Overlord and Other Nazi Zombies

*contains spoilers

J.J. Abrams is the man who directed the Star Trek films (2009 and 2013), Super 8 (2011) and of course two parts of the latest Star Wars trilogy (2015 and 2019) and who wrote Forever Young (1992), Armageddon (1998), not to mention some people’s favorite Gone Fishin’ (1997). His Bad Robot Productions along with Paramount Pictures and others, have to be commended for getting behind the gory horror genre, which has always been the poor cousin budget-wise. Thank you for Overlord (2018).

Overlord (2018) Trailer

Operation Overlord was, of course, the code-name for the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.

A well-produced throwback to 70s and 80s horror, which has been recently revived, it uses within the framework of an army war mission, Nazi medical experimentation. Overlord opens with paratroopers on the eve of D-Day copping flak over France while about to jump and take on a mission to disable a Nazi transmission tower.

It’s lovingly recreated, if that’s the right words for it. In the same way the World War II beach landing in Normandy was recreated for Saving Private Ryan (1998). In other words, it captures the horrors of war.

We follow the surviving group of soldiers as they eventually discover a laboratory where there is a quest to create an unkillable Nazi Superman to no doubt win the war for the Fatherland.

I won’t give any more away. It’s wild and gory but doesn’t mind taking time out for some human character development.

Abrams apparently had a hand in the script but it is an Aussie from Western Australia who directs. His name is Julius Avery and for someone who, according to his resume, is not experienced with Hollywood movies of this caliber, he does a stellar job.

But are the monsters in the movie Nazi Supermen or just plain zombies? Who cares? They’re nasty.

Bad movie fans may remember Bela Lugosi (1882-1956 heart attack in bed) as Dr Eric Vornoff and his quest in Ed Wood’s (1924-78 heart attack in bed) legendary Bride of the Monster (1955 b/w) to create a race of atomic Supermen. He failed spectacularly, thanks to a meddling woman reporter named Janet, ending up as little more than a giant mushroom cloud. But since it was the Cold War, he was Russian, so that doesn’t count.

Fiend Without a Face (1958) Trailer

The Nazi horror genre is known in the 70s and 80s for such forgettable Euro-trash films as SS Experiment Camp (1976) and Zombie Lake (1981). I’m skimming here since it is not a genre I have admired fondly until its more recent incarnation. It even goes back to the 60s with Herbert J. Leder’s (1922-83 undisclosed) enjoyable British The Frozen Dead (1966) starring Dana Andrews (1909-92 congestive heart failure). Leder directed one of the very first gore movies Fiend Without a Face (1958 b/w) with its jam-filled gunshot brains leaking everywhere. The censors in the UK had fun with that one!

I do, however, love Shock Waves (1977) which features Nazi zombies rising from the deep to terrorize and kill tourists marooned on a deserted island. It features a living former SS commander played by Peter Cushing (1913-94 prostate cancer), stalwart of the British Hammer movies and of course Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977, CGI in Rogue One 2016). He turned down the Donald Pleasance (1919-95 following heart surgery) role in John Carpenter’s (1948-) Halloween (1978) after Star Wars, feeling it was too low-brow.

Shock Waves (1977) Trailer

Shock Waves was directed and written by Ken Wiederhorn (1945-), who was responsible for the ultra-low budgeted Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), a horror which rewards upon several viewings. He also directed the underrated Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) and the nasty but better-than-average slasher film Eyes of a Stranger (1981), which was the first film for Quentin Tarantino (1963-) favorite and Vic Morrow’s (1929-1982 on-set accident) daughter Jennifer Jason Leigh (1962-). She can be seen in the Netflix movie Annihilation (2018). More on that later. Shock Waves uses great locations in a derelict ocean resort and is very claustrophobic at times – literally. I digress.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972) Trailer

Overlord is a spectacular addition to the undead Nazi genre which has become popular again after the success of the Norwegian instant classics Dead Snow (2009) and its sequel Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead (2014). Both contain tongue-in-cheek black humor and extreme gore.

Overlord, like Shock Waves, is far more serious, but far more explicit. Its depiction of Nazi horrors is not for those with weak stomachs although gore hounds will not care. At least the film doesn’t dwell on what is termed “torture porn”, that little alleyway best avoided unless you love films like the Hostel trilogy (2005, 2007,2011). Yes, they are effective as horror movies.

A friend called the Overlord “totally nuts”, while another called it “classic horror”.

When it comes to the Nazi experiments of World War II, would you believe I have spoken to apparently sane intellectuals who deemed them as necessary and productive?! Well they certainly didn’t cure cancer in Overlord!!

Overlord was released direct to DVD in Australia although it got a cinema run in the US, the film grossed about $42 million against a budget of $38 million in US dollars. Bad news for fans who want well budgeted horror in the cinema format. It will obviously become more popular on disc and online. And the line between cinema and television movies is becoming increasingly blurred (see next article).

The end title music for Overlord is by rapper Nas (1973-) and there is a color-blind cast which I should mention that includes English-born Jovan Adepo (1988-) who is excellent. He played Denzel Washington’s son in the film Fences (2016). And Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell {1986-) gives a mini tour-de-force as a tough as nails corporal.

Is Overlord destined for cult status? Its relative failure at the box office means we may expect the cheap in-name-only sequel but nothing new on such a grand scale. Perhaps Blumhouse Productions may spend more on a single horror movie after the runaway success of the latest Halloween (2018) movie. Maybe the future really is the online streaming companies like Netflix and co in association with major studios.

Meanwhile, I will just mention there is a neglected Australian movie in the Nazi vein entitled The 25th Reich (2012). I’ve watched it a few times and it is compelling for utilizing such a low budget. Cue heavy breathing as turn into The Australian newspaper’s David Stratton! Not that he’d ever consider this one!!

The 25th Reich (2012) Trailer

It has a small group of American GIs on a mission in a Jeep during World War II in the Aussie bush with a piece of new technology. Something which the Nazis may already have – a time machine – one capable changing the events of history and the creation of a Nazi Reich well into the 25th millennium!

The characters are well drawn, including a closeted gay character (yes, they did serve in WWII). Try and pick him in the trailer. It’s about the bonds of mate-ship and camaraderie during war. The script is apparently based on a novella entitled 50,000 years to Tomorrow by a J.J. Solomon (no relation to Abrams tee-hee) with which I am not familiar but it’s good source material.

While there are no “name” actors attached, it is well directed and co-scripted by Melbournian Stephen Amis (1966-), who did the much maligned but also well made and fitfully amusing The BBQ (2018). That film has its heart in the right place and stars Shane Jacobson (1970-), Magda Szubanski (1961-) and a rather cool Manu Feildel (1974-) from Australia’s My Kitchen Rules as villain Andre Mont Blanc.

The special effects in The 25th Reich are pretty damn good for its budget and feature a Nazi robot, a spaceship and some CGI creatures. What results is an affectionate and sometimes funny love letter to Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s. Or did I lift that from a press release?

It’s an instant classic although some will describe it as complete bollocks but the tongue-in-cheek wait-for-the-sequel ending is an epic classic!

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