There’s a long history of World War II horror movies, including lots of Nazi zombies, tons of malevolent ghosts, and one small army of killer puppets.
It’s not exaggeration to say that World War II was a war of many horrors, but as the years have passed, storytellers have used the shocking, world-spanning conflict as the backdrop for many horror stories that go above and beyond the battlefield.
Julius Avery’s Overlord (read our review here), about a squad of American soldiers whose mission sends them straight to a Nazi mad scientist’s horrifying laboratory, is the latest and probably the most expensive World War II horror movie to date, but it’s by no means the first. There’s a long history of World War II horror movies, some of them brilliant, some of them schlocky. So buckle up, folks. These are the World War II horror movies you really need to see…
David Twohy, the director of Pitch Black, brought supernatural thrills to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in Below. Bruce Greenwood stars as a submarine captain whose mission gets derailed when mysterious horrors befall his vessel, and reveal disturbing truths about its passengers and their possibly cursed fate.
Blood Creek (2009)
Before they were household names, Magneto and Superman co-starred in a World War II horror movie from the director of Batman & Robin. Michael Fassbender plays a Nazi occultist who gets trapped by German immigrants, and Henry Cavill and Legends of Tomorrow’s Dominic Purcell play brothers who stumble into his scary story.
Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2011)
The Bloodrayne video games began with a simple, effective premise: a vampire fighting Nazis in World War II. It took three whole films to get around to that storyline in the Bloodrayne movies, and they were directed by notorious schlock maestro Uwe Boll, so whether it was worth the wait or not is debatable. Natassia Malthe (Elektra) plays the title hero, and Clint Howard is impressively miscast as Nazi mad scientist Dr. Mangler, which yes, sounds a heck of a lot like “Dr. Mengele.”
Dead Snow (2009)
Tommy Wirkola’s splatstick comedy tells the story of a group of friends, at a cabin in the woods, who accidentally awaken an army of Nazi zombies. The plot is thin but the gore is impressive, and many of the ultraviolent gags are hilarious. The Norwegian horror-comedy eventually gave way to a more ambitious sequel, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, in which the monsters invade and one of the survivors of the original film gets a zombie arm transplant.
Hannibal Rising (2007)
The long-awaited, ill-fated origin story of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter begins in the middle of World War II, where Lecter is the son of Lithuanian aristocrats, who is captured by Nazi-sympathizing monsters who eat his little sister. And so begins Lecter’s tale of bizarre revenge, where we discover he’s more of an ultraviolent vigilante than a conventional serial killer, in a film that has a lot more in common with Batman Begins than Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, or Hannibal.
Heavy Metal (1981)
The R-rated sci-fi/horror animation anthology Heavy Metal, based on the cult comics magazine, is – like most anthology movies – a little hit or miss, but one of the most iconic installments is an eerie centerpiece in which the pilots of a B-17 bomber find themselves trapped in mid-air with a crew full of killer zombies.
Guillermo Del Toro’s action/horror hybrid Hellboy, based on the comics by Mike Mignola, begins with an occult Nazi experiment that brings a baby demon into the mortal world. That baby grows up into Hellboy, who decades later wages war against the monsters who brought him here, led by the mystical Rasputin and his lieutenant, Kroenen, a clockwork Nazi assassin.
The Keep (1984)
Michael Mann, the director of the crime classics Heat, Manhunter and Thief, took one shot at the horror genre, and the result was a bizarre and ethereal World War II thriller, starring Ian McKellan, Gabriel Byrne and Scott Glenn. Nazis have taken over an ancient keep in the mountains, only to discover that it’s designed to keep an all-powerful evil force in, not to keep anybody out. The Keep was taken away from Mann, and released with strange editing and off-putting sound design, but it’s still a surreal and interesting experiment from a filmmaker who usually tries to stick close to reality.
The Others (2001)
Alejandro Amenabar’s critically acclaimed supernatural thriller The Others stars Nicole Kidman as the mother of two children who, due to a mysterious illness, cannot go outside. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, with her husband missing, she begins to encounter strange apparitions around the house. It’s that rare WWII horror movie that focuses on the terrors at home as opposed to abroad.
Overlord takes its cues from games like Wolfenstein, sending a squad of soldiers to destroy a radio jamming tower, only to discover that the tower is built on top of a shocking and grotesque mad scientist’s laboratory. Bravura action sequences and extremely morbid imagery make Overlord feel like a big budget version of a crazy 1950s horror comic, and that’s a great thing.
Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)
The straight-to-video Puppet Master movies were always steeped in the history of World War II, telling the story of a puppeteer who brought his creations to life, only to be hunted by Nazis who wanted his formula. The third film in the series is the best, and focuses on Andre Toulon’s tragic origin story as he animates his impressive and deadly puppets and sends them on a mission of revenge against the Nazis who destroyed his life.
Shock Waves (1977)
Until Overlord came along, Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves was the best Nazi zombie film. Horror legend Peter Cushing plays an SS Commander who has been building an army of the undead on a remote island, and when a group of strangers wash up on his shore, they soon become fodder for his unspeakable soldiers.
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)
The sequel to the hit horror remake The Woman in Black tells the tale of a group of displaced children in World War II who escape the blitz by staying at a horrifically haunted mansion. As you can imagine, it doesn’t turn out well for everyone involved in this eerily photographed but mostly forgotten follow-up.
Zombie Lake (1981)
Another early Nazi zombie film, Zombie Lake tells the story of a village besieged by undead monsters, who were killed by the townsfolk under unusual circumstances in World War II. There’s a reason most people haven’t heard of this WWII horror movie, but it sure as heck exists, so here it is.
What’s your favorite WWII horror movie? Discuss in the comments!
Watch the trailer for Overlord above.