Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This Week’s Feature Presentation:
THE SNOW DEVILS (1967)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
Ah, 1960s Italian science fiction, where women in go-go boots and massively piled-up hair joined forces with chiseled slabs of men to fight dastardly villains on cut-rate sets. It’s sheer bliss for me. Many of these ‘spaghetti space operas’ are deadly dull and terribly dubbed with a budget that wouldn’t cover the craft service table on STAR WARS (1977), but that’s all a part of the charm for me. You’ve never seen so many handsome muscular men and hourglass-figured women in any genre other than the Italian Peplum (or gladiator/Hercules) films of the previous decade. The sets and special effects are gamely stapled or scotch-taped together and often resemble toys, which is perfect, actually, as the film-makers are playing, and they want us to play along with them. I will joyfully join in the fun.
Perhaps the best of the bunch of crazy sci-fi flicks of the Sixties was a quartet of movies all made in 1965, but dubbed into English and released in the U.S. over a period of three years, a loose “series” of flicks called GAMMA ONE. Directed by the prolific and terrific Antonio Margheriti (DEATH RAGE – 1976, YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE-1983, KILLER FISH – 1979) under the moniker Anthony Dawson, the GAMMA ONE films can be watched in any order, as characters on the GAMMA ONE space station come and go, on earth and orbiting it on the station. The plots don’t interconnect in any way except by the use of recycled reels of special effects footage. Actors change roles as often as they chug cocktails. However, if you are a purist, you should start with the first of the four movies produced—THE SNOW DEVILS (1967), even though it was the last to reach the American drive-in theaters. In any case, it’s more earthbound than the sequels, and the movie is a real whack-job, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to please the seven-year-old viewer in all of us!
We open on a grouping of toys meant to represent a weather station in the Himalayas. Men in pajama-esque running suits read charts and play with blinking buttons. The commander informs his officers that the temperature atop one mountain suddenly rose by fifty degrees for no reason (take THAT Al Gore!). Suddenly, the windows break, and the room fills with snow and ice. A dark shadow appears, and the commander looks up and screams in terror.
Cue a groovy Sixties instrumental rock song that sounds a bit like The Animals, and the credits roll over stock footage of snowy mountains. The music’s catchy and written by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, who scored over two hundred films, including GORGO (1961) and Orson Welles’s OTHELLO (1952). I can just imagine the girls in cages wildly go-go dancing to this song in Swinging London in 1967.
Now, we’re on the spinning space station, GAMMA ONE, another toy on a visible string. Inspector Sanchez (Halina Zalewska – THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, 1964) appears wearing a gold and silver lame jumper and—be still my heart—green eye shadow ( Yowza!). She’s directed to contact vacationing Commander Rod Jackson (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart from KILL BABY KILL – 1966 and MACABRE – 1969) who sports a firm jaw, leathery tanned skin, and some seriously styled-up blond hair. They’re ordered to the weather station, and they leave behind their bikini-clad fans and chess-playing, wise-cracking kids and investigate. There are proton force fields being activated in the Himalayas! It turns out this is exactly where the weather station was attacked, and every man killed except for Lt. Jim Harris (Renato Baldini from ESTHER AND THE KING – 1960). Enter lovely Lisa Nielson, the fiancée of the abducted Lt. Harris, and she’s carrying a cast of a giant footprint of a Yeti. She’s played by the lovely blue-eye-shadow-wearing Ombretta Colli (who oddly played Inspector Sanchez in another GAMMA ONE flick, WAR OF THE PLANETS – 1966, as well as appearing in THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER – 1963).
Jackson and his comedy-relief partner Frank (Goffredo Unger of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE – 1964) go to the Himalayas, where their heli-jet is bombed and they discover they are being followed by Lisa Nielson, who doesn’t believe her fiancée is dead. They hire a local guide, Sharu (played by Wilbert Bradley of CODE OF SILENCE – 1985), and they head into the mountains to that great groovy theme music that makes me wanna do the monkey in my living room. The photography here is really striking, as they all wear different colored snow suits in front of crisp, gorgeous scenery.
Meanwhile, the weather is getting crazier. Floods break out, hurricanes, storms, melting polar caps—all told to us through newscasts, but never shown. Rod Jackson speaks into a giant Viewmaster to communicate with the space station after setting up camp, and Lisa starts getting awfully cozy with Rod, considering she’s searching for her lost fiancé. What a hussy! They are abandoned by their men and captured by seven-foot-tall, blue, hairy men with brown mutton-chop sideburns. It’s the Snow Devils themselves, but they aren’t Yetis. They’re aliens pretending to be abominable snowmen, a race called the Aytia, whose planet is dead. They’re preparing Earth to become an ice planet by means of a ray on an outpost on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter. Their leader, played by Furio Meniconi (DEEP RED -1975), shows them his laboratory, which contains blinking rainbows of neon and machines that go “beep-beep” and “boop-boop,” and have enough blinking lights to give an epileptic a dozen seizures. He gives a long, exposition-laden speech and takes them to Jim, who seems way too old for Lisa and her girl-group wig. Banding together, they escape, wearing weird gas masks, mixing chemicals into a lethal brew, and beating the hell out of any Snow Devil they find that isn’t rendered unconscious by the gaseous mixture. There’s a laser gun battle, where the guns spit sparks just like one I had as a kid. The leader is killed, but there’s still that pesky ray that’s going to shoot us from Callisto.
The group rides in a bubble car (definitely a toy) back to civilization, where we get to see terrific stock footage of the polar caps melting and wild flooding. Nagasaki is wiped out! So, we’re off on a mission to destroy the base on Jupiter’s moon. I wouldn’t call it thrilling, unless you’re seven years old, and there’s too much talking in small rooms (“The first thing to do is stop pressing the panic button!” “What about our generator flux density?”). Still, it’s Gamma One to the rescue, in cute little rockets. Will they save the world? Is there ever any doubt?
THE SNOW DEVILS is a silly G-rated mélange of a film, combining cryptozoology and space stations, atomic rays and proton fields, with Himalayan Sherpa rituals, all set to that fabulous rock guitar music. We get snowstorms and aliens and explosions and pretty people making goo-goo eyes at each other. In the words of Cole Porter, “Who could ask for anything more?” Well, a bit more coherence and better pacing would have helped, as well as improved dubbing for a start. Also, a lot of it is dependent upon stock footage and too much of it seems set-bound. THE SNOW DEVILS is flawed—deeply flawed—but it’s still good clean colorful fun.
THE SNOW DEVILS is followed by WILD, WILD PLANET (1965), WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966), and PLANET ON THE PROWL (1966). A fifth GAMMA ONE film was made in 1968, totally unconnected to the others. It is the beloved THE GREEN SLIME. I’ll be reviewing these in the months to come.
Warner Brothers Archive offers a beautifully restored DVD of all the GAMMA ONE films, except PLANET ON THE PROWL.
I give THE SNOW DEVILS two and a half fake yetis.
© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl