The Frozen Dead (1966)

The Frozen Dead might be a schlocky sci-fi/horror B-movie with a close kinship to cheap and lurid 1950s mad scientist movies (and to both zombie and Nazisploitation movies) but it has enough odd interesting qualities to make it worth seeing. Although the majority of these kinds of movies tend to be American or European this is actually a 1966 British production.

Dr Norberg (Dana Andrews) appears to be a dedicated and kindly medical researcher living in a comfortable country house not too far from London. He’s German but the war has been over for more than twenty years and he’s popular and well-respected in the district. In reality though the war never did end for Dr Norberg. He’s actually a stalwart Nazi Party member and his medical research is far from innocuous. In the closing stages of the war he perfected a method of freezing people so that they could be revivified many years later. He froze twelve Nazi officers and they’re in his basement laboratory.

Actually to say that he perfected the method is a slight exaggeration. Defreezing people turned out to be more difficult than he anticipated and so far the ones he has defrozen have ended up with severe brain damage. He is however working hard to refine his techniques.

This has suddenly become critical. He has just been informed that the Party actually has 1,500 frozen Nazis in storage and now they want them all revived so that the Third Reich can be reborn.

To add to his troubles his much-loved niece Jean (Anna Palk) has arrived back home from a school in America earlier than expected. She knows nothing of his past or his work and he really doesn’t want her finding a basement full of deep-frozen Nazis.

On the other hand an opportunity has come his way. He has finally been able to obtain a completely fresh human head which he has been able to sever from the body and keep alive. This may give him the keys to understanding how to revive his frozen comrades successfully without damaging their brains.

This might sound like an incredibly trashy film. It is a trashy film but it’s a cut above most films of its type. There are some genuinely effective and atmospheric images. The head without a body is very well done and quite creepy.

What really sets it apart is the performance of Dana Andrews. Andrews was a fine actor who by the 60s found himself relegated to low-budget shockers but he hadn’t forgotten how to act. He plays his role pretty straight and makes Dr Norberg a mad scientist who despite being a Nazi does have some good qualities. He’s a Nazi with ethics! And his German accent is subtle and convincing.

Anna Palk is quite good as the niece. Alan Tilvern plays Norberg’s assistant Karl Essen and he also manages to deliver a fairly non-hammy performance. Philip Gilbert is the weak link as young American scientist Ted Roberts who agrees to help Norberg with his experiments. Look out for Edward Fox in a small role as a brain-damaged Nazi zombie.

Nazi fever really took off in the 1960s and fuelled a whole series of mostly Z-grade sci-fi horror flocks as well as even more lurid fare. Nazis became an obsession in television action adventure series as well. Nazis were simply everywhere in the world of 60s pop culture.

What makes this movie interesting is that it has all the outrageousness that the plot outline would lead you to expect combined with a certain British quality of understatement. It’s as if writer-director Herbert J. Leder (who was actually an American) was trying to make a quality sci-fi horror movie in the tradition of Hammer’s celebrated Quatermass films. With a limited budget and ludicrously over-the-top subject matter it’s not surprising that he falls short of his objective but at least he gave it the old college try.

On the whole this is a silly but reasonably well-made fun movie. It’s low-budget but the production values are certainly not rock-bottom. And it does have that surprisingly complex performance by Dana Andrews to give it a touch of unexpected class.

The Warner Archive disc offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The colours look great.

The Frozen Dead is pretty entertaining. Zombies, a memorable mad scientist, a head without a body and snap-frozen Nazis - what’s not to love? Recommended.

And if you love Dana Andrews in this movie he's also good as a mad scientist in the excellent Crack in the World.

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