World War II: It was arguably the greatest war of the 20th century, in spite of World War I being referred to as “The Great War.” In terms of cinema, World War II has inspired a lot more movies. Based on my modest research, for every movie that chronicled the World War I, there are 1,274 movies about World War II. No historical event has inspired so many films. Great movies like “From Here to Eternity,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Schindler’s List,” “Biloxi Blues,” “Casablanca,” “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Atonement.” Readers: Make sure you’ve seen all of them before watching “Overlord.”
“Overlord” is a different kind of war movie—a horror hybrid that injects a little terror into a typical heroic combat film. It seems greatly inspired by the classic war horror story comic “Weird War Tales.” They’re stories with a similar formula and go something like this:
1. Soldiers engage in traditional wartime activities.
2. Monsters show up.
3. Incredulous soldiers now have to fight monsters and Nazis simultaneously.
4. Violence—glorious violence that quiets all the screaming voices in my head and lulls me into a beautiful state of calm.
5. I wake covered in salty popcorn and warm butter, as an usher tells me I don’t have to go home but I can’t stay there.
“Overlord” start just before D-Day, as American soldiers prepare to parachute into France ahead of the invasion. They have one goal: Blow up a radio-jamming device so allied forces can successfully invade and help turn the tide of the war.
First up, we have to meet the ragtag collection of grunts who have to take on a seemingly impossible mission. There’s the scared guy; the talky guy with a way-too-thick New York accent; the all-business guy who doesn’t want any lip; and the guys who don’t have personalities and will therefore die first without impacting the plot.
After the crew is shot out of the sky, they land in the vicinity of the French town, which houses the tower they must destroy. Only a handful of soldiers remain to undertake the mission. The tower is crawling with Nazis (German ones, not guys wearing khakis and carrying tiki torches from today), so the odds of success are slim. Just about the time things can’t seem to get any worse, our heroes discover a secret military lab where evil Nazi scientists have discovered a formula that can raise the dead and turn them into immortal killing machines. Can a half-dozen of America’s finest find the grit and determination to stop Nazi’s and seemingly unkillable super-deformed undead soldiers in time to save D-Day?
I love a good war horror film. “Overlord” is just that: a good war horror film—an entertaining, above-average adventure that feels, at times, a little too serious. It is the kind of movie that would feel perfectly suited for a drive-in or Saturday night schlock TV show hosted by a low-rent Dracula; (two things that don’t exist anymore). Truth be told, I was shocked “Overlord” made it to theaters, wedged between big-budget blockbusters and family fare. Something this weird rarely makes it to the local cineplex anymore.
Any fan of “Weird War Tales” will find a good amount of movies of this caliber worth watching, including the excellent World War I creeper “Deathwatch,” as well as World War II cult classics “The Keep” and “The Bunker.” “Overlord” makes a perfectly cromulent addition to the war-horror genre.
It misses a few opportunities to dive a little deeper when it comes to deadly serious topics, like human experimentation of the true horrors of war in favor of old-school “Dirty Dozen”-style thrills. The performances are solid and there’s enough scenery-chewing on both sides of the conflict to certify it a B-grade schlock (the best grade). It’s strangely entertaining.