It’s a Herr-raiser! The Frozen Dead on DVD!

The Frozen Dead

As far as seminal nightmares go, THE FROZEN DEAD (1966) is way up there for this reporter. I remember seeing it for the first time on television, early 70s, while at a sleepover at another kid’s house. The movie traumatized me squarely enough but when the lights were out my “friend” compounded matters by rasping “Burrry meeee… burrrry meeeee” in the dark. Somewhere, in that alternate universe where we are forever children, I am still screaming.

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But I digress. The good folks/madmen/crazy ladies at The Warner Brothers Archive Collection have brought Herbert J. Leder’s THE FROZEN DEAD back into the world, after decades of obscurity and a few short years of gray market/YouTube ignominy, where nth generation dupes made the film appear to have photographed through a pair of nylons. Shot in lustrous Eastmancolor by British cinematographer Davis Boulton (THE HAUNTING/CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED), the film was exhibited more widely in the United States in black-and-white (way to pinch pennies, Warner Brothers-Seven Arts!). Luckily, it was restored to full color for TV airings, which is how I saw it. Oh, the blue… the blue! But again I digress — more about the blue later. Thanks to the WAB, THE FROZEN DEAD has been restored to its premiere condition, letterboxed at 1.66:1 on this DVD-R, where colors pop quite satisfyingly. See for yourself!

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Here’s der plot. At the end of World War II, and with Hitler’s brain saved elsewhere, 1,500 members of the Nazi elite were put into cold storage and warehoused in English manor houses, caves, “even in Egypt,” awaiting the day when the aging Reich would call them back into service. Apparently that day is 1966. One of many Nazi scientists entrusted with a selection of cryogenically preserved SS officers is Dr. Norburg (Dana Andrews), whose ongoing experiments are interrupted by the arrival of high-ranking Nazi Party members General Lubeck (Czech actor Karel Stepanek fled Germany in 1940 and made a living in Great Britain playing Nazis) and Dr. Tirpitz (British stage actor Basil Henson). Sussing out that his over-eager assistant Karl (Alan Tilvern, later movie mogul R.K. Maroon in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?) has prematurely called in the big guns, Norburg confesses to his superiors that his experiments to un-freeze his subjects have resulted in a cadre of mentally defective basket cases — among whose lumbering number is his own brother (Edward Fox, a few years from his career-making turn in DAY OF THE JACKAL ), formerly an aid to Gestapo head honcho Heinrich Himmler but reduced now to a state of strangly/screamy psychopathy. What’s worse for Norburg is that his niece Jean (TOWER OF EVIL‘s Anna Palk) is coming home early from college and has brought along her American friend, Elsa (Kathleen Breck, leading lady of Michael Winner’s bedsit noir WEST 11) at the same time that an American colleague, Ted Roberts (Philip Gilbert), is due for a visit to share shop talk about how he kept a dog’s severed head alive. Mein Gott, time to start making up the guest rooms!

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Like Herbert J. Leder’s golem movie IT! (1967), with which THE FROZEN DEAD was paired for theatrical exhibition, this thing is nuts. It pinwheels all over the place trying to find its niche and it never does but what a wild ride. The movie gets you thinking it’s going to be a proto-Nazi zombie flick, granddaddy of Ken Weiderhorn’s SHOCK WAVES (1977), Joel M. Reed’s NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (1981), Jess Franco’s OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1982 — zombies in Egypt, just like General Lubek said!), and Tommy Wirkola’s DEAD SNOW (2009), but that concept is discarded fairly early on as Norburg admits he cannot do anything with his “frozen dead” but lock them up in the dungeon. There’s a subplot involving a mysterious, scar-faced woman (WITCHFINDER GENERAL‘s Anne Tirard), who wears an eerie life mask and has some strange connection to Karl (and a husband who is name-checked but never seen), and Dr. Tirpitz does a lot of sinister smoking, waiting to do that nasty thing that is his unspoken specialty. Adding to the confusion is that presumed mad scientist Dana Andrews does not come off as all that mad, and not that much of a Nazi either. He seems glumly resigned to his work, interested more in the science of it than world domination (one wonders if the character of Norburg had been etched more evilly but Andrews didn’t want to play a villain), which leaves Karl to put the plot in motion. Fumbling another reanimation, Dr. Norburg deduces (twenty years into this plan, mind you) that he needs a fresh brain to experiment on. Karl zeroes in on the oddly hypersensitive Elsa, drugging her in her sleep and having Norburg’s crazy brother throttle the life out of her. Though he understands “this is murder!”, Norburg hates to see a good brain go to waste, so it’s back to the laboratory and “Karl, fetch me a head box!”

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For the record, Norburg never actually says “Fetch me a headbox!” but it’s patently obvious that he and Karl had this conversation, because the next time you see Elsa, her head is in a headbox. This is where THE FROZEN DEAD finally begins to earn its keep and latches onto a subplot it actually intends to follow all the way. There’s a lot of yaketty yak as Karl covers up Elsa’s abduction and Norburg plays along. Jean, who has some kind of psychic link with her missing girlfriend, isn’t convinced and attempts to recruit Ted (somebody in casting must have thought Philip Gilbert looked like Sean Connery in MARNIE) in her search before ultimately turning to a local copper (Tom Chatto — the guy who fell into the hot goo in QUATERMASS II/ENEMY FROM SPACE) and there’s a lot of smoking and sitting around. But back of all this, Elsa’s head begins to make everybody uneasy, even the Nazi morons in the basement, and Karl begins cracking from the pressure, sneaking peeks at Elsa to make sure she still hates his guts (she does – look at her face!) and trying to kill Jean by dropping a flower pot on her head. The film’s script was either written in half an hour or there are chunks missing from it, as characters set up to deliver a big payoff merely disappear, among them the uber-nasty Tirpitz and Norburg’s creepy mute bald butler (Oliver MacGreevey, who later played the psycho Santa Claus in TALES FROM THE CRYPT). How forgiving we were as children of this film’s saggy midsection but horror is a way-homer; what happens during the film is less important than what you take from it.

fd04Elsa’s creepy blue head was all I needed of Hell at whatever age I was back in the day when I first clapped eyes on THE FROZEN DEAD. Sympathetic though she may be, tragic and pathetic certainly, but that face, with those bared anger teeth and cyanotic chumchum cheeks — she terrified me! I would see that face in my nightmares for the rest of my life. And elsewhere…The ExorcistI’m not saying there’s a direct connection but — you know. fd05Long after you have forgotten the boring parts, THE FROZEN DEAD will still be delivering nightmarish dividends. I am so thankful to the Warner Brothers Archive Collection for allowing me to add this to my home library. It’s good Halloween season viewing, set as it is during autumn (tree branches bend in the wind, leaves fall) and in a creepy old house with a secret laboratory and walk-in/lock-in freezers. Hammer alumnus Don Banks (NIGHT CREATURES, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE REPTILE) provides a rousing, full-blooded score and art director Scott MacGregor (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) stretches Herb Leder’s modest budget in all the right directions. (The film was oddly prescient: Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN also worked into its mix cryogenics, a severed head, and vengeance. Coincidence?) See THE FROZEN DEAD with someone you love and then, after you have retired for the evening and turned out the lights, count to one hundred and whisper “Burrrryyyy meeeee… burrrryyyy meeeeeee.”

To order THE FROZEN DEAD directly from the Warner Archive, click here.

5 Responses It’s a Herr-raiser! The Frozen Dead on DVD!
Posted By Doug : October 18, 2013 10:50 pm

I have a dim memory of what must have been this film-the wall of arms looks familiar.
As for your “burrrryyyy meeeeeee”…lesson learned. Back when “Nightmare On Elm Street” was fresh and new my friend and I saw it, having no idea what we were watching. It freaked her out something fierce.
So when I got home called her doing my best Kreuger and promptly got in a lot of trouble. Worth it, though.
Summoning the powers of Amazon, I have the Vincent Price TV special where he reads Poe winging my way in a two set with “The Tomb of Ligeia”. Happy Nightmares!

Posted By Jenni : October 19, 2013 3:19 am

Have never heard of this movie, and when I saw the pic of Elsa’s head, they must’ve borrowed that idea from The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, which is what that pick made me think of immediately.

Posted By Bob Gutowski : October 19, 2013 12:21 pm

This was absolutely on CBS’s NY Channel 2 back in the 70s! I wasn’t too impressed, but maybe I wasn’t watching closely enough…hmm!

Posted By Doug : October 21, 2013 9:27 pm

So, a vegetarian was bitten and became a zombie~
“Brans! Brans!”

Posted By Ben Martin : October 22, 2013 5:10 pm

I was eight, EIGHT mind you, when my teenage sister and i happily ran to the St. Marys Theatre in St. Marys Pennsylvania. We tried hard not to miss any horror film package that came to town. Sometimes we were pleased, often bewildered, and occasionally terrified. IT starring Roddy McDowall was the second feature and it’s still a film i hate but oh so wanted to love (I liked the look of the sad-faced Golem, but what’s with the stranged Roddy norman Bates shtick?) But the Frozen Dead was something altogether different and that head in the box is something i will never forget. I was fascinated and terrified and my sister and i had a long chat about what it took for filmmakers to create something truly eerie on film. This was definitly it. And if the chilling, closing scene with the haunting last lines dont creep you out – you may well be one of the Frozen Dead. A side note – recently an obscure British Sci-Fi film called Space Flight IC-1: An Adventure in Space (starring the great John Cairney of Jason and the Argonauts) was shown and i was struck by the cute actess playing Kate Saunders. Wait a minute – I remember that face!!! the last time i saw her she was blue and her head was in a box. Sure enough – that indelible face – none other than the very effective and very memorable Kathleen “Bury Me” Breck. By the way, other films we went to around that same time include The Deadly Bees, The Vulture (the Oscar Holoka revelation at the end left us so very disappointed), Chamber of Horrors (a real favorite) and Hammer’s re-release of The Man Who Could Cheat Death (one that scared me as much as The Frozen Dead.)

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