stopped director Rob Green from trying a similar set-up in The Bunker, involving a bunch of German soldiers facing a supernatural threat inside some ominous structure. However, the film falls into almost the exact same pitfalls as The Keep did many years ago. Despite the obviously small budget, the production design team work wonders with the atmospheric and claustrophobic setting. The bunker itself is dingy, dimly-lit, full of lifeless grey and black and the cinematography down in the tunnels is superb. You get the feeling that you are deep underground and you never quite know what is lurking a little further along or around the corner.

This is where The Bunker’s problems began to appear. We never really quite know or understand just what is/was in those tunnels. The antagonist is never identified and the sketchy nature of the threat that the soldiers face is rather lazy writing. Is it something supernatural that they have awakened? Are they actually dead and this is just some version of Hell? Is it ghosts? Zombies? Have one of their number gone insane? Hints are given throughout that there is some bigger story arc going on here about some indiscretion that the soldiers have committed but it’s largely irrelevant to the supernatural stuff in the bunker itself. The set-up from the early part of the film just peters away as the script doesn’t really know a sensible way out of the solution. Instead, the film just opts for a load of wishy-washy sequences where the camera’s main friends are flashing lights, the smoke machine, loud noises and skeleton props. The creeping dread that The Bunker does so well to manifest at the start deserved to have a stronger conclusion than this cheap effects malarkey and generic man versus man showdown.

It’s frustrating because the film really kicks on with the psychological tension during the first half of the film, as these battle-weary soldiers begin to turn on each other for what has happened outside and what their plans are going forward. The decent cast of British character actors does well with the sketchy material they’ve been given. Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport, Eddie Marsan and Charley Boorman are all decent in their roles. Marsan, in particular, is rather enjoyable to watch as the nervous Kreuzmann who appears to have a mental breakdown – his simpleton expressions really convey a sense of loss, both with his friends dying but also of the fact he’s died a little bit inside his head too. I’ve seen a lot of comments moaning about the use of British actors to play Germans but I don’t care to be honesty – despite the varying accents on show from all across the British Isles, you still buy these soldiers as Germans. Just suspend a bit of belief for a bit!

 

In many respects, The Bunker plays out like a haunted house attraction at a theme park – lots of flashy visuals and sense of anything could happen at any time. But then at the end, it’s all for show and you realise that there was no real substance to your fear. As it stands, The Bunker isn’t totally without merit but the clearly-rushed screenplay just cries out to have had more time to polish the edges, give the story some real meat and work out just what the Germans were meant to be fighting.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Keep, The (1983)

The Keep (1983)

THEY WERE ALL DRAWN TO THE KEEP. The soldiers who brought death. The father and daughter fighting for life. The people who have always feared it. And the one man who knows its secret… THE KEEP Tonight, they will all face the evil.

In 1942, a detachment of the German Army is sent to guard a mysterious Romanian citadel located on a strategic mountain pass. When soldiers begin to be mysteriously murdered, the SS arrives to deal with what is thought to be partisan activity and take over proceedings. Enlisting the help of a Jew to help translate inscriptions, what they actually find is an evil force trapped within the keep which will do anything in order to escape.

 

Director Michael Mann has helmed some fantastic films in his career including Manhunter, Collateral, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider amongst others and has been consistently ranked up there as one of the greatest directors of the past couple of decades. Like many famous directors (Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott, with sci-fi horror Alien, spring to mind), Mann has his early roots firmly in horror. The Keep was only his second feature film and his only real foray into the genre.

Originally clocking in at over three and a half hours long before producers told Mann to cut it down, The Keep is the perfect example of style over substance – an art house horror film which has been cruelly held back from realising its potential. Adapting from books come with their problems to begin with but when a director’s original vision is then restricted even further, the end result is not a true reflection of what could have been. The Keep is very much the personification of that. There is a huge swathe of ideas floating around here and lots of sub-plots which begin to develop but are cut short or are simply thrown in without any explanation whatsoever. I’m guessing the original cut explained a lot more because The Keep finishes with lots of unanswered questions and answers a lot of questions that were never asked in the first place.

Case in point being Scott Glenn’s mysterious stranger character who arrives in the town shortly after the evil inside the keep has been released. We kind of get the idea of who is he and what he’s doing (and these ideas come to fruition in the finale). But he’s a sketchy character who has no real story and feels tacked on in the current cut of the film. He shows up and has sex with Alberta Watson’s token female character (poor lass has just survived a rape by some German soldiers to boot!) and we’re meant to just shrug our shoulders and go with the flow? There’s also lots of slow-motion sequences, loud music, fancy purple lights and about a year’s supply of artificial fog in the finale where Glenn doesn’t say anything, allowing his facial expressions and actions to tell us the story. It’s all very interpretative and gets the audience to join the dots themselves rather than being spoon fed…well, just about! Those who prefer spoon feeding from their horror films won’t like this at all. Glenn’s character isn’t just the only underdeveloped aspect to the film but it’s the most blatant.

Apart from the long-winded “what the hell is going on?” narrative, The Keep’s other underlying problem is finding a protagonist to sympathise with. That’s the problem with a lot of these horror films based around Nazis – who are we meant to root for? Yes, some of them may be written more appealing to the viewer but at the end of the day, they’re still Nazis and it’s difficult to get on their side. You’d think Ian McKellen’s Jewish scholar would fare better but he’s pretty unlikeable: a bitter, selfish old man who is harsh even to his close friends and daughter. She’s not exactly the main focus of the plot either. So do we sympathise with the demon Molasar in this case, the evil spirit waiting to be unleashed from his tomb? It’s a puzzling scenario which isn’t helped by a rambling narrative that never knows which direction to go.

So despite the muddled script, it’s to Mann’s credit that he manages to keep The Keep so gripping. I can’t put my finger on it because there’s not a lot of action, many scenes lack dialogue and rely on imagery and audio alone and there are too many plot holes lying around which throw you off track. But there is something that prevents you from switching off. The Keep is like few horror films I’ve ever seen before in that watching is almost like experiencing the keep for yourself. It’s a visually impressive film, with some fantastic cinematography, striking imagery and a superbly ominous atmosphere assisted by a creepy and haunting soundtrack. The dimly-lit, smoke-shrouded sets are the stuff of bad dreams. One particular scene featuring Gabriel Byrne’s SS commander staggering around a large room full of his dead soldiers is one of the most nightmare-inducing scenes I’ve seen. The first appearance of Molasar, the evil presence, is impressive, with the creature being made up of smoke and lights and backed by chilling music. The synthetic score by Tangerine Dream goes against the grain when it comes to soundtracks: it’s not there to accompany the scenes with music cues but rather act as an extension of the mood, acting as ambient noise. It’s a superb soundtrack though one which isn’t readily available to purchase.

I’ll say one thing for Mann and that’s he always assembles a fantastic cast. Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glen, Robert Prosky (you may not recognise the name but you’ll recognise the face) and Jürgen Prochnow are all on hand. It’s a male-heavy film as the nature of the war setting naturally calls for. I’m sure if this was remade nowadays, there’d be a female SS commander or something similar. Byrne is the evil Nazi, Prochnow the more reasonable one, Prosky a local priest and Glen is the Van Helsing-like hunter. Most of them are wasted in the roles but at least they add some much-needed star power. One appearance I chuckled at is that of German actor Wolf Kahler as some lowly SS soldier who has a brief cameo role. He’s been demoted since his face was melted away in Raiders of the Lost Ark!

The Keep is a genre from which Mann never returned to and it’s a pity. Whilst this is largely an incoherent mess of ideas, its potential is breath taking and the surreal atmosphere and art house audio and visuals will leave an indelible mark upon you. Stylish but unsatisfying, it would have been interesting to see Mann’s three-hour director’s cut of the film and whether that just prolonged the confusion or sorted it out.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

What is dead may never die

Towards the end of World War 2, a group of Russian soldiers pushing into German territory stumble upon a secret Nazi lab that has been conducting unthinkable experiments based upon the work of Dr Victor Frankenstein.

 

Are you old enough to have played any of the Wolfenstein games? They were a successful series of first-person shooters set during WW2 and had the player facing off against waves of monstrous Nazi experiments in Castle Wolfenstein. They played upon the weird and perverse fascination that many people have regarding the Nazis and their experiments on the occult. In the darker days of WW2, it was long rumoured that Hitler and his top brass were looking for ways to win the war and the occult was one direction that they tried to take. It’s proven to be a gold mine for filmmakers over the years with everyone from Hellboy to Indiana Jones confronting Nazis who were attempting some black magic rituals.

Frankenstein’s Army is Wolfenstein brought to life, an vividly imaginative and concept-fuelled horror film which not only follows in the footsteps of films which dealt with the Nazi occult but stamps its own madcap mark on the sub-genre. Forget Dead Snow, Outpost or Iron Sky, this is the new benchmark of Nazi-themed horror, a uniquely perverse assault on the senses which takes no prisoners, leaves no idea unturned and will have you cheering and squirming in equal measure.

First things first though – enough of the found footage horror films already! With The Blair Witch Project being fourteen years old and Cloverfield coming up on five years, it’s about time that filmmakers put that fad to bed despite the odd success (Troll Hunter, I’m looking at you). Frankenstein’s Army shoe-horns this gimmicky, over-exposed plot device into the film for reasons unknown and it’s a mixed bag as to how successful it is. The situations that the cameraman finds himself in are too contrived for him to feasibly hold the camera and record everything in the face of overwhelming danger (let’s face it, confronted with those zom-bot monsters, you and I would run a mile). Other situations have characters coming up with reasons for the camera to be recording the action (the finale springs to mind). It forces the script to become too focused on the camera and less about what is going on. There’s just no need for the film to use this gimmick and it would have worked better without it.

However, at other times, Frankenstein’s Army uses the technique brilliantly, with the camera sometimes swinging around to reveal a monster half-glimpsed down a corridor or something moving around in the back of the shot. But it’s nothing that couldn’t have been achieved with a normal camera and you get the sense that you’re missing a lot of the great stuff because the camera is shaking or facing the wrong way.

After the initially drawn-out sequences of the Russian soldiers going about their mission, all hell literally breaks loose as Frankenstein’s army of cybernetic monsters springs into life. Human remains fused with machine parts, these hideous monsters are steam-punk inspired  Nazi creations right out of Hell. Frankenstein’s Army then plays its aces, unleashing some of the most surreal and nightmarish creatures to emerge over the past ten years. Though filmed on a low budget, Frankenstein’s Army packs in some incredible production design that would put the majority of Hollywood mega-budget films to shame. The tour of Frankenstein’s laboratory that takes place in the final third is simply a fright-fuelled trip through the warped mind of director Richard Raaphorst. It’s like a walk through a Nazi/occult-themed Halloween funhouse and the first-person point-of-view really hammers this home. Gloomy, damp, smoky visuals with machines rumbling in the background, screams and monstrous moans happening around the camera, and with the sight of hulking robotic zombies with knife-fingers or propellers for heads staggering from room to room with bloody, dismembered corpses lying around the floor, it’s an unforgettable scene. Grotesque, gurgling creatures emerge from behind doorways or heave themselves up out of chutes with no warning. It’s a claustrophobic setting, with no escape and a deadly surprise lurking around every corner.

Where Frankenstein’s Army will win most plaudits with genre lovers is with this large variety of practical effects-based monsters. The only comparison I can make with them is to think of the Cenobites from the Hellraiser films and how uniquely outlandish and terrifying they were when they appeared for the first time – like nothing you had ever seen before. The selection of Nazi monsters here has that same ‘wow’ factor. You won’t have seen anything as unearthly and as abhorrent as these monsters, each individually unique in their composition. Frankenstein’s traditional fleshy patchwork experimentations take on new life when fused with mechanical parts. In different hands, these monsters could have turned out cartoony and ridiculous. But director Richard Raaphorst treats them with respect, refusing to allow their dubious nature to dominate, and keeps them grounded in as much reality as possible.

If there is a big drawback with Frankenstein’s Army, it’s that I doubt it will find much affection outside of hardcore horror fans. The plot is too simple, the characters are thinly-sketched stereotypes and the film does seem to power ahead solely on its conceptual ideas and the “I wonder what we’ll see next” approach. Those expecting a torrent of blood will be disappointed as well. The majority of the gore is from freshly-dismembered corpses lying about Frankenstein’s lab rather than any damage the creatures do to the Russian soldiers.

 

In case you haven’t realised by reading this review, I loved Frankenstein’s Army. It’s one of the most rewarding horror films I’ve watched for a long time and whilst it’s not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no denying how original and creative it is. Sadly the use of the found footage approach restricts the scope of the great visuals that we get to experience, leaving the audience wanting to see more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing given how the film ends.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth (2012)

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth (2012)

Dead…But Not Gone.

A team of researchers at an Antarctica station are abducted by a mysterious squad of masked storm troopers and taken hostage deep into a lost continent at the centre of the Earth. They find that, in the dying days of the Second World War, infamous Auschwitz butcher Dr Joseph Mengele fled Nazi Germany and set up a secret base. Here, they have been planning for the return of the Third Reich, developing highly advanced weapons and prolonging their lives through grotesque skin grafting techniques. With the addition of the knowledge of the research team to perfect the invasion plans, the Nazis hope to conquer the Earth.

 

The Asylum have done it again! With the recent release of Iron Sky, about a secret Nazi colony on the moon which plans to conquer Earth, the studio famous for its ‘mockbusters’ comes up with Nazis at the Centre of the Earth, a $200,000 cheapie about a secret Nazi colony in the centre of the Earth which plans to conquer the planet. Who said creativity in Hollywood was dead?

I’ve been hard on The Asylum for their ridiculous cashing in of higher profile films like Transmorphers and their never-ending slew of truly awful monsters films like Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus. Reality, logic, common sense and physics all get thrown out of the window with a ‘rapidly throw everything at the screen’ motto. They attempt to make their films look big budget but end up doing the exact opposite. But is the tide turning? For the first time, I can honestly say that I enjoyed an Asylum mockbuster better than the film it was supposed to be ripping off. Iron Sky promised a lot and looked fantastic, with some amazing set design for the advanced Nazi moon base and the simple fact that it had Nazis – from the moon! But it was all too daft to fully enjoy and it would have worked far better as a more serious sci-fi-horror film (if you could buy into the premise, which isn’t all as daft as it sounds).

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth takes the idea of a hidden colony of Nazis and runs with the ball like Iron Sky should have done. After a bit of a sluggish start to set characters up, once the group are captured by the Nazis and taken underground the film turns into one of those trashy Nazi Euro-horror sleaze fests of the 70s. In mean-spirited scenes, there are forced abortions, shower gang-rapes and un-anaesthetised surgery to name a few instances of brutality. Its unpleasant stuff, kind of out of character for The Asylum’s usual ‘cheap and cheerful’ approach but completely in synch with the character of the Nazis and what they did in real life. This is exactly the sort of perverse sadism that Iron Sky should have been revelling in: playing upon the Nazis’ reputation instead of turning them into clowns.

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth is still dogged by The Asylum’s usual cheap special effects. Outdoor scenes in the snow are in fact shot in studios in front of green screens which will convince no one watching of their authenticity. Vehicles, planes, spaceships and buildings look like computer game effects. Think of how much CGI George Lucas used in the Star Wars prequels and multiply that by ten (but subtract loads of points for the quality) and you’ll get the gist of how overworked the special effects guys must have been for this film. Pretty much everything you see except the human actors is computer-generated. Usually these effects have been to the detriment of the film but because everything that happens here is so completely off-beat and insane, there’s little time to even stop and think about how terrible everything looks.

The worst special effect is saved for one very special moment which happens two-thirds of the way in. I honestly can’t reveal anything else here except that this part comes out of nowhere and its one of the most brilliantly bonkers things I’ve ever seen. Words alone can’t explain how ridiculously amazing this moment is. It’s so crazy that it’s worth watching the film for on its own. It’s at this point where the film jumps the shark. Up until this point, it had all been dark and depressing but the gear shift around thirty-five minutes from the end is just totally out of the blue. Laser beams, robots that look like Autobots and Decepticons, flying Nazi spaceships and more all going hurtling around the screen.

Out of the cast, Jake Busey is the only real notable star and he looks almost bewildered as to what is going on, like he wondered in off another set. It’s the performance of Christopher Karl Johnson as Joseph Mengele which really menaces the screen. Though it seems like everything else around him is turning into a nightmarish acid trip, Johnson keeps the genuine fear factor throughout as the chilling Auschwitz butcher. Don’t get too attached to the rest of the cast either – the Nazis take good care of the majority of them.

 

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth is arguably The Asylum’s best film to date. By any criteria, it’s one of the worst films ever made. Ultra-camp, ultra-silly, utterly insane and completely unmissable. The last thirty-five minutes feature some of the most mind-bending low budget movie moments of all time. Stop reading and go and watch it. Love it or hate it, you’ll never forget it!

 

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

A group of students searching for treasure buried by the German army in the African desert during WWII comes up against an army of Nazi zombies guarding the fortune.

 

Not content with letting fellow exploitation director Jean Rollin butcher the Nazi zombie sub-genre with the abomination that was Zombie Lake, Jesus Franco (who wrote Zombie Lake) took his turn in the director’s seat with Oasis of the Zombies. It’s hard to say which film is worse as not only are both films absolutely terrible zombie films, they may even border on being some of the worst films ever made. Seriously, how hard is it for people to make a decent Nazi zombie film? Unlike other zombie films where loving friends and family are turned into flesh-ripping ghouls, Nazi zombies were evil and sadistic before they were dead. There’s something unnerving about the thought of the most evil people to have ever lived to be immortalized in zombie form, forever to walk the Earth looking for flesh. We thought we were rid of them but they’re back and unstoppable! Maybe even the likes of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin have been too afraid to tap into this unholy combination for fear of the backlash that they may receive. Whatever is the case, Oasis of the Zombies is hardly going to offend anyone except for lovers of trashy films like myself.

Even worse is that Franco doesn’t even live up to his usual exploitative ways here. There’s little in the way of gratuitous nudity, a lack of any sort of sleaze and perversion of any kind and a total lack of pushing any sort of boundaries which at least his Euro-horrors do (and have been banned for). It’s almost as if Franco is clueless when it comes to proper horror films. Without the writhing orgies of women undressing before him, he’s pretty much a lame duck. Oasis of the Zombies has nothing good going for it except for the fact that the zombies like to pull people into the sand every now and then ala Tremors. But even when people are being pulled under, you can see the man-made hole they are falling into with sand-coloured plastic bin-liners lining the pit. It’s a really bad effect especially when the camera gets so close and can see the bin-liner being ruffled. Incompetence at it’s best. But it’s incompetent across the board.

The film lacks any sort of budget as is evident with the cheapness of everything and total lack of production values. The ‘actors’ look like they were simply some of the crew who chipped in with lines. The sound quality is really bad. Not only are there countless scenes with no sound at all (literally people just walking in silence) but there’s also a terrible piano track that plays up every now and then which is reminiscent of some sleazy porn film.

The zombies do look a lot better than those of Zombie Lake but they’re only on screen for a total of about ten minutes towards the end of the film and they only attack two people. They have suitably rotting faces complete with charred Nazi uniforms but we don’t get to see anything in the way of zombies devouring humans. All they simply do is swarm around their victims and wrestle them to the ground like you see in many other zombie films. But the money shots of throats being bitten out and flesh being torn away are sorely missing. The blurb on the box conjures up images of a feast of flesh but we got scraps – but even these scraps seem like a God’s send when you’ve sat through the rest of the film.

This is simply taken up with people talking monotonously to each other and people walking across sand…..lots of sand. Even at a slim running time of eighty-two minutes, this seems like shameless padding. There is a long flashback scene which takes up most of the film and seemingly uses WWII stock footage of Germans fighting, driving tanks and being blown up. But I want to see zombies, not Saving Private Ryan. At least the desert locations provide a sense of isolation for the film and it makes a change from being stuck in woods or desolated cities and being chased by zombies.

 

You’ll find yourself fingering the fast forward button on your remote a lot if you decide to tackle the abomination that is Oasis of the Zombies, one the worst zombie films ever. I dare anyone to watch Zombie Lake and this in a back-to-back sitting without falling asleep or wishing they were elsewhere.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Outpost (2008)

Outpost (2008)

You can’t kill what’s already dead

In war-torn Eastern Europe, a team of mercenaries is hired to protect a mysterious businessman on a journey into no-man’s land. He leads them to an old military outpost used by the Germans during WWII. Here they experimented on their own soldiers in a series of bloody and gruesome tests based on some of Einstein’s theories. Soon the mercenaries realise that they have unwittingly awakened a terror that will turn their mission from protection to survival as a mysterious enemy emerges from the outpost.

 

There should be more horror films about Nazis. They are a criminally underused enemy, if somewhat clichéd to use. The list of horror films with Nazi soldiers is pretty slim but each one has their own pluses. Shock Waves back in the 70s dealt with zombie Nazis. We had The Keep in the 80s which opted for a more paranormal approach. More modern efforts include The Bunker and Deathwatch, both not exceptionally great films but showed that giving history’s most infamous villains supernatural powers is one way to create a kick ass horror film if done in the right manner. Outpost doesn’t exactly prove that point 100% but it makes a damn good effort of it.

The atmosphere in Outpost is second to none. Right from the start you know this film isn’t going to take any prisoners of war with its bleak setting. The colouring in the film has been bleached and saturated, giving it an almost dead appearance. The only colours you’re going to see here are grey and red! The bunker is the main setting for most of the film and as soon as the mercenaries head down there, you’ll be gasping for the fresh air of the surface. This is one claustrophobic place you wouldn’t want to get stuck in with murderous Nazi ghosts lurking. It’s superbly lit meaning there’s always just enough light to see around but not enough to provide sanctuary for the mercenaries. Hiding in every dark corner, in every pitch black corridor and behind every unopened door you really get the sense that they’re being watched and stalked from the moment they set foot inside.

I like the fact that this is a group of mercenaries, not a bunch of whiny teenagers who have stumbled upon the bunker by mistake. Having the mercenaries as the heroes makes the enemy seem all that more realistic and deadly. This is a trained group of armed men who have gone through a lot together yet have never faced anything like this. Think of Predator and the way Arnie and his team equip themselves to deal with their threat. Realism is the key to success here because they don’t do anything stupid. Apart from Ray Stevenson, none of the other mercenaries do much to distinguish themselves from one another. This is a bit of a shame given the room that the film gives to characters. Ray Stevenson is a decent actor who found his fame on Rome and he’s well suited to the role of the gruff commanding officer.

Pacing is a big problem though. There’s a massive build up throughout the film – each discovery or revelation about the outpost adding more and more tension. Unfortunately this goes on for a little too long and it seems like the mercenaries have been exploring the bunker forever. There is not a lot of meat after their initial discovery and it does drag a bit. It does feel like an eternity has passed when the enemy first shows up. But when they do, the film goes all out to impress and quickly you’ve engrossed once again. The first sight of the undead soldiers standing on the hill, shrouded in fog and illuminated by some ghostly light reminds me of the original The Fog. It’s a chilling moment which sends the spine into overdrive.

From here on the film builds to a crescendo that it clearly will never reach and the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, given that the mercenaries have already proved that the Nazis can’t be killed. The story itself is solid and based on fact. The Nazis were known to dabble in the occult – anything to give them the edge in the war. I don’t want to reveal too much about the film as part of the fun and excitement is finding out what happened in the bunker – needless to say that it’s all very plausible. The Nazis look pretty damned good too although the sight of a battalion of crack SS troops marching over the hill towards you wouldn’t exactly need much to make it look scary. And above all, the film has a real mean streak to it just to give modern fans of things like Hostel something to get their teeth into. These Nazis are pretty extreme in their methods of execution, torturing one poor fellow before stabbing him in the eyes. Their silent and stealthy approach leads to some scary moments (note when digging a trench – make sure you check there are no undead Nazi soldiers buried in the soil).

 

Outpost is a thrilling combination of the atmosphere of The Fog, the style of Predator and the gritty approach of Dog Soldiers. It’s one of the best horror films I can recall in the last few years. Tense, chilling and downright scary at times, proving correct the age old myth that gore and extreme violence are no substitute for good old fashioned atmosphere.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Lake (1981)

Zombie Lake (1981)

God help us if they rise again!

During World War II, a party of German soldiers were ambushed by the French Resistance and had their bodies dumped in the nearby lake. Little did the villagers know but the lake was once used for Satanic rituals. Years later, the soldiers rise again, now blood-thirsty zombies hungry for human flesh.

 

Like moths to a flame, the lure of Nazi zombies is enough to make me watch any rubbish. This sub-genre of horror only features a handful of entries and apart from Shock Waves, the rest of the genre has failed to set the world alight. When two of the sleaziest and most notorious directors of the 70s put their heads together for this collaboration, you’d expect the results to be bad but in a good way. Jean Rollin (who directed) and Jesus Franco (who wrote) are more famous for their sexually-charged horror films with copious amounts of sex, sometimes bordering on the soft core and always pushing the boundaries of exploitation. Surely a film about Nazi zombies can’t fail in their grubby hands? Well Zombie Lake not only fails but fails like never before. In all my years of watching horror, I can’t recall a film which borders on the incompetent as much as Zombie Lake. Even the extremely gratuitous and frequent naked women are wasted in this appalling mess.

The zombies are some of the silliest, most pathetic-looking zombies ever to grace film. The German costumes seem authentic enough but the zombies themselves are simply covered in green paint. The make-up department seems to have missed plenty of spots on the actor’s faces, especially behind the ears. It doesn’t even stay on very well either so in some scenes where the zombies are making contact with their victims, their green skin rubs off. Think of a Halloween party you’ve been to where someone has been dressed as a zombie – chances are that their make-up was one hundred times more believable than this. The worst thing is that the zombies are constantly coming out of the water too. Paint + water? Who thought that was a good idea? It starts to run the moment the zombies emerge from the water.

The zombies attack plenty of people during the film but most of the attacks happen in the lake so all you see are the naked chicks being dragged underwater (I’m sure some of the zombies get in a few gropes and boob grabs too). I don’t actually recall any flesh bites or skin punctures at all – usually the staple ingredient of a zombie film. Instead the zombies just close in on their targets and then some red liquid usually squirts out of visible plastic tubes around the dead person’s neck as the zombies seemingly kiss their victims. College film students wouldn’t make such a rudimentary mistake.

The film resorts to constant nudity to try and keep the viewer entertained. I’m all for a bit of nakedness in horror films but this really is overkill. Practically every female under the age of thirty gets naked at some point during the film. Just when you think the film will run out of chicks to strip, up pops a girls’ basketball team which stops off at the lake in their bus and proceed to skinny dip. Apart from the fact that this lake is one of the most dirty you’ll ever see, it seems to have this uncanny ability to force females to strip in its vicinity. We get plenty of underwater shots too of the naked swimmers – sometimes you’ll see more than you do in soft core porn! Its full frontal nudity at it’s most sleazy.

In between the constant nude scenes, there are attempts at a story. But the film is really all over the place. The script must have said ‘boobs + zombies’ and they made the rest up on the spot. Continuity is ridiculous, the acting is diabolical and the pace of film is horrendous. You’ll be asleep before the next woman takes off her clothes.

 

The lure of constant nudity is definitely not enough to make anyone watch Zombie Lake. Its quite simply one of the worst zombie films of all time, one of the worst horror films of all time and one of the worst films of all time.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Snow (2009)

Dead Snow (2009)

Ein! Zwei! Die!

Eight medical students head into the snow-covered mountains of Norway to stay in a cabin for their Easter vacation. The group are visited by a mysterious stranger who warns them of a curse about a Nazi brigade that ran into the mountains with their stolen loot and were never seen again. The students then find a box of coins and gold hidden under the floorboards in the house. Naturally this peaks the interest of the Nazi soldiers, now flesh-eating zombies continually searching for their cursed Nazi gold and who want their stolen property back.

 

Nazi zombies. Come on, that’s enough to make me pee my pants in excitement. I’ve been a big stickler for the Nazi zombie sub-genre ever since watching the grossly underrated Shockwaves and when I first heard about this and saw the trailer a few months ago, I was bristling with anticipation. It’s the entire film sold in two words – you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in for. If you can stomach the subtitles (and a surprising amount of people are too lazy to watch and read them) then you’re in for an absolute treat! Dead Snow is a total throwback to the likes of The Evil Dead and Bad Taste and you can clearly see the director trying to channel the same sort of comedy-horror energy that both Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson harnessed for their genre classics. The results aren’t quite the triumph that one was hoping for but it’s still a riot of a film.

If there is an underlying problem to the film, it’s the fact that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The film sets off to be mean-spirited and has some truly unnerving moments which would have worked well if they’d continued along this theme of being all serious to the bitter end. The scene with the crazy, old Norwegian drifter investigating a noise outside his tent in the pitch black is superbly shot with literally only his flashlight illuminating the snowy terrain. Some of the daylight scenes look spectacular in the glistening Norwegian snow and it’s clear that these teenagers are miles from help.

Director Tommy Wirkola has also clearly seen Shockwaves as he features a scene with the zombies rising up from their snowy graves. The zombies also look striking, complete in authentic-looking German uniforms and sporting some pretty slick make-up effects as the charge across the landscape. Even the characters are well developed and likeable enough to warrant you supporting them and wanting to see them survive. But despite all of the build-up and some reasonable moments of tension and atmosphere to begin with, the gears are changed midway through the film and it’s pretty unexpected and a little unwarranted if you ask me. The film was doing well as a serious horror film up until this point.

The film then goes down the path of comical visual horror akin to The Evil Dead and Braindead. There’s plenty of wit from the dialogue including a character who has watched too many horror films (that cliché has overstayed it’s welcome I think), silly situations that the characters find themselves in (a girl hiding in a tree from a bunch of zombies is attacked by a crow trying to protect her eggs) and lots of sight gags involving plenty of blood and guts (the film gets messy). The gross-out quota is upped to the maximum and instead of genuinely being a little creeped out by the zombies, we just laugh at them and the characters as they fight to the death with chainsaws, hammers, sleds and such like with lots of severed limbs and free-flowing entrails from human and zombie alike. There are people dangling off the edge of cliffs using intestines as ropes. There’s MG42′s mounted onto snowmobiles. There’s a guy running around with no arm. And in probably the film’s best gore moment, some unlucky dude has his head ripped apart. It’s not really a case of ‘we’ve seen it before’ though as there are a few unique selling points here but the overall effect of turning the film into a cheese fest isn’t one you’ll be uncommon with.

How hard is it for horror makers to just stick to making decent horror flicks and not have to rely on the splatter and gross-out factor. And given the two word selling point – NAZI ZOMBIES! – it is slightly disappointing that they are just turned into such generic monsters. They could have been any type of zombies looking for treasure – pirates, gypsies, you name it. But given that the Nazis are widely recognised as the most evil bastards ever to walk the face of the Earth and liked to dabble in the occult, then the combination of the two is always a mouth-watering prospect. But here the zombies are just taken down easily with bullets, hammer shots to the head, etc. – certainly not the all-conquering war machine that we are usually led to believe.

 

Dead Snow is a difficult one to sum up. I wasn’t expecting the second half of the film to be as silly and cheesy as it was and it’s a bit of a shame because the first half promised a lot of proper chills and scares. But on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with the gore and splatter and it’s certainly entertaining enough. The Nazi zombie sub-genre lives on to fight another day…..

 

Shock Waves (1977)

Shock Waves (1977)

Once They Were Almost Human! Beneath the living… Beyond the dead… From the depths of Hell’s Ocean! The Deep End of Horror!

A group of people are shipwrecked on a seemingly deserted island when their cruise ship is involved in a collision with a mysterious tanker. Once on the island, they find out that they’re not alone and a reclusive SS Commander is still living there. He tells them that their cruiser crashed into the wreck of a German WWII ship which housed Der Totenkorps- the Death Corps – a crack platoon of killers and thugs who had been turned into undead soldiers by the Nazis. Now the Totenkorps have been awakened and target the survivors for extermination.

 

Let’s face it, the Nazis and horror films are a match made in Hell. During the later days of the Third Reich when Hitler was becoming more desperate for ways to win the war, it was long thought that the Nazis experimented with the occult and Hollywood has linked the two together on many occasions, with their supernatural schemes cropping up in the likes of Captain America, Hellboy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Long before it became cinematic cliché to link them together, Ken Wiederhorn was busy mixing the two elements together in Shock Waves, a low budget gem from the late 70s. I really can’t believe how obscure Shock Waves is in the horror market. Almost impossible to find on DVD, little known in wider circles and never shown on TV, Shock Waves can proudly boast to be the best Nazi zombie movie out there. That’s not saying much when you have the likes of Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies for company but it can still wear that slogan with pride.

Shock Waves is a complete slow burner and takes a long time for events to click into place and Der Totenkorps to come back to life so those who been weaned on instantly gratifying blood fests will no doubt bemoan the pacing. But this one is all about atmosphere and it prides itself on creating a surreal, highly eerie environment which is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The atmosphere is thick and oppressive, holding a blanket over the proceedings, refusing to disperse. To say everything is brooding would be an understatement. There are no camera tricks, no fancy lighting and no snappy editing. The remote Florida location where it was shot creates enough isolation and claustrophobia on its own and the scenes of the survivors exploring the forests and river area are filmed with a documentary-like realism. It’s really hard to describe the ambiance but it’s unsettling and chilling, giving off the sense that something bad is about to happen and there’s not a damned thing the survivors can do about it.

It’s just a shame then that Shock Waves hits about the half way mark before we even get a glimpse of Der Totenkorps. The script doesn’t really help the film either, throwing up strands which are never fully developed or explained. What is the deal with the tanker at the beginning? Did they just hit the wreckage or see a ghost ship and run aground? What’s up with the solar flares at the start of the film? Why do Der Totenkorps have a weakness against light but no character ever use it? There are plenty more issues raised which the script conveniently uses whenever the film needs something to happen. Thankfully once the soldiers have been awakened, the film turns into the more familiar standard stalk and kill style. Accompanying everything is a really freaky electronic synthesised score which will have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck more than anything shown.

Being all pasty-faced, blond-haired, goggle-wearing Aryans dressed up in full military uniform, Der Totenkorps sport a unique look. The first sight of the soldiers slowly rising from their watery grave is unforgettable and surely an inspiration for a similar scene in Romero’s recent Land of the Dead. The fact that these killers are silent and stealthy adds to their distinctive aura. They’re not slow, shuffling, moaning zombies but silent assassins. And I mean silent – these things never make a sound which makes their stealthy determination to hunt down and kill everyone alive even more terrifying. They’re not flesh-eaters either, a fact which seems to be draw criticism for them being labelled zombies in the first place, but tend to drown their victims instead – a fate most fitting their watery confinement before they were awoken.

This does mean that the fill is virtually free of blood and gore and the worst you’ll see is a floating body so anyone expecting a Night of the Living Dead-style orgy of flesh-munching and guts will be sorely disappointed that these Nazis don’t go down that route. But where does it state that zombies have to be flesh-eaters? They’re simply the walking dead. Opposing these undead soldiers is a small cast which is pretty strong and, although most of the characters on-screen are nothing more than cardboard cut-outs to serve as zombie fodder, the likes of Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams and John Carradine all put the effort in and make their characters as plausible as possible. Carradine and Cushing don’t share any screen time together but the old hands add that integrity and touch of class to proceedings. Both are grossly underused. Adams spends the majority of the film filling out her bikini but is likeable enough to rally behind when the going gets tough.

 

With a nightmarish tone and unique-looking ‘zombie’ menace, Shock Waves is a real undiscovered gem. It’s an odd-ball film which is a creepy, atmospheric watch and deserves a place on any fans’ DVD shelf….if you can find a copy.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆