Amazon Prime’s new show Hunters is about a team of vigilantes who track down and blow away Nazis. It’s far from the only example of stories about killing the supervillains of the last century. Critic Travis Johnson lists the top 10 wildest and weirdest Nazi killin’ movies.
Let’s get it out of the way right from the start: it’s not just okay to kill Nazis, it’s the fastest way into heaven. Nazis, in both history and fiction, are the supervillains of the last century, jackbooted stormtroopers pledged to an ideology so vile that you can have you heroes mow them down by the legion without feeling the faintest twinge of guilt.
What that means is that Nazis feature not only in serious, often emotionally wrenching works of art – your Schindler’s List, your The Pianist, your Come and See – but they also pull villain duty in pulpier fare. This includes, most recently, Amazon’s new series Hunters, a ‘70s-set actioner that sees an undercover team of mostly Jewish vigilantes led by Al Pacino track down and blow away the worst that the Fourth Reich has to offer.
It’s no grim procedural. Hunters is kind of like if The Warriors had a bone to pick with Rudolph Hess: a colourful, super-funky disco-flavoured espionage thriller that takes time to really relish putting Nazis to the sword.
If that sounds like your jam (and it bloody well should) you might like this lot too…
Quentin Tarantino brings us this lush, bloody slice of alt-history, wherein Brad Pitt’s hillbilly commando leads a Jewish hit squad in search of Nazi scalps. Meanwhile Mélanie Laurent’s cinema owner, the lone survivor of her massacred family, plots hellish revenge on the Nazi bigwigs who will be at her theatre for the premiere of a propaganda film.
QT’s deep love of cinema means everything from Sergio Leone to Leni Riefenstahl to German bergfilme get referenced. But the fun really lies in Pitt’s Basterds machinegunning Hitler to smithereens, giving the movie a happier ending than the actual war.
An archeology professor is recruited by the O.S.S. to uncover an ancient Hebrew temple before Hitler’s Ahnenerbe graverobbers get to it first. Ah, c’mon, you know this one – Indy Jones cracks his whip from South America to Egypt while taking on Nazi goons with two-fisted gusto, right up until the apocalyptic climax in which God himself tags in for the final, face-melting mop-up.
This is the modern ur-example of pulp Nazi action. Spawned one good sequel.
The 12th film, if you can believe it, in the low-brow, high-gore Puppet Master franchise, this willfully perverse curio comes from the pen of Bone Tomahawk director S. Craig Zahler. In the shell of a particularly sour nut, a horde of supernatural puppets created by a Nazi puppeteer rampage through a hotel, avenging their now-deceased master by slaughtering any Jews, gays or people of colour in their path.
Yes, it’s incredibly offensive, and it’s meant to be. Although whether it’s over the line of acceptability is in the eye of the beholder. Genre staples Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula) and Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) show up to please fans.
Following the fall of the Third Reich, the defeated Nazis flee – not to South America, or even Antarctica, but to the dark side of the moon. Now, 60+ years later, they’re back, ready to rain hell on an unsuspecting Earth. Finnish director Timo Vuorensola’s long gestating schlocktacular is a great idea in search of a story, really, but broad satire has its place too.
While Iron Sky never quite delivers the big, pulpy OTT moments its set up promises, it was successful enough to produce a sequel, Iron Sky: The Coming Race, in 2019. Udo Kier, who would probably starve if it weren’t for Nazi-sploitation films, is in both.
This Norwegian comedy-horror sees a group of students holidaying in a remote mountain cabin, only for the wrath of a group of Nazi zombies to fall upon them in the form of the resurrected corpses of the SS soldiers, who occupied the area during World War II. If you think Evil Dead but sub out Deadites for goose-stepping ghouls, you’re on the right track.
A doughty squad of commandoes parachute into occupied France the day before the Invasion of Normandy, only to come across a secret Nazi resurrection project. The Dirty Dozen meets Re-Animator in Australian director Julius Avery’s blisteringly loud and cheerfully pulpy horror actioner.
Jovan Adeppo’s green trooper is nominally the hero, but the real fun comes when Wyatt Russell’s grim dogface is tussling with Pilou Asbæk’s Nazi revenant. Effectively Castle Wolfenstein with the serial numbers filed off – if that sounds like your thing, have at it.
How to make Nazi zombies more interesting? Just add water! When a group of holidaymakers in the Caribbean drop anchor on an uncharted island, they discover a mysterious shipwreck, a decaying hotel… and Peter Cushing’s former SS officer and his horde of aquatic Nazi zombies. They are ready to fold, spindle, mutilate and – more often than not – drown any trespassers.
This delirious effort is frequently let down by its obviously miniscule budget but hey – aquatic Nazi zombies! The sight of Cushing’s grim legion rising from the deep is worth the price of admission alone.
Based on the novel by Ira Levin, who also gave us Rosemary’s Baby, this is a cut from the classier end of the weird Nazi genre. None other than a young Steve Guttenberg discovers that the remnants of the Nazi regime have created 94 clones of Adolf Hitler and seeded them with foster families around the world.
Guttenberg being summarily bumped off for his troubles, it falls to Laurence Olivier’s aged Nazi hunter to match wits with Gregory Peck’s Josef Mengele. With supporting turns from James Mason, Lili Palmer, Bruno Ganz, Denholm Elliot and Michael Gough, this is more a high concept espionage thriller. But nonetheless, when your story seed is “they cloned Hitler”, you’re a Nazi-sploitation film no matter how many BAFTA Awards your cast boasts.
Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of Mike Mignola’s cult comic book has a lot of disparate strands of DNA in its narrative makeup. The strong thread of Nazi Occult weirdness running through it is unmistakable, with the young Hellboy being summoned by a resurrected Grigori Rasputin for the Reich at the height of World War II
One of the main villains is Kroenen (Ladislav Beran), a kind of mummified clockwork Nazi surgery addict who provides some stiff resistance for our hulking, horned hero. GDT never got to revisit the theme in his truncated would-be trilogy, which is a shame; Mignola’s comics are steeped in this kind of madness, and more of it on screen would have been welcome.
Well, you have to, don’t you? Beloved by The Simpsons, who have referenced it multiple times, loathed by Rotten Tomatoes (0%!), this cheap exploitation classic knows what it’s about. Narratively it’s a convoluted mess, but essentially involves a search for a missing family that turns up, rather than the absent rellies, an island full of remnant Nazis taking their orders from Hitler’s severed head high-tech bottle, ala Futurama. Needs to be seen at least once, but probably not twice.