Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE SNOW DEVILS

The fourth and final installment of Antonio Margheriti's mid-60s "Gamma 1" sci-fi quadrilogy, THE SNOW DEVILS (1966), was recently released as a manufactured-on-demand title from Warner Archives, and while it's far from the best in that insane Italian space opera series, it contains enough quirky, comic strip charm to make it worth seeing.

As our story opens, the Earth is experiencing unnatural global warming, causing the ice caps to melt and ocean levels to rise, threatening coastal cities with submersion. At the same time, a United Democracies Space Command (UDSC) scientific station in the Himalayas is attacked and destroyed by forces unknown - forces that leave inhumanly large, bare footprints in the snow. Commander Rod Jackson (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, billed as "Jack Stuart") of space station Gamma 1, is assigned to investigate. With his first officer, Lt. Harris (Renato Baldini), he arrives in Nepal and sets out on foot with a group of (terribly stereotyped) native guides & porters to look for a missing UDSC officer and the source of the energy beams that are causing the planetary heatwave. What they discover is a cave full of futuristic weather-changing equipment controlled by an alien race of seven-foot tall, blue-skinned, hairy giants with a plan to reshape Earth into a new home for their people. Can Commander Jackson and his crew foil this invasion of sinister space yeti?

Filmed back-to-back with the other three films in the cycle (WILD WILD PLANET, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS, and WAR OF THE PLANETS) in Rome for American producers Walter Manley and Ivan Reiner, and released in the US by MGM, this final "Gamma 1" adventure has some amusingly bonkers ideas, but is otherwise running on fumes. It's slower-paced and more talky than previous entries, padded out with stock footage, and far too Earth-bound. That said, the extraterrestrial abominable snowmen are a real hoot, and the movie does have a terrifically entertaining last reel space battle brimming with silver spaceships, swooping asteroids, and fiery miniature explosions.

The Warner Archive disc is on a par with the other "Gamma 1" titles, with a solid, if slightly worn and speckled, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and perfectly adequate 2.0 Dolby Mono audio. The American theatrical trailer is also included.

By itself, THE SNOW DEVILS is an offbeat, if occasionally sluggish, sci-fi adventure, with square-jawed heroes, sexy Eurobabes, primitive special effects, and some dodgy dubbing. But for fans of Euro-fantasy films of the era - and especially, those who are familiar with the rest of the "Gamma 1" series - it's a fun, final visit to Margheriti's unique and trippy vision of the future.

BUYThe Snow Devils