Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Honourable Mentions: Dead Snow

It is an aim of mine to look at areas that touch onto the vampire genre even if they are 'not quite' vampire. Now, when it comes to this 2009 Norwegian horror comedy that was directed by Tommy Wirkola, you may well say to me that you know that the modern cinematic zombie genre came from the vampire genre. You may equally say that it created a genre in its own right and that, as fun as zombie films are, they generally do not belong on the pages of TMtV (unless there is a zompire cross-over).

Normally I’d agree, but you know what… these aren’t zombies (Haitian mythology or Romero derived). Now I say that knowing full well that the DVD box has the word zombie plastered over its blurb, that the IMDb page says it is a zombie movie and that the word is used in movie (once). You see, zombies don’t tend to work in unison (other than clumsy mobs), they don’t check out the field of battle with binoculars and they certainly do not shout “arise” as they summon a fresh horde of the dead. So, what are they? Well, according to Watching the Dead they are draugr.

the draugr
The draugr were a type of restless dead hailing from Scandinavia, and much can be read about them in the excellent book Troublesome Corpses. Dr Bob Curran also has a section dedicated to them in Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night. Now, despite the inclusion in several vampire mythology books there is some debate as to whether a draugr could be classed as a vampire (or vice-versa). The big difference between the draugr (and, similarly, English medieval revenants) and the 18th century vampire seems to be blood drinking was a must for the vampire whereas it is only occasionally mentioned in draugr/revenant folklore.

driving to the cabin
However, even though the word draugr (as far as I noticed) was not mentioned in film, these are draugr (not zombies) and we should take a look at the film. It begins with a woman, Sara (Ane Dahl Torp), being chased through the snows of a sparse forest area. We see little of her pursuers but enough to know that they are the draugr we are going to meet later. The composition "In the Hall of the Mountain King" juxtaposes against the chase as she falls, smashes her leg and becomes fodder for the dead. Cut to two cars in daylight. We visit the car with four men first and then the car with three women. They are all medical students going to spend Easter break at Sara’s cabin in the woods.

the doom-saying stranger
They go as far as they can by car. Sara isn’t with them (they think she is skiing her way to the cabin, but we know she is dead). Sara’s boyfriend Vegard (Lasse Valdal) takes a snowmobile to the cabin and uses it to leave a trail for the others who are hiking. The nerdy Erlend (Jeppe Laursen) mentions horror films based on groups of young people going to a remote cabin out of mobile phone range. At first they have fun but in the night a stranger comes to the door. He seems unimpressed by the students and tells them the legend of Oberst Herzog (Ørjan Gamst), a sadistic SS officer and his men who stole all the valuables of the locals, towards the end of the war, killing any who resisted and the demise of him and his troops in the mountains. The man leaves (and is killed at his encampment by draugr) and Vegard has a dream of a bloodstained Sara hiding something in a floor space in the cabin.

Nazi tomb
The next day he goes to find Sara but finds the stranger’s body instead and then falls through the ground into a cavern that later turns out to be the place the nazi’s got as far as before dying. The other friends find a box of treasures in the floor space (the items stolen by Herzog and his men). The inference being, of course, that Sara found the treasure, took it and awakened the dead who want their treasure back. Let us just have a quick quote from Bane’s “Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology”: Land draugr are created when a very greedy and wealthy man is buried in a barrow with all of his possessions… … A draugr jealously guards its treasures and viciously attacks anyone who enters its tomb. It uses its supernatural strength to crush them to death or strangle them with its bare hands.

back from the grave
Which is pretty much what we have. The Oberst is pretty much still in command, the nazis attack with bare hands rather than weapons – though they rip their enemies apart rather than strangle or crush. This is despite the fact that they can use equipment (we see the Oberst use binoculars and we see a draugr clearly recognise and worry when a grenade has been activated). They are after the gold and the destruction of the kids. A bite from one does not seem to turn the victim despite Erlend’s movie lore warning. One bite does lead to an amputation just in case, however.

I rather liked this, the premise was perhaps thin and it felt as though some exposition was missing but it was good fun and unusual in that it depicted draugr… not zombies, people, draugr. The imdb page is here.


Alex. G said...

If you want a vampire film from Norway check out the comedy "Noe helt annet" (Something completely different) instead.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I certainly will Alex.

This, of course, isn't a vampire movie but the draugr do deserve an honourable mention but I am having a little bit of a Norwegian fest in general at the moment (Thale on pre-order, Troll Hunter recently watched and listening to Katzenjammer) :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

sturggling to find it Alex, but it is on the radar now :)

Alex. G said...

Never heard of "draugr" unfortunately so this review seemed kinda like grasping for straws to me. Still a good review though.

I could swear "Noe helt annet" was on DVD but can't find it anywhere now. If you want to, I can send you a mail if I ever spot one with english subtitles.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Draugr were the Scandinavian form of restless dead. There was quiet a rich folklore built around them and some scholars suggest that Grendell was a draugr (I’m no expert so I’ll leave it at that rather than agreeing or disagreeing with that assessment).

The troublesome corpses book mentioned suggests that they and revenants (the English medieval restless dead) were different to the vampires that emerged in the eighteenth century (and came with the appellation vampire) in that vampires were all associated with blood drinking whereas this wasn’t necessarily the case for draugr/revenants.

However many other books list them as a vampire type – so while they are not vampires (certainly in this film) they seem of genre interest (from a more folklore point of view).

Re Noe helt annet, yes please.