After reviewing Entertainment One’s Osombie — a war-horror movie in which Osama bin Laden returns to life as a zombie — I got an e-mail from Entertainment One offering me War of the Dead, another war-horror movie, but this time with zombie Nazis. I’m not sure if Entertainment One is trying to corner the market on “history’s greatest villains… as zombies!” movies, but if Entertainment One keeps distributing them, I’ll keep reviewing them.
War of the Dead opens in 1939, with a Nazi mad scientist conducting experiments on Russian soldiers from a secret bunker in Finland. Two years later, Finnish troops and American troops are teamed on a secret mission to destroy the bunker, though they aren’t clear on what those experiments entail. However, when a group of Russian troops that they kill suddenly comes back to life, the ensuing zombie battle leaves only American Captain Martin Stone (Andrew Tiernan, an English actor with a terrible American accent) and Finnish Lieutenant Laakso (Mikko Leppilampi) alive to complete the mission. They soon join forces with a young Russian soldier, Kolya (Samuel Vauramo), who can lead them to the bunker. Unfortunately, only the three of them will have to face the hordes of Nazi zombies.
According to its IMDb page, War of the Dead was originally shot under the title of Stone’s War in 2007 (though the final title wisely places this in the tradition of the various “…of the Dead” movies). At the time it was the most expensive film ever shot in Lithuania — so expensive, in fact, that the production ran out of money in 2008 and it remained unreleased until it started making the festival rounds in 2011 after more funding was secured. The money is well spent — the detail on all of the props and equipment looks great, and the special effects are a lot better than Osombie‘s (except for a very fake-looking CG airplane bombing sequence).
The reason I point out the cost and delay of the movie is that a lot is riding on War of the Dead. This is writer/director Marko Mäkilaakso‘s debut feature after a decade of work in television and documentaries. While the movie overall is well-shot and is very atmospheric, the story is relatively simplistic and I’m surprised Mäkilaakso didn’t do more with it. Instead of some more killer horror mayhem, Mäkilaakso wastes time on a half-baked subplot featuring Kolya and his ex-girlfriend, Dasha (Magdalena Górska). It’s yet of another example of a war/action movie adding a token female character who is completely unnecessary — in fact, Dasha barely says anything.
Though nitpicking a movie about zombie Nazis might seem like overkill, there are some major historical issues here. The Blu-ray case states the film is set in March 1941 (the film itself just says 1941). That brings up a fair question — one which is asked by Kolya, the Russian soldier in broken English — “Why American soldier here?” Anyone knowing their basic history knows that the United States didn’t enter World War II until December 1941, and United States troops weren’t even in Europe in significant numbers until D-Day in June 1944. So it’s a very good question — one that Captain Stone answers with, “You tell me.” Thanks for the detail, Stone! Why Tiernan’s character couldn’t just be an English soldier — he is English, after all, and his American accent is poor — is a question I’d like to have answered. It’s almost as valid of a question as to why there is a secret Nazi bunker in Karelia, which is on the border of Finland and Russia, where the Nazis were conducting experiments on Russian soldiers in 1939. Instead of going into too much of a history lesson, I’ll just say none of that makes sense. Similarly, when Captain Stone is in this Nazi bunker, he wonders aloud, “What are they doing here?” Yeah, we don’t get an answer, either.
The concept of a Nazi army of the undead is a clever one, and is certainly timely considering how popular zombies have been in film and television over the last four or so years. Had the film actually come out in 2008 it would’ve been ahead of the zombie trend instead of coming out now that zombie movies and televisions shows are everywhere. That’s why War of the Dead is ultimately a disappointment, because as great as some of the action sequences are — they took me back to playing Wolfenstein all those years ago — it doesn’t deliver on the potential of the concept to the degree one would hope.
Unfortunately, much like Osombie the disc features no special features — only trailers for other Entertainment One films. So if you buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo, you have two discs without any features.
Movie Rating: A war-horror film that has such a great concept that it’s unfortunate the execution doesn’t match it (4/10).
Disc Rating: Like Osombie, with no special features you’re better off renting War of the Dead rather than buying it (1.5/10).
War of the Dead will be released on DVD and as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on January 1 from Entertainment One.