The Snow Devils directed by Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson)
During the 1960s, the Italians proceeded to make impressive strides in their historic cinematic output. The old-master auteurs such as Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Visconti and Pasolini continued to put out quality product (to put it mildly, in the case of the first two), while up-and-comers such as Mario Bava and Sergio Leone helped to jump-start the nascent genres of Italian Gothic horror, the giallo film, and the so-called “spaghetti Western.” The Italian comedies continued to flourish, as did the country’s truly one-of-a-kind “sword and sandal” films. But there was one area in which the Italians, try as they might, just couldn’t seem to make much of an impressive dent, it seems to me, and that was in the arena of sci-fi. Case in point: the 1967 film The Snow Devils.
Despite its ambitious story line, a top-tier actor in front of the camera and a respected director in charge of the production, the film, to my not-so-great surprise, fails to deliver in most departments. And yet, like all those inferior Italian sci-fi films of the period, cheesy as they are, this one remains good fun, somehow, nevertheless. My beloved Psychotronic Encyclopedia, which usually has a high tolerance for this sort of dreckish fare, deems the film “very boring,” but I somehow managed to be entertained by it. Certainly not anyone’s idea of quality cinematic fare, the picture, cheesy as it is (I still have not decided whether it is more asiago, fontina or robiola in nature!), is yet one that you might comfortably settle down to watch with your favorite 8-year-old nephew sitting beside you.
In the film, we learn that the weather station near Mt. Kangchenjunga, in the Himalayas, has somehow been destroyed, and all its inhabitants killed. Sent to investigate is granite-jawed hunky dude Rod Jackson (played by Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, who many will recall from Bava’s classic film of the previous year, Kill, Baby, Kill), commander of the orbiting Gamma 1 space station, which itself is part of the UDSCO (United Democracies Space Command). Along with his second in command, Capt. Frank Pulasky (Goffredo Unger, who both looks and functions here like Scott Grimes’ Lt. Gordon Malloy character in the new and hilarious TV program The Orville), and Lisa Nielson, whose fiancé had gone missing after the Kangchenjunga disaster (and played by the lovely Ombretta Colli, here, unfortunately, sporting a hairdo of singular atrociousness), as well as a good dozen mountain porters, Jackson treks to the region of the weather station, near which a “high-energy proton field” has been detected that is, alarmingly, altering the very climate of the Earth. The polar ice caps have started melting, followed by the inevitable worldwide flooding.
Ultimately, the team discovers the cause of the disasters: Blue-skinned, white-furred aliens from the planet Aytia, whose century-long presence in the mountains has been the source of the local yeti legend, are changing the Earth’s temperature to adapt it to their own uses! Jackson and Co. manage to wipe out the aliens’ installation, only to later discover a more shocking truth: An entire outpost of the cyanotic-looking aliens has been established on the Jovian moon Callisto, from which they plan to continue their attacks on our planet! And so, Jackson and his allies suit up and blast off for Jupiter, to attempt one do-or-die battle in outer space…
The Snow Devils starts off promisingly, and I must say that its first half — especially the scenes in which we see our brave team hiking through the Himalayas — is fairly well done. The film’s theme song, by composer Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, is also striking; almost like a cross between a spaghetti Western tune written by Ennio Morricone and some psychedelic rock effort. But the picture falters in its second half, and the special effects that are utilized to showcase our team in space are of a truly embarrassing nature; almost on an Ed Wood level of awfulness. Trust me, you will be howling at the meteor swarm that our heroes pass through, a swarm that looks like some sparklers thrown at the camera lens. Director Antonio Margheriti, who had previously impressed me via his Gothic horrors Castle of Blood and The Long Hair of Death, both starring the great “Queen of Horror” Barbara Steele, and who had already helmed such sci-fi outings as Battle of the Worlds, War of the Planets and Wild Wild Planet, does his usual competent job here, but he is ultimately let down by the cheapjack nature of the production. Special FX surely are not everything in a motion picture endeavor, but when they are as laughably bad as these are here, they can unfortunately torpedo a viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
The Snow Devils is surely not the worst way to spend 90 minutes, but as I say, it is surely an exercise in cheese. The Italians, by the way, would do a LOT better a few years later, with their classic sci-fi outing The Green Slime. That one is surely an exercise in camp and cheese as well, but at least the FX are better, and it also features the great Luciana Paluzzi, who is undoubtedly a special effect in her own right…