By Hank Parmer
The Frozen Dead (1966)
In the decades after WWII, fictional plots to revive the Third Reich were a pop culture staple. Some of these, like The Quiller Memorandum (1966) made for decent thrillers, and at least the genre went out on a fairly high note with The Boys from Brazil (1978). But the idea that somewhere Hitler's surviving henchmen were still secretly planning a comeback also spawned several lesser cinematic efforts during the mid-20th Century, some of them -- like The Madmen of Mandoras (AKA They Saved Hitler's Brain) and The Yesterday Machine -- extremely lesser.
Even though the title sounds like it could be the name of a stoner cover band from the Great White North, or a Disney sequel gone hideously wrong, The Frozen Dead is a cut above those last two films. But that's setting the bar so low a flatworm would be hard pressed to limbo under it.
The movie certainly has all the right ingredients for a cheese-fest: Walk-in freezers full of Nazis; botched experiments on human guinea pigs; a head kept alive in a box. All this, and a well-known leading man of the 1940s and 50s discovering his talent doesn't extend to faking an accent. At least they can sincerely say it wasn't typecasting, when they tapped Dana Andrews to play a Nazi expatriate and mad scientist.
Andrews had turned in some fine performances in The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura and The Oxbow Incident. And it took some guts for such a reputedly straight arrow to do that cameo as a corrupt Air Force general, in the criminally underrated The Loved One. By the mid-Sixties, though, age and alcoholism had restricted the range of roles he was being offered.
The Frozen Dead opens on a promisingly eerie note, with a half moon riding high above the treetops in the inky night sky. The silence is broken by an anguished cry, a low moan rising to an inhuman howl.
Could this mean a rare demi-werewolf is prowling about? No, it's just one of a half-dozen guys clad in the soiled, tattered remnants of Wehrmacht and SS uniforms. An individual in civilian attire smacks the noisy one repeatedly across the face with the butt of his whip, until he stops howling.
Worst. Theme. Spa. Ever.
Twitching, gibbering and groaning, the group shuffles across the lawn of a country estate. I do believe these guys aren't quite right in the head; one of them is even in handcuffs. Finished with their walkies, their attendant, Karl Essen, shoves and flogs the loonies through a wrought iron gate and down some steps, while Joseph the butler watches impassively from a second-story window.
In his basement bunker -- er, laboratory, Dr. Norberg (Dana Andrews, and I'm telling you right now there will be no O. J. Simpson/Police Squad riffs) establishes his scientific bona fides by fiddling with some equipment. He's joined by Karl for a round of "Who can recite the most awkward expository dialog?"
General Lubeck is dropping by. And he's unusually late, a whole ten minutes! While they wait, Norberg is thawing out another subject, who's been frozen for the last twenty years. I dunno, you could be looking at substantial freezer burn with this one. Wait a second: 1965 minus 20 -- I think these chaps might be up to something dubious, possibly involving Germans and the end of World War II.
Clean 'em up a bit and stick some MAGA hats on them, and these Nazi loons would fit right in at one of our home-grown fascist rallies. In more ways than oneIt's a tough call, but Dana Andrews ekes out a win in the dueling exposition with extra points awarded for his completely unconvincing accent. Be that as it may, the Herr Doktor isn't overly optimistic about his chances for reviving this one with his wits intact, considering how the last seven subjects turned out. Oh, I get it: Those are the whacked-out wretches we saw at the beginning. Although Norberg really shouldn't be such a Gloomy Gus: Clean 'em up a bit and stick some MAGA hats on them, and these Nazi loons would fit right in at one of our home-grown fascist rallies. In more ways than one.
But there were only six of those guys. Who's number seven? Fortunately, this considerate scriptwriter immediately relieves us of any anxiety on that score, when Karl objects that Joseph the butler was a semi-success. Sure -- as long as you overlook the fact he's now a creepy mute.
Norberg is suspicious about the timing of the General's visit. He coolly informs Karl he's known all along that ever since he was assigned to the doctor at the end of the war, his assistant has been snitching on him to their higher-ups in the Party. Still, he's annoyed at Karl for going behind his back to the general and telling him they're ready.
But meanwhile, they have a body to reanimate. Norberg orders Karl to fetch Muller from the freezer and hook him up to the apparatus.
Three little maids from schooool!
If you look closely, you can see these frozen Nazis are being held upright by calipers, with the points jammed into their ears. Looks pretty painful for those extras.
General Lubeck (Karel Stepanek -- a Czech actor who at the time was the go-to guy for portraying high-ranking Nazi officers, such as the fanatical Admiral Lutjens in Sink the Bismarck) arrives, with his gaunt, quietly intimidating companion, Dr. Tirpitz. The two are shown down to the cellar lab by Norberg's zombie-fied retainer.
Lubeck reveals why this demonstration is so important: There are over fifteen hundred of the Nazi elite, quick-frozen at the end of the war and stashed away in Germany, France and even Egypt, just waiting to be thawed out and reanimated so they can get back to conquering the world. (It must have been the B-list Nazis who wound up taking the rap at Nuremberg.)
Considering it's taken the Herr Doktor all of two decades to get to this point, this willingness to stick with the project shows a remarkable degree of patience on the part of his masters, a quality you rarely associate with National Socialist big-wigs. The electricity bill alone for all those freezers must be astronomical! Especially the ones in Egypt.
And another thing: Why do these crypto-Nazi schemes to resurrect the Third Reich always sound as if they were devised by the Underpants Gnomes? Seriously, what does this fiendish plan amount to:
1. Defrost 1500+ elite Nazis
3. World Conquest!
It's not like I'm expecting the general to provide a detailed scenario (although, given this script, it's not outside the bounds of possibility) but you have to wonder how effective these revenants will be. Even assuming the Herr Doktor ultimately works the kinks out and they'll be capable of more advanced tasks than sitting in a closet and drooling into a shoe, the guys will have quite a bit of catching up on current events to do. And then there's the inevitable jealousy and back-biting from the conspirators who haven't been on ice for the last twenty years.