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War of the Dead

Director: Marko Makilaakso
Cast: Andrew Tiernan, Mikko Leppilampi, Samuel Vauramo, Jouka Ahola, and Mark Wingett

(US DVD: 1 Jan 2013)

In a nutshell, War of the Dead is a film about zombie Nazis. As such, it ‘s part of a recent trend of movies that not only revise, but completely reinvent German history within the realm of fantastic cinema. Indeed, during the past few years, movie screens have witnessed an intriguing resurrection of the Nazis as adversaries, and in most cases, the Third Reich is showcased in command of potent super-powers.


Just consider, most of the previous cinematic portrayals of Nazis were done within the historical context of World War II. However, a relatively large number of recent films portray them as supernatural monsters, as a dramatically advanced culture, or immersed in alternate history scenarios. Indeed, films such as Iron Sky, Inglorious Basterds, Dead Snow, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, Outpost, Outpost II: Black Sun, Devil’s Rock, The 25th Reich, and War of the Dead, make evident that the Nazi as a quintessential embodiment of evil has become a horror archetype completely detached from its historical roots.


Of course, it’s nothing new that, thanks to popular culture in the form of movies and novels, most of us have a tailored appreciation of historical facts. For example, most of the cultural, social, political, and ideological complexities that gave rise to Nazi Germany have been deconstructed and mixed into an abstract concept that embodies moral evil and not much else. Indeed, most cultural products dealing with Nazis ultimately boil down to a confrontation between the forces of good and evil. However, most of the time such a conflict was firmly grounded within the scope of a specific cultural background (i.e., World War II).


On the other hand, with the transplantation of Nazism into the realm of fantasy cinema, all historical antecedents are completely demolished in favor of a conceptual archetype that symbolizes abstract and omnipresent evil. As a consequence, this figure of unmitigated evil is free to roam all spheres of modern popular culture. Indeed, just like the monsters portrayed in traditional horror movies, Nazis have become immortal and timeless entities that symbolize repressed Freudian desires or the social scapegoats that embody repressed cultural guilt.


Even more intriguing is the specific cultural landscape that has witnessed this transformation of the Nazi archetype. Indeed, in recent years we have seen how the economic balance of Europe has rested on the shoulders of Germany. While Germany was seen as a force of utter destruction during the Nazi years, now this country appears to be the savior and only hope for the economic future of Europe and the rest of the world. As such, we could argue that the new Nazi archetype serves as a scapegoat for Germany’s cultural guilt felt in response to the real horrors created by the Third Reich.


That said, it’s important to remark that most probably, the filmmakers of War of the Dead never intended to make a sociopolitical statement with their film (the observations given above are within the context of all the entries that make the recent trend of Nazi films and not for a specific title). Even though social criticism can be found in the zombie genre in the film directed by George Romero, War of the Dead appears to be completely devoid of any overt political ideology. Indeed, War of the Dead is a brainless action flick with non-stop scenes of zombie carnage and mayhem.


War of the Dead takes place in 1941 and presents a group of Finnish and American soldiers tasked with the destruction of an old Nazi bunker currently occupied by Soviet forces. Unknown to them, the Nazis used that bunker to carry out secret experiments to create an army of voracious zombies. It doesn’t take long for the zombies to show up, leading to long and frequent scenes of brutal combat pitting man versus the undead.


And really, there is not much else to say about War of the Dead. The storyline is a simple sequence of disparate events used to move the characters from place to place, so they can fight more zombies. Granted, the visuals and the fighting choreography are top-notch, but the narrative complexity is extremely rarified.


Furthermore, War of the Dead is frustrating because it’s full of untied loose ends. To clarify, these are not gaps or inconsistencies in the storyline as your regular plot holes, but narrative threads that appear to have been completely forgotten. What was the origin of those sophisticated mechanical objects? What happened to the doctor who made them? Was his dog infected? Why and how the Nazi experiment on reanimation of the dead took place?


As such, War of the Dead can only be recommended to those horror film fans that don’t care much about narrative, but are looking for a cool looking movie with zombies, Nazis, and plenty of brutal mayhem and destruction. Thanks to Entertainment One, War of the Dead has been released on Blu-ray disc. Typical of this high definition format, the image and audio are spectacular. Unfortunately, except for the trailer for War of the Dead, no other extra features are found in this home video presentation.

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Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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