Director: Herbert J. Leder
Warner Archive Collection

The sub genre of Nazi zombies is an outrageous cinematic theme which has been tackled a handful of times over the last few decades (Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE and Ken Wiederhorn’s SHOCK WAVES are prime examples). Made in 1966 but not released theatrically in this country until the following year, THE FROZEN DEAD is the nearly forgotten British edition to this cycle. Although not typical of these types of films (the living dead are not seen as lumbering menaces unleashed on the outside world), the oddity that is THE FROZEN DEAD gets an official, surprise DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

Some twenty years after the end of the second World War, ex Nazi scientist Dr. Norberg (Dana Andrews, CRACK IN THE WORLD) is living in a mansion in the English countryside and continuing his very bizarre experiments. With a batch of top Nazi officers frozen in suspended animation (and retaining their youth) for two decades, some of these unfortunate specimens have been thawed out but suffer from serious brain damage, lumbering about in the cellar, each mute and exercising useless, repetitive body actions. Naturally, the chrome-domed sinister butler (Irish character actor Oliver MacGreevy, the killer Santa in the Amicus TALES FROM THE CRYPT) is one of these failed experiments, and when two older ex Nazis show up with a notion of once again having the Third Reich reign supreme, they are given a tour of some pretty wacky and gruesome sights in Norberg’s hidden lab.

Believing she will be away at university, Norberg’s young and very pretty niece Jean (Anna Palk, TOWER OF EVIL) arrives with her American friend Elsa (Kathleen Breck) in the middle of all the funny stuff going on in the lab (of course off limits to the impressionable young woman). Knowing that Norberg needs a fresh brain to have any success in his experimentations, his totally uncouth assistant Karl (Alan Tivern, RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK) murders poor houseguest Elsa, claiming that the damage was done by one of the more violent cellar zombies (which in turn makes it ok for the comparatively conscientious Norberg to use her noggin as research fodder). Elsa’s sudden departure is given a cover up story, and her now living head is placed on a desk (sometimes covered in a wooden box) with all sorts of tubing and wires connected to her exposed, glass-plated brain. As Jean becomes more inquisitive about what exactly happens to her friend, a youngish American scientist (Philip Gilbert, DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!) comes to visit, providing not only a love interest but someone who will help her to unearth her uncle’s dark secrets.

THE FROZEN DEAD was directed by American Herbert J. Leder (PRETTY BOY FLOYD, THE CANDY MAN), who made IT! (the “Golem” remake starring Roddy McDowall) at the same time; both films were packaged as a double bill through Warner Bros/Seven Arts. Considering that a majority of the British genre films of the period were either gothic Hammer horrors or the competitive classiness of Amicus, THE FROZEN DEAD plays as a much sleazier offering, with a lot of Frankenstein elements thrown in, and it’s memorable for that. Despite its one note plot and periods of heavy dialogue, the film is sort of a retread of American cheapie horrors like MONSTROSITY and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN. In fact, the living severed head of Elsa is quite similar to what we saw in the American AIP release, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, but with the “black and blue” flesh make-up on Breck, along with the exposed brain and all the flowing tubes attached to it, makes for far more chilling imagery (and there's also some impressive optical effects used to juxtapose the living head with other people standing about). The film’s other memorable images include the shots of the German soldiers in freezer-burn state, and a wall panel full of “black and blue” dangling severed arms which Norberg has re-animated.

By this time in his career, Andrews was descending more in more into low budget exploitation fare (remember, HOT RODS TO HELL was released the same year). Although he’s best known for the Oscar-nodded THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, his starring turn in Jacques Tourneur’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON associated him with horror, sci-fi and B movies, and here, he’s respectable (in a convincing German accent) as the scientist who may be mad, but is more virtuous and reserved than your average crackpot. Palk is a lovely heroine (the late actress also appeared in such genre films as Freddie Francis’ THE SKULL and Terence Fisher’s THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING) but she is probably best remembered to horror fans as a sexy and feisty harlot in TOWER OF EVIL (aka HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND). On the other hand, her leading man Gilbert is awkwardly tall and appears lost in all of his scenes. Future star (and brother of James) Edward Fox (THE DAY OF THE JACKAL) can be seen as one of the more violent of the thawed out German soldiers, and you’ll also notice a crew member standing in back of the panel of animated arms during the climax. Veteran Hammer composer Don Banks (THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN) provides a great score, and the set design was by another Hammer regular, Scott MacGregor (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS).

As mentioned, THE FROZEN DEAD and IT! (which has been out on DVD from Warner for some years now on a double-disc set with THE SHUTTERED ROOM) were originally paired as a double bill. Oddly enough, theatrical prints of THE FROZEN DEAD were in black and white (though it did show up on TV in full color). Although seeing the film in black and white might be appropriate, given its 1950s bargain basement sci-fi feel, it’s hard to imagine not having it in color, especially with Warner’s excellent transfer (previously, there was a non-authorized budget release through a company called Catcom, but we haven’t seen the disc). This on-demand DVD features the film in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and the original elements here are in excellent shape, as evidenced by this pristine transfer which has rich detail and renders the original Eastman colors very nicely. An adequate English mono track is provided, and there are no supplements to be found on the disc. (George R. Reis)