Friday, 29 January 2010

Avalanche (1978)

One of my most notorious guilty pleasures is 1970s disaster movies. And I’ve discovered one I’d never seen before, and wasn’t even aware of - Avalanche! Produced by Roger Corman so you’d expect it to be thoroughly entertaining, and it is.

Disaster movies are by their very nature expensive to make, so it was a slightly odd genre to attract the attention of the king of the B-movies. But Corman has always had a talent for making a small budget go a long way. And while the special effects are pretty cheesy, the whole movie is pretty cheesy, so the dodgy special effects just add to the fun.

Rock Hudson, by this stage of his career reduced to B-movie and television work, is a tycoon who opens a new ski resort in some unspecified mountain wilderness kind of place. Mia Farrow (whose career was also somewhat on the skids until she hooked up with Woody Allen a few years later) is his estranged wife.

There’s also a ruggedly handsome photographer/environmentalist who fulfills the essential disaster movie role of being the prophet of doom, warning that cutting down trees for the resort will really annoy Mother Nature who is likely to then turn nasty. When he points to the snow-covered slopes and warns that the whole area is now unstable, and when we are informed that a huge snowstorm is on its way, we know exactly how the plot is going to develop, which is precisely how it should be in a disaster movie.

The cast spend the first half of the movie bed-hopping, which is at least slightly more entertaining than the usual first half of a disaster movie in which we’re introduced to a whole galaxy of characters we don’t care about involved in complicated situations that we care about even less. The snow setting is used quite well, with a wonderfully goofy snowmobile race that ends in total mayhem.

The anticipated disaster occurs, there are heroic rescue efforts, lots of maudlin sentimentality, and cute little kids in imminent danger.

The supporting characters are the cardboard cutouts you expect in a disaster movie - the figure skating star trying to get her career back on track, the TV reporter, the ski star surrounded by adoring female groupies, the tycoon’s annoying mother, etc. The cast produce the performances you’d expect - delightfully awful. The terrible script is a big help here.

While it’s certainly cheesy, the use of fairly fast cutting means you don’t get to see any of the effects for long enough to realise how cheap they are and the avalanche sequence is actually surprisingly effective and exciting. Today it would be done with CGI and would look a lot less convincing than this.

Director Corey Allen worked mostly in TV. His direction isn’t inspiring but he keeps the action moving along at a good pace. And Corman had enough sense (unlike most producers of disaster movies) to keep the running time short.

The Region 4 DVD release from Umbrella Entertainment is nothing short of a disgrace. It’s fullscreen, the print they used for the transfer looks like it had been retrieved from a dumpster, and the picture is so dark that at times it’s not even possible to know which actor you’re looking at.

But the movie itself is a total hoot. Yes, it’s a bad movie, but it’s always entertaining. If you share my inexplicable but deep love for this much-despised genre then you’ll love this movie.

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