Certain things just seem tailor-made to work together. Take gin and tonic, for example: They both basically suck on their own, but damn, are they a delight when taken together. Other things stand just fine solo, but combine into a thing of sublime beauty, like peanut butter and chocolate, or chicken and waffles. Then there are things that seem like they'd make magic when paired but usually just end up a hot mess. Nazi zombies fall into this last category.
The impulse to pair the evils of Nazi ideology with the heart-stopping horror of an animate corpse that wants to eat your face is understandable but, with rare exception, the results show just how misguided it is. Nearly every Nazi zombie movie ever made is completely terrible. Taken together, they are an unwatchable mess that will make even a diehard zombie fan reconsider their devotion to the genre, yet they keep getting made. The question, then, is why? And more important, why do they (almost) all suck so hard?
For whatever reason -- perhaps repeated blows to the head? -- the combination seems irresistible to some people. The thought process must go something like this: Zombies are scary. Nazis are also scary. Therefore Nazi zombies are the scariest!
Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.
Nazis are scary because they are people who have embraced an ideology that strips away much of what we consider human. They kill whole classes, races and creeds of people for the simple fact they consider them inferior. They take what they want -- like, say, Poland -- without a second thought for who it might rightfully belong to. They embrace a totalitarian authoritarianism led by a bloodthirsty maniac. They are, at least in the typical film depiction, basically a nation-state made up of nothing but sociopathic serial killers. That's pretty scary.
Zombies are scary because they're going to murder you. Or eat you. Or turn you into one of them. Really, most often, it's all three. The ideology of a zombie, at least of the mainstream, archetypal zombie, is irrelevant. It's like asking what the ideology of a virus is. A virus doesn't want to kill you -- it's just doing virus things, and those things happen to kill you dead. A zombie with an ideology isn't really scarier than one without. It's probably less so, because it implies a level of intelligence that conceivably could be reasoned with, or at least appealed to. "Hey, don't eat me -- tell me more about the tenets of National Socialism and the glory of the Fuhrer!"
The basic problem is that the idea is stupid. Compounding that problem is the fact that most people eager to embrace a stupid idea are pretty fucking stupid themselves. Add in the reality that most zombie movies of any variety are somewhere between "pretty bad" and "acutely toxic," and it's no surprise the history of Nazi zombie film is inglorious, to say the least.
There are two ways for filmmakers to get around this problem. The first is to realize that this is a terrible fucking idea and you should stay far, far away from it. Unfortunately, it looks like the zombie-industrial complex is just never going to get on board with this. The other way is to admit the inherent stupidity of the idea and play it for laughs, smashing the tropes up against each other with gleeful abandon like a kid with a mixed bag of second-hand action figures playing "G.I. Joe vs Ninja Turtles in Dinosaur Land." And for audiences? One simple rule -- if it doesn't look intentionally ridiculous, just walk away and resolve to enjoy your Nazis and your zombies separately, the way they were intended to be. Continue for a quick guide to Nazi-zombie cinema. The Good A very short list
Dead Snow There's really only one good Nazi zombie movie, and it's Dead Snow. A bunch of dumbass kids accidentally awake some Nazis that have been zombified, and the Nazis make them pay and pay and pay for that mistake. Gory, silly and utterly over the top, this is more comedy than horror, and that is precisely why it works. Sure, it's a little derivative and its homage to other films leans more toward outright cribbing, but it's still fantastically entertaining. Word is the sequel, Dead Snow: Red vs Dead is even better, and even sillier. You can see it at midnight Saturday, October 11, at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of the Mile High Horror Film Festival.Dead Snow: Red vs DeadThe Bad
Everything else. Seriously. But specifically...
NSFW trailer forZombie LakeZombie Lake
You will rarely see a more incompetent display of filmmaking than this Nazi zombie atrocity. A platoon of dead Nazis rises up out of a lake and start killing people. Except one of them stops to reconnect with his daughter, because why not? The zombie makeup is just green greasepaint smeared haphazardly on the actors' faces, and the only real "special effects" are provided by a busload of hot European women getting naked.
Outpost Are they ghosts? Are they zombies? An argument could be made for either, but they're definitely Nazis, and this movie is definitely terrible. A bunch of commandos get stuck in a base where some weird Nazi experiments happened long ago, and dead Nazis come back to make them regret their visit. Slow, pointless and unbelievably dull. Night of the Zombies aka Gamma 693 aka Battalion of the Living Dead There is a near immutable law of zombie filmdom that says the more titles a film has been released under, the worse it is. This one has been released under a lot of titles. It also stars a '70s porn actor (Jamie Gillis) in a "real" acting role. He performs about as well as you'd expect a porn actor in a movie about a mysterious gas that brings the dead to life to act. Shock Waves Some would have you believe this is a stylish, eerie movie about relentless undead zombie killers slowly picking off the survivors of a shipwreck. Those people are full of shit. The zombies do have a cool look, what with the weird goggles and all. You can get all of that you need from the poster, which is actually a lot more dynamic and entertaining than the actual film.
The WeirdFrankenstein's Army
If you ever wanted to see Steampunk clockwork Nazi cyborg-zombies, this is your best shot. The movie around them is pretty forgettable -- Soviet soldiers on a secret mission run afoul of the creations of a mad scientist they are trying to capture -- but the creatures are pretty damn neat. The film itself is not so much intentionally silly as it is just loopy, but it looks and feels a lot likeBioShock
, so if that's your thing, you'll fucking love this. If that sounds kind of dumb ... well, it is.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.