Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Snow Devils

The fourth and concluding chapter of director Antonio Margheriti’s unofficial Gamma I series of space operas—following THE WILD, WILD PLANET, THE WAR OF THE PLANETS, and WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS—THE SNOW DEVILS is also the most obscure. It doesn’t seem to have played as often on television (even on TNT and Turner Classic Movies, which aired the other three regularly), it never came out on videocassette anywhere in the world, and it was the last of the series to receive a domestic DVD release (courtesy of the Warner Archive). It also spends less time in outer space, though the antagonists are definitely extraterrestrial in origin.

Earth’s ice caps are melting. Temperatures are wildly fluctuating, endangering the population. It isn’t global warming (this time), but aliens from a frozen planet who have come to Earth to colonize it. But first they have to change the climate to make it habitable for them. Of course, the native population will die, unless Captain Rod Jackson (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart with insane hair), the commander of Gamma I space station can prevent it. Jackson, his pal Frank (Goffredo Unger), scientist Lisa Nielsen (Ombretta Colli), and their Sherpa guide Sharu (Wilbert Bradley) hike into the Himalayas to investigate the destruction of a weather station and discover the race of seven-foot blue-skinned humanoids.

Playing like a typical color episode of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, complete with silly monsters, a stalwart and somewhat militarized crew of heroes, and an emphasis on miniature effects, THE SNOW DEVILS reaches its climax right around the sixty-minute mark. But—oops—there’s still a half-hour of running time left. So Margheriti and his writers, including Batman co-creator Bill Finger, send Jackson into outer space (finally) to destroy the rest of the Snow Devils who are hiding on one of Jupiter’s moons.

Margheriti’s usual inattention to basic science, the simple storyline, Rossi-Stuart’s smug performance, and the Tinker-Toy special effects can be ignored when the film is enough fun, but the pacing problems can’t. The first act really drags, and none of the action scenes really have enough pep to them. Fans of pulp science fiction will eat this stuff up, and no doubt that a lot of THE SNOW DEVILS is a lot of fun in the same way comic books like MYSTERY IN SPACE were fun (as the MGM one-sheet demonstrates). It’s certainly the weakest of the Gamma I quartet, however, despite another marvelous music score by Angelo Lavagnino. All four movies were filmed more or less back-to-back in Rome in 1964, partially using money from MGM, and their American theatrical releases were spread out over several years.

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