First published by Little White Lies
Before the Second World War had yet come to an end, cinema was already bringing us armies of Nazi undead (1943’s Revenge of the Zombies) – and over the subsequent decades, in films like The Frozen Dead (1966), Shock Wave (1977), Zombie Lake (1981) and Oasis of the Zombies (1981), this irresistibly schlocky exploitation trope (the goose-stepping dead!) has continued to give monstrous expression to a very real fear of fascism’s brainless tenacity. Now in the New Millennium, when the true horrors of the Third Reich are only half-remembered, there is the risk that cinema’s resurgent Nazis are reduced to a kind of comedy kitsch (see Dead Snow and Iron Sky) – but other recent films, notably Town Creek, War of the Dead and Steve Barker’s Outpost, have played the ‘SS spirit’ subgenre more straight and serious.
Barker’s creepy debut had its long dormant Nazis re-emerge from an East European bunker amidst a contemporary civil conflict, suggesting an uncomfortable continuity between old fascisms thought to be long buried, and the modern world into which they can so easily and dangerously be resurrected. Its sequel Outpost: Black Sun continues this theme, only on a more ambitious scale that reflects both the the rapid territorial expansionism of the Nazi ghouls, and Barker’s bigger budget this time round. In a vengeful search for aging SS officer Klausener (David Gant), second-generation Nazi hunter Lena (Catherine Steadman) falls in with engineer Wallace (Richard Coyle) and a Special Forces unit as they close in on the bunker that is the outbreak’s epicentre, only to realise that the ‘unified field’ machine reviving Klausener’s army of the dead is of interest to more than just moribund Aryans – with civilians, as always, caught in the crossfire of the undying struggle for power.
“Nazis, mate – proper cunts”, says Hall (Ali Craig), falling in laconic line with a long history of comedy Scots that can be traced from Dad’s Army via Star Trek to the similarly Nazi-themed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yet despite this film’s joyous revelling in such B-movie absurdities as mad scientists, zombie ghosts, cackling witches and ticking bombs, Barker’s approach to these is largely po-faced, enabling him to find a balance between the pure thrills of genre and some altogether graver themes. For even if there is a pulpishness in Outpost: Black Sun reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark or even Hellboy, the revived Stormtroopers here slash and burn everyone in their path with a stabby relentlessness too nasty to be simply fun, while, in showing a Nazi machine literally fuelled by piles of civilian corpses, the film finds a vividly horrific image for the atrocities that powered fuelled Hitler’s Germany. On top of all this, good all-round performances, high production values and a very open ending ensure that Barker’s franchise is shaping up to be an unmissable trilogy of totalitarian terror.
© Anton Bitel