Friday, January 15, 2010

Avalanche (1978)

I read a comment on the IMDB by someone who was an extra in this movie. He was ashamed, and really didn't want to admit that he was as a part of Avalanche. It's sad that he reasons that way, because even if it's low budget and very cliché, it's still one of my favorite disaster-movies ever. Rock Hudson plays David Shelby, a millionaire who's building a luxurious ski resort up in the mountains. Photographer and environmentalist Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) is not happy with how Shelbys men are cutting down trees around the mountains, just to get a more spectacular view over the scenery. But Shelby is stubborn and want to go on with the creation of his winterland, and the next day they will open the big ski slope, have a competition in figure skating and much more... so nothing can't go wrong, except... AVALANCHE!!!

Director Corey Allen and screenwriter Frances Doel throws in every cliché in the manual, and makes them work a lot better than some of the bigger movies in the genre. What could have been quite boring, is instead a effective disaster-thriller with low budget and high ambitions. It could be easy to joke about big names like Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow slumming in a b-grade Roger Corman-movie, but both (and not only them, this is a very well acted movie) makes the best of it and injects some warmth in their characters. Robert Forster, always good, plays a role that was in every Corman production during these day: the conscious hero, protecting the nature and innocent. He even steals to make a good thing, saving maybe a few peoples lives.

What impresses me the most is that Avalanche probably had a budget around 1-1,5 million dollars, and the a normal producer would be lazy and just do the necessary stuff with that money. But here we have a movie that looks bigger, have a lot of extras, many special effects (though very uneven) and lots of action. Maybe that was the reason that it was big hit? This was at the end of the disaster-era, and I'm sure it was a big risk to take at this time. But Corman and his crew puts in a lot of entertainment. Not counting the avalanche, there's some very cool skiing footage, a mini-version of Death Race 2000 - but with snowmobiles and a lot of soap opera style drama. The way we want a good disaster-movie to be. 

When the avalanche finally hits, it's impressive and cheap. It's a wild mix of new footage of people getting crushed, stock footage from nature documentaries, miniature work and visual effects. The later effects is most of that time not that good, but works because the editing is so effective and there's always a new victim to focus on in the next cut. This avalanche is also the most intensive I've seen in a movie, and there's a lot of cool and violent scenes that, judging only by content and not the quality of the effects, are among the best I've seen in the genre. 

Now when Shout Factory has bough the rights to fifty of Cormans movies, I really hope that Avalanche is in there somewhere. Because it's now, when I watched the Australian Umbrella-disc, that I understand what a crappy version that is! Fullscreen, almost vhs-quality and a dark and murky print.

Give me a restored version now, or I will send Rock Hudson ghost on you all!


dfordoom said...

I love 70s disaster movies! I must see this one.

Even though I live in Australia I avoid Region 4 DVD releases. So many of them have so many quality problems. We really get treated as second-class customers here.

Ninja Dixon said...

Yes, you have to see it! :) I heard that the old, OOP, region 1 version from Corman himself was quite crappy too.

I have a couple of good R4-releases, the last I bought was Deathcheaters, which I liked a lot.

dfordoom said...

Region 4 DVDs vary alarmingly in quality, but some are good and there are even some good ones that are quite cheap. The good news is that Avalanche is available for rental, so I've just added it to my queue! This is one I've never seen, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Ninja Dixon said...

Have you seen City on Fire? Another great, low budget, disaster movie:

dfordoom said...

I watched Avalanche last night. You were right about the Australian DVD - it really is atrocious (I'm glad I rented it rather than buying it). But the movie is enormous fun.

Ninja Dixon said...

I'm happy you liked it! You can always trust Corman to deliver!

Let's hope that Shout Factory will release it in a better version now! :)

dfordoom said...

City on Fire sounds like one I'll have to track down! I'm always happy to get recommendation for disaster movies I haven't seen!