War of the Dead DVD Review
Directed by Marko Mäkilaakso
Written by Barr B. Potter, Marko Mäkilaakso
2011, Region 2 (PAL), 82 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 28th May 2012
Andrew Tiernan as Martin Stone
Miko Leppilampi as Lieutenant Laakso
Samuel Vauramo as Kolya
Jouko Ahola as Captain Niemi
Mark Wingett as Selzman
Andreas Wilson as Assistant
Allied forces behind enemy lines in World War II stumble into the plot of The Evil Dead when an age-old undead army is unleashed upon them. Nazi bunkers, a sympathetic Russian chap and hyperactive zombies await.
Nazis and zombies are two of the most overexposed movie villains out there – but combined, they remain a draw. Norway's disappointing Dead Snow aside, there's a dearth of truly memorable Nazi zombie movies. But then, the Nazi zombies of War of the Dead aren't really Nazis nor proper zombies – most of them are either Russian or allies gone bad, jumping out of trees and bouncing about like immature vampires. They're a cross between traditional zombies and the bloodsuckers of I Am Legend. The film is exactly how I'd expect a Castle Wolfenstein adaptation to play out.
An allied force of American and Finnish soldiers (accompanied by a documentary maker and his son) man the trenches of war-stricken Russia. As they reach the woodlands, the men are hit by an unseen force. Is it the Russian resistance or something far more supernatural? A whimpering Russian survivor suggests it might just be the latter. The soldiers' ranks are quickly thinned out to make room for four memorable characters and performances. Andrew Tiernan's Martin Stone is a taciturn but sympathetic lead. If his American accent seems a little off sometimes, that's because he hails from this reviewer's own hometown of Birmingham, England. He is ably supported by Mikko Leppilampi and Jouko Ahola as his Finnish compatriots. Star of the show is Samuel Vauramo as Koyla, the lone Russian survivor. He emerges as the most likeable of the bunch (it takes him all of five minutes to earn Stone's trust) and perhaps the most physically adept too. He certainly knows his way around a shovel.
Despite the film being set in 1940s Russia, writer Barr B. Potter and director Marko Makilaakso find plenty of opportunity to dig up a number of old tropes. Early scenes set in an abandoned farmhouse have a very Evil Dead vibe to them, packing in several fast paced and violent fight scenes. That the monsters are more animated than your average shambling zombie makes for some frantic fistfights and a fantastic throwdown during the finale. A car chase in a shambling old automobile feels original and unexpected, taking advantage of the story's setting in ways that the rest of the film never quite does. Elsewhere, the tale's mystical elements have a Clive Barker feel to them, particularly those brought about by the theft of a strange artefact from one of the country's remaining locals. It's a nice touch, but gets sidelined throughout in favour of the action and all-out melodrama. It feels odd seeing a supernatural war movie take itself so seriously after the likes of Osombie and Iron Sky. The well-done special effects make the actors' straight faced deliveries seem less ridiculous, but a sense of humour couldn't have hurt its cause.
War of the Dead is a fun if flawed exercise in period horror. A little more energy and imagination could have made it a more memorable experience – as it is, War of the Dead is more of a minor skirmish than all out war.
Video and Audio:
With most of the action taking place at night, War of the Dead is too dark at times. You can always make out what is happening, but someone turning on a light switch every now and then wouldn't have gone amiss. It sounds good, although the song which plays over the closing credits sounds like a (losing) entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.
Trailers and a perfunctory Making Of documentary.