'Snow' Hides a Wealth of Evil 'Dead'

Dead Snow (Død snø)

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Charlotte Frogner, Ørjan Gamst, Stig Frode Henriksen, Vegar Hoel, Jeppe Laursen, Evy Kasseth Røsten
Rated: R
Studio: IFC Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-06-19 (Limited release)

Certain concepts give film fans a chance to get their genre geek groove on - as long as they are done properly. Title something 'Ninja Strippers' and you better be ready to show swordplay and skin. Call your latest epic 'Cannibal Lesbian Vampires' and the mind's eye screenplay tends to write itself. It's the same with subject matter. Offer up something as sublimely sinister (and silly) as 'Nazi Zombies' - or perhaps, zombified Nazis? - and you tweak the horror lover's inner nerd. The very notion of history's ultimate villains vanquished and then reanimated as the most unstoppable of undead fiends could fuel a thousand nasty nightmares. This is clearly what Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola was hoping for when he created Dead Snow. Borrowing liberally from the Western macabre machine, he creates a winning slice of surreal arterial spray.

Three couples - all medical students - are traveling up to a remote mountain cabin in order to celebrate Easter break. They include an ex-solider, a film fan, a party animal, and a wannabe doc who's actually afraid of blood. The gals don't mind their bumbling boyfriends, even when they act like idiots. What does concern them is Sara. She left before the group, wanting to ski her way to the campsite. When she fails to turn up, everyone grows concerned. Things get worse when a random traveler invites himself in and tells a horrific tale of murderous Nazis who used to torture and abuse the locals some 60 years before. While skeptical of his story, two things help change their mind. One - they find a box under the cabin's floorboards filled with gold and jewelry that the Germans were supposedly hiding. And two - they begin to hear strange noises in the surrounding forest. Sure enough, jackbooted zombies make an appearance, undead members of the Fuhrer's army led by a decomposing Colonel Herzog. Their aim is simple - kill everyone. And that's exactly what they intend to do.

Told in three completely different acts and styles, Dead Snow is like a primer of how the last 30 years of Hollywood horror has redefined the international scary movie landscape. Part one plays on every slasher film ever conceived, giving us a group of "should know better" victims prepping for a party hardy weekend of drink and debauchery. Naturally, some menacing old fart shows up to criticize the coffee and warn them of the area's haunted past. Once a couple of kids are killed, we run smack dab into Evil Dead territory. It's hard not to see Part two's plan since the entire remote cabin/within the woods dynamic is repeated over and over. By the time the threat becomes all too real, we have swung over into the domain of efforts like the Dawn of the Dead remake. Nothing says splatter like a thousand cannibal goose-steppers, a corpse-like Colonel, and a band of desperate young people armed with sledgehammers and chainsaws.

Indeed, the gore factor here keeps Dead Snow from being a complete snore. This is not to say that Wirkola couldn't get a way with more subtle scares. The gorgeous and desolate Norwegian backdrop could fuel an infinite amount of isolated dread. But without the blood and guts, without the constant chaos of machinery mangling flesh, we'd wind up with a homage that's only half-baked. It's clear that filmmakers like George Romero, Sam Raimi, Tobe Hopper, and more recently, Zack Snyder, have influenced the world of terror, and within said status is both good and bad elements. Sadly. Wirkola works within a few of those flawed arenas, assuming we will care about characters barely explained, or sit back happily while the whole "how and why" of the Third Reich rippers is left unexplained. Indeed, the most unsatisfying part of Dead Snow is that lack of motive. A desire for Nazi gold is one thing (just ask Uwe Boll). Making it the reason that monsters go nutzoid is another oddball aspect completely.

Of course, there is always cultural subtext, and Dead Snow could be seen as a massive mea culpa for whatever part Scandinavia and Norway specifically played in Hitler's rise to power. At first, the students want to share in the ill gotten gains of six decades before. But when cooler heads prevail, they are prepared to defend the history contained in the box of ancient treasure. By the time they are down to a couple of desperate members, however, it's time to turn from aggressor to accomplice. It's amazing how spineless someone with a power tool can be when confronted with five times as many targets to contemplate. Similarly, our so-called heroes are more than happy to sacrifice others in the name of their own survival. While not pertinent to an American viewer, such an illustration of Norwegian chutzpah (or lack thereof) must give Wirkola's countrymen fits.

Which leads us back to the bile. There are kills in Dead Snow that will surely redefine what a gorehound will find offensive. One head wound in particular is so unreal it will literally shock any seasoned splatter-phile. There are also moments of true "intestinal" fortitude, though one assumes that guts make for lousy life saving devices in reality. Toward the end, when the remaining kids are carving away with wild abandon, we wonder how Wirkola will top himself. Oddly, it doesn't come with a splash of vein gravy or a dozen decapitated heads. Instead, it's with a potent reveal, a last gasp illustration of just what our humans are up against. It's incredibly potent, and promises something that, sadly, Dead Snow is not quite ready to revel in. Indeed, beyond the sluice-laden special effects and the constant foot races, this film doesn't delve into areas that deep.

Still, for someone whose knowledge of horror extends from the Universal classics up and through Hammer, the drive-in, '80s direct-to-video, and recent Asian and torture porn, Dead Snow will seem like a lilting love letter to everything that's groovy and gross. Wirkola may still be borrowing too openly from the masters of the past (including eccentric nods to such non-fright faithful as Tarantino and Ritchie), but he has a way with composition and framing that offers glimpses into his own possible future. And as with many foreign versions of familiar frights, the cultural differences and debts are incredibly fun to watch. As a rule, one should always be wary of anyone promising infant werewolves, flesh-eating whores, or demonic break dancers. Sometimes, assurances don't meet expectations. Luckily, Dead Snow manages to meet most of our horror hopes.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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