“The Frozen Dead” (1966)

by A.J. Hakari

"The Frozen Dead" poster

 

I like how Nazis have become the ultimate movie villain trump card. No matter the lapses in logic or ill-defined motivations encountered, their mere presence explains everything. Why would Nazis want to take over Atlantis with laser-wielding werewolves? Because they’re  Nazis. It’s a funny enough excuse for a while, but eventually, you want flicks like The Frozen Dead — dopey at heart as they may be — to explain what they hope to accomplish. For example, this British-made B-thriller centers on one of humanity’s greatest scourges once more assuming power, a premise that doesn’t distract you from nosing out the flaws in its master plan nearly as much as it should.

Decades after the Third Reich’s downfall, efforts to bring about its resurrection are well underway. Hiding out in the English countryside is Dr. Norberg (Dana Andrews), a party scientist working around the clock on a diabolical project to restore the frozen bodies of various Nazi personnel to life. Unfortunately, he’s had far more failures than successes, as the few soldiers who actually survived their revivals have emerged as nearly brain-dead oafs. If that weren’t enough, Norberg’s niece Jean (Anna Palk) has decided to visit just as his superiors have come to check on his progress. But undeterred, the doc’s assistant (Alan Tilvern) has taken the liberty of killing Jean’s friend Elsa (Kathleen Breck) in order to run experiments on her severed head…which soon gains consciousness and puts together a plan to bring the whole insane bunch to justice.

The Frozen Dead is the confused marriage of a low-rent exploitation movie and a big studio production based on some pulpy bestseller. Its budget and scope are on the same wavelength as They Saved Hitler’s Brain, but its tone is serious enough for it to be obvious that the filmmakers wanted the film to be held in as high of esteem as something like The Boys from Brazil would later be. Neither attitude is that well-promoted, giving us a flick that’s a failure as both trashy fun and a psychological heart-stopper. It’s not that the potential isn’t there, especially in the character of Norberg, whom we’re shown is a loyal Nazi but keeps his affiliation a secret from Jean and doesn’t wish for innocents to die in the name of his experiments. But no moral or ethical conflict is ever really explored, and Norberg himself is sidelined too often to be an impressionable villain or antihero (Andrews’ bored performance doesn’t make him any less passive, either).

On the less intellectual side of things, The Frozen Dead just plain ain’t scary. The film’s advertising promises no less than SS goons rising from the dead to swarm the globe, yet the most we ever see of the goose-stepping ghouls are a scant few stationary shots. The suspense is mainly focused on the cat-and-mouse game of Norberg covering up his goings-on before Jean finds Goebbels stashed in the freezer next to the Phish Food. It amounts to the same dull turn of events repeating itself over and over, which undermines the effective moments that do turn up (the majority of which involve Breck’s gaunt, disembodied noggin pleading for help). The audience isn’t paralyzed with fear so much as confusion, particularly with how the Nazis even plan to infiltrate modern society upon their defrosting, if any of them don’t end up as shambling madmen in the first place.

The Frozen Dead is neither lurid nor thought-provoking enough to expect much entertainment value. At the very least, it’s never boring, although that such a middling horror flick was inspired by this promising of a gimmick has to be a cinematic crime of some sort. Genre buffs starved for product may want to give The Frozen Dead a whirl, but it’s a mostly forgettable feature that the general public would prefer to not see.

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