Cinema Sunday: The Frozen Dead (1966)

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Title: The Frozen Dead

Distributor: Warner/Seven Arts Pictures

Writer: Herbert Leder

Director: Herbert Leder

Producers: Robert Goldstein, Herbert Leder, Tom Sachs

Starring: Dana Andrews, Anna Palk, Philip Gilbert, Kathleen Breck, Karel Stepanek

Released: October 1966 (U.K.), November 15, 1967 (U.S.)

MPAA: UR

It’s been a while since I reviewed a Nazi zombie flick, so why not check out another one? Of course, that question is redundant, but let’s not lose sight of something more important. Why aren’t there more movies like this around? I actually like this movie more than the previous one I reviewed (Shockwaves), and it pains me to say that because Peter Cushing is in the other movie, but not this one. Alas, not every movie has Cushing in it, and most are poorer because of that simple fact.

Anyways, as we forage on to the meat and potatoes of this flick from 1966 (also the year that Hammer Studios released Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Dracula Prince of Darkness, The Witches, and so on), that never seems to get any adulation. Be advised, this one is a bit convoluted, so it’s going to be  a long one. Alright, I now present to you  – The Frozen Dead!

The film begins in a wooded area outside a large mansion, and we hear an incredibly terrifying scream. From a window of the mansion, a creepy looking butler-type dude watches, as a man, Karl Essen (Alan Tilvern), is leading a chain gang towards the house. These men have a strange look about them, and suddenly one actually attacks Karl. He’s quickly shrugged off though, and then Karl uses his whip on him, beating him mercilessly.

Inside the mansion, Dr. Norburg (Dana Andrews) is working in his laboratory. Karl joins him after putting the men in a locked room, and the two begin to conduct an experiment. Dr. Norburg remarks that a General Lubeck (Karel Stepanek) is coming to check on his progress, and he can’t understand why Lubeck chose now to visit. Karel makes an odd facial expression, and Dr. Norburg then realizes that Karl is the one that reported to General Lubeck about their progress. Karl attempts to deny communicating behind Dr. Norburg’s back, but quickly realizes it’s useless. Dr. Norburg tells Karl that he’s been aware of these “secret” communications for sometime now. General Lubeck has also told Dr. Norburg to revive another one of his “soldiers” and have him ready for inspection upon his arrival.

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You see, it has been made clear, that Dr. Norburg is part of some secret scientific experiment, where he freezes, then later revives frozen Nazis for some unheard of purpose. Dr. Norburg then commands Karl to get the latest subject ready for unfreezing. Meanwhile, there’s a knock at the front door, and the creepy butler opens the door. General Lubeck and Dr. Tirpitz have arrived, and immediately go to the laboratory to see Dr. Norburg’s progress. Dr. Norburg and Karl are excited to see them, and then the process is begun. As they begin to revive one of the subjects, another knock at the door occurs, and when Joseph (the butler) answers the door, we see Dr. Norburg’s niece, Jean (Anna Palk), has arrived home, a week or so early from school. She also brought a friend, Elsa Tenney (Kathleen Breck), who seems a bit leery of showing up unannounced. Jean assures her it will be OK with her uncle, and they head inside.

Dr. Norburg tries to explain to General Lubeck that he can easily revive a body, but it’s the brain that is posing the greatest difficulty. He exclaims that he needs a live brain to study, and learn how to revive it that way. He then shows them a room full of “zombies”, or the revived Nazis. Most of them are catatonic but have one memory that has been revived along with their body. Each Nazi keeps acting out one memory from their earlier lifetime, before they were frozen. One of them attacks General Lubeck, and we then find out that it is Dr. Norburg’s brother (Edward Fox). Back in the lab, Karl and Dr. Norburg attempt to revive the last Nazi, and poke him in the brain, giving him life. Just then, the door bursts open, and Karl surprises Dr. Norburg, and he pokes the brain a bit too hard, and the experiment is a failure.

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Dr. Norburg tells his “buddies” that he’s invited an American doctor to help him, and that this man has  great deal of experience in this area of expertise. Karl tells Dr. Norburg that he can get him a brain (from the morgue), but Dr. Norburg tells him that a dead brain is no good. later that night after everyone is in bed, Karl is creeping around, and peeks in on Jean. She hears the door squeak, and gets up to investigate. Karl hides, and then takes a trip to Elsa’s room. She starts to wake up, but Karl sticks a needle into her neck, and then carries her off. The next thing we see, Elsa is downstairs, with a pair of hands nearing her neck. Karl then wakes Dr. Norburg and tells him there’s been an accident. We see Dr. Norburg’s brother, leering over her dead body. Karl tells Dr. Norburg that they should use her brain for the experiment, but Dr. Norburg is hesitant. Eventually, Karl tells him that General Norburg wouldn’t be happy if he let this opportunity pass by unused.

The next day, we see Karl buying a train ticket for a woman. We don’t see her face, but we know it’s obviously not Elsa. Jean wakes up, and immediately goes to Elsa’s room, and finds her missing. She searches for her, but cannot find her anywhere. Back at the train station, we see Dr. Ted Roberts (Philip Gilbert), as he gets off of the train. He arrives at the house, and Karl invites him inside, he then is shown to his room (the last occupant was Elsa). Jean is then told that Elsa asked to be taken to the train station early in the morning, and that she would call when she gets to London.  Later,  Dr. Ted walks around the bed of his room, and he sees a pair of feet dangling out from under the bed. He asks the person if they need a hand, and Jean comes out from under the bed, and is annoyed. She’s looking for some evidence that there was foul play with her friend, Elsa. Jean then storms out of the room.

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Down in the lab, Dr. Norburg and Karl are marveling about the “head” that’s being kept alive. Dr. Norburg tells Karl to keep it locked up, and to tell no one. He then invites Dr. Ted to visit his lab, and the two discuss their love of science. Dr. Norburg then shows Dr. Ted a wall that has human arms hanging out of it, and the other side has electrical wires attached to them. With a couple of buttons and switches, he activates the arms and makes them move as if alive. Dr. Norburg and Dr. Ted head upstairs, and run into Jean. She’s all excited because she found a button from one of Elsa’s suits. Dr. Ted tells her that he saw a woman with similar buttons on a hat get on a train as he got off the day before. Jean is still unconvinced that Elsa left without telling her. Downstairs, Karl wants to peek at the “head”, so he unlocks the cabinet. We now see the hideous head of Elsa (blue for some reason), and it sneers at Karl with hate-filled eyes.

At night, Jean is having a nightmare about Elsa, but is it just a nightmare or Elsa calling out to her mentally? She screams out loud, and Dr. Ted comes in to see if she’s OK. She tells him that it was a nightmare, and he comforts her. She tells Dr. Ted that she had a dream that Elsa was dead, and decapitated, and that her body was buried nearby. Dr. Ted then tries to put the moves on Jean, but she’s not having it, and takes a sedative. He asks her to show him around tomorrow, and she’s hesitant. She agrees to show him around, but also to visit the train station and ask about her friend boarding the train.

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The next day they go to the train station, but the man at the gate said that he didn’t see the woman’s face. Just as they are about to give up, Jean sees a man boarding the train with Elsa’s baggage. They try to stop him, but the train takes off too quickly. Jean then snaps at Dr. Ted, and they split up. She then visits a Mrs. Miller (a neighbor perhaps?), and asks if her husband just boarded the train with someone’s luggage. The woman gets furious, and tells her that her husband knows no other women. She leaves, and the scene switches back to the mansion, and Dr. Ted walking around the estate. He then hears one of the Nazis scream (like at the beginning of the flick), and investigates. Dr. Norburg sees that the Nazis aren’t doing well, and questions Karl about it. Karl snaps at him, and blames the “head” in the box.

As Dr. Ted is about to find the Nazis, Karl hits him over the head, knocking him unconscious. He wakes in the office of Dr. Norburg, who in-turn blames his brother. Dr. Norburg then tells Dr. Ted about the “accident” that killed Elsa, and that they lopped her head off and are keeping it for study. He then shows it to Dr. Ted, and the two of them are in full arousal about the achievement. Elsa looks at both of them with bad intentions, and then Dr. Ted agrees to help Dr. Norburg with his experiments. That night, Jean (and her plunging neckline nightie) is visited by Dr. Ted, and makes another attempt to seduce Jean. Down in the basement, Karl sees that the Nazis are scared of something, and we see Elsa trying to communicate with Jean telepathically. She wakes up in the night, and realizes that something is incredibly wrong.

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The next morning, Jean is having breakfast with her uncle and Dr. Ted, and she asks to see his laboratory. He’s caught off-guard, but relents to her request, and tells her that she can visit as soon as he and Dr. Ted are done with an experiment. He gives Karl a look, and then we see him down in the lab, inspecting the head. Dr. Norburg sees that Karl is getting agitated. but he tells him to calm down. Dr. Ted is creeped out by the head, so they agree to put off the experiment for another day. General Lubeck thinks that Karl may have given out information about the experiment, so he tortures  him until he gives up that he knows the “Smith’s” from in town. They are the ones that aided him in the ruse at the train station. They are also former Nazis that would be in trouble and get deported and charged with war crimes if the police found out. Speaking of the police, Jean has told them that there are some shenanigans going on, and pointed them in the direction of the Smith family.

Karl begins to crack up, and General Lubeck has had enough of his timidity. Lubeck decides to deep freeze Karl to shut him up, and Dr. Norburg realizes this is getting out of hand. Lubeck orders him to continue with the experiment, so he gets the head out of the box, and tells Dr. Ted it is time to continue. Dr. Norburg has the head wired to the arms in the wall, and he commands the head to move the arms. The arms never move, and Dr. Ted seems to be losing his interest in the project, and also that he suspects something has happened to Karl. Dr. Norburg gets furious when Dr. Ted contradicts his theories on why the experiment failed, and now General Lubeck and Dr. Tirpitz are also wondering if things can go ahead as planned. Will the experiment be completed or will the head survive!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I don’t care what anyone says, this film rocks! Where else can you see Nazis Popsicle guys, a severed head, a wall of arms, and oh yeah, two beautiful women!?! This film was brilliant because of how quirky it is from start to finish. The very small cast is quite good, and everyone is professional and spot on with their characters. Anna Palk initially started out a bit like the dopey girl in distress, but she quickly became more than that when she began to investigate further into the disappearance of her friend. Dana Andrews (Night of the Demon, Battle of the Bulge), gives a great performance, and makes you believe in Dr. Norburg, who’s a tortured soul, to say the least. Alan Tilvern also gives us a great “Igor” for lack of a better description. You do feel terrible for him at the end, but then you remember what he did earlier, and you for get that notion.

The sets were pretty good, nothing crazy awesome, but definitely sufficient for the film. The music score (Don Banks) was as to be expected when you see the name attached.  Banks has always done a good job in my opinion, and deserves a pat on the back. You can definitely poke holes in this film, no doubt about it, but you should also give it its due and sit down to watch it sometime. It really does leave you feeling creeped out but also like you just saw a solid film. Maybe you can argue that there’s too much going on at certain points, or maybe that the Nazis, Lubeck and Tirpitz, are kind of unnecessary, and nothing more than a device to move the plot along  but really, they aren’t that much out-of-place. Either way, the film deserve some attention from horror/sci-fi fans out there in the world!

 

Click here for the trailer!

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2 comments on “Cinema Sunday: The Frozen Dead (1966)

  1. Cool poster. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.

    Your opening paragraph is right out of my own mind. Peter Cushing does make any movie better. Dana Andrews is pretty good too. A different kind of actor but also capable of elevating a B movie.

    Good review.

    Like

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