The new J.J. Abrams-produced war movie horror Overlord opens in theatres everywhere this weekend. Our very own Jonathan Dehaan called the film, “an adrenaline-fueled nightmare set loose on the earth […] a pulse-pounding chemical reaction that will burn the eyes right out of your skull”. Read the full review HERE.
Overlord focuses on a group of Allied paratroopers that stumble on a terrible Nazi secret during the D-Day invasion, but this is not the first time that Nazis have unleashed monsters on the big screen. So let’s revisit some of the greatest hits of Nazi horrors, all the zombies, ghosts, creatures and clones that the Third Reich has ever thought up on celluloid.
The Boys From Brazil (1978)
Although not exactly horror, the core idea at the centre of this film, and the novel its based on, is horrifying. The story supposes that Josef Mengele, the so-called “Angel of Death” who experimented on prisoners in Auschwitz and remained uncaptured till his death in 1979, tried to create Hitler clones in his exile. In the film, Mengele (played by none other than Gregory Peck) even tries to simulate the circumstances of Hitler’s upbringing in the lives of nearly four dozen boys, hoping that nature and nurture leads to the rise of a new Hitler. The whole thing ends in an old man fight between Peck and Sir Laurence Olivier as retired Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman. Just like 1976’s The Omen (also starring Peck), the lesson here is to be afraid of dark-eyed little boys. You never know where they might come from.
Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
This Dutch-American-Czech co-production is a weird confluence of inspirations. It’s a war movie, a found footage movie, a zombie movie, a creature feature, it’s got steampunk, and it’s definitely one of the weirdest and most twisted works to ever have been directly influenced by Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. Karel Roden, (who also plays Rasputin in Hellboy), portrays the titular doctor, a direct descendant of the original Frankenstein, who’s taken his ancestor’s work to new and ludicrous extremes with the free reign granted by the Nazis. Every dollar of the film’s budget is up there on the screen with the elaborate practical costume and make-up effects of the “zombots”. It’s a tight 84 minutes, but the imagination on display is limitless, and shows what’s possible when the art designer sits the director’s chair.
They Saved Hitler’s Brain (1968)
Mocking this movie is a recurring gag on The Simpsons, and understandably so. They Saved Hitler’s Brain is the crown jewel of low budget campiness from the late 60s. Originally released as a theatrical short, the film was bought for TV syndication and featured 30 minutes of additional footage courtesy of UCLA film students, $100 and a camera. Yes, that happened. The main plot is about how Nazi officers saved Hitler’s head in the final days of the war, and then need the help of a scientist to keep the head alive 20 years. There’s also an impending attack, and double agents to worry about. The resulting hodge-podge doesn’t make a lick of sense all told, but it does have Hitler’s living head in a gefilte fish jar Futurama–style, which is pretty amusing.
Blood Creek (2009)
Wondering what Joel Schumacher’s has been up to lately? He keeps quite busy actually, and this rural horror that brings Nazi occultists home to Uncle Sam and apple pie West Virginia is one of his lesser-known projects. The film stars Legends of Tomorrow castmate Dominic Purcell, and features before-they-were-famous appearances by Henry Cavill (Mission Impossible: Fallout) and Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant). Fassbender is a Nazi occultist held by a curse cast by a farm family since the 1930s, while Purcell and Cavill play brothers seeking to put an end to the Nazi evil once and for all. Blood Creek has a vaguely Supernatural vibe, but there’s no denying Fassbender’s talent as the film’s villain. Of course, just a few years later, he was hunting Nazis as young Magneto in X-Men: First Class.
Death Ship (1980)
First of all, great title! Here we have a Nazi-themed entry into the haunted sea ship subgenre. Academy Award winner George Kennedy plays the Captain of a cruise ship who becomes possessed by a Nazi naval officer after he and a group of survivors board the rusted out hulk of a German prison ship. The gag is that this “Death Ship”, piloted around the Atlantic by Nazi ghosts, is the same ship that sunk the cruise liner stranding Kennedy in the first place. There’s blood in the shower, frozen bodies in the bowels, skeletons in the racks, and a haunted portrait of Hitler that reveals itself from behind a scarlet curtain. In other words, this is no pleasure cruise.
The Keep (1983)
This is one of the few movies where the Nazis are the protagonists! An army unit that’s part of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union unleashes an evil force from an ancient citadel in Romania. The story is actually more complex and involved than that, but Michael Mann’s original three-hour plus cut of the film got chopped in half by the studio, condensing the overall arc. Still, The Keep has developed a cult following and features a great cast including Scott Glenn, Gabriel Byrne, Jürgen Prochnow, and Ian McKellen. Although not a household-horror name, the film has a tone and style that was carried on through a lot of fantasy and horror movies throughout the 80s, even though Mann and crew suffered production problems due to an ambition that might have exceeded its grasp. Plus, it’s got a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream!
Hellboy is an anti-hero origin story, set during the end of World War II with Nazi occultists hellbent on bringing about the end of the world in the biggest F-you by a losing side ever. Instead, they bring Hellboy to Earth, who grows up to become the world’s greatest monster fighter, and defender of supernatural threats. Of course, Nazis never stay gone forever and decades later, Hellboy must face the baddies, and their agent Grigori Rasputin, once again. Rasputin and Nazis? That’s like a double order of evil! In any event, Hellboy is victorious over Rasputin, and the world is saved from the Seven Gods of Chaos. Proof positive that you can be born in Hell, and still be better than a Nazi.
Dead Snow (2009)
The original Nazi Zombies sensation! Director Tommy Wirkola’s wonderfully gory, campy, funny, and over-the-top hit doesn’t over complicate things. There are Nazis, they are zombies, and you don’t take their ill-gotten treasure because they’ll hunt you down and eat you! Our gaggle of good looking young people at a friend’s cabin for Easter weekend run afoul of an undead SS unit, and they’re off one-by-one. At some point, a machine gun is mounted to a snowmobile, and the whole movie gets cranked up to 11. It’s nice when a kitschy horror movie built around a simple two word pitch like “zombie Nazis” manages to deliver, and deliver so well that you get a sequel with Red Army zombies.