Monday, 15 October 2012

The Snow Devils / La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin

Earth, some time in the future. A weather monitoring station notes an impossible spike in temperature and is then attacked by an unseen force. All the staff are killed bar one, whose fate is unknown. The authorities at the UDSCO (United Democracies Space Command) send an expedition into the Himalayas, where they believe the source of the trouble is located – a suspicion enhanced by the sabotaging of the mission’s aircraft. This forces the team to proceed on foot, accompanied by a native guide and bearers. The bearers soon flee, but the team continue on. They discover a secret base, filled with advanced technology. The base is inhabited by a number of large green hairy creatures, which they initially take to be Yeti. The creatures’ leader then reveals, however, that they are actually from another planet, Aytin. As Aytin was about to become uninhabitable, they decided to take over the Earth. It is similar to their homeworld, but for its higher temperature. Accordingly the aliens have decided to melt the Polar ice caps, flooding large areas of the Earth, then freeze the oceans. The alien leader also stupidly – if predictably – reveals that their main power source is located elsewhere...

Directed by Antonio Margheriti, who has a producer credit as Anthony Marghertiti and a directorial credit as Anthony Dawson, this is one of those entertaining 1960s science-fiction films whose contemporary watch-ability arguably derives as much from the vision of the future it presents as anything else: Silver jumpsuits; pistols that seem more like blow torches when fired; domed, finned concept cars; computers whose main method of output is a printout onto continuous paper, and so on.

An obvious point of comparison, besides the director's other science-fiction entries of the period, is Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. Bava and Margheriti were, after all, both filmmakers working in the popular filone cinema, under comparatively low budgets and with a knack for achieving effects and results that belied these impecunious circumstances.

It is, however, possible to identify authorial differences between the films. Planet of the Vampires is more reliant upon non-naturalistic lighting to create its alien landscape out of a studio space. The Snow Devils makes more use of location shooting – presumably with the Alps or Dolomites standing in for the Himalayas – and of actual sets. Bava makes more use of mattes, Margheriti of miniatures, which generally work, and stock footage, which is generally less satisfactory.

Moreover, while both films see their protagonists or identification figures facing off against hostile aliens, Margheriti’s is the more straightforward due to giving these aliens a visible and inhuman form, such that the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is obvious. His film’s resolution is also predictable and lacks the delicious ironies of Bava’s.

The Snow Devils benefits from a good Eurotrash cast, headed by Jack Stuart/Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and also including the likes of John Bartha and Franco Ressel in minor roles, plus a jaunty Angelo Francesco Lavagnino score.

No, it’s not 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it does feature a thought-provoking take on the climactic Star Wars type battle. For those monitoring the UDSCO strike force sent against the aliens’ base near one of Jupiter’s moons are receiving information from the strike force at a five minute delay. They can do nothing to advise or assist their colleagues nor affect the outcome of something that has already happened. Equally, however, the filmmakers do not subvert things further, as by only showing what happens (or more precisely has happened) from the Earth team’s perspective on their monitors, instead cross-cutting between the two crucially different points in time-space.


vwstieber said...

I think there is more than authorial difference at work here. I think the two films exist in wholly different genres.

I read SNOW DEVILS as a secret agent film, starting with the criminal mastermind plotting to take over the world. Then there are secret weapons, weird henchmen, and most of all: an essentially earth-bound adventure, without much science but lots of kitschy fiction.

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is a nihilistic gothic horror film that simply transposes the vampires to outer space. There are trace Lovecraftian touches with its hints at unnamed powerful species doing battle in the cosmos, as evidenced by the gigantic skeleton in its environment of alien geometry. The ending takes up the paranoia of BODY SNATCHERS.

To my eyes, neither is science-fiction. Both are wholly entertaining.

K H Brown said...

Thanks for giving a different perspective on the two films.

To me the difficulty with reading Snow Devils as a secret agent film is that there's no obvious enemy presented. We learn of the UDSCO but not whether there is a rival power on Earth -- it seems to be one of those films set in the future where there is a one-world government.

I think this also comes across when the helicopter is sabotaged: We might wonder if the Sherpa is in league with the villains, but there's no earlier indication of this, nor pay off to that suspicion.

Anonymous said...

You accurately point out (in a very gracious manner--thank you) a notable deficiency in my explanation.

I neglected to mention that the secret agent angle only works if I consider that:

planet Aytin = criminal-super-mastermind.

Granted, it is a bit of a stretch. Perhaps it's more of a superspy "flavor" than genre.

Elliot James said...

The 4th of the Gamma-One quadrilogy (although documentation of the exact order is not available) is my second favorite Gamma after Wild, Wild Planet. TCM recently ran a really nice print after a long absence. The music is terrific--I bought AFL's Quadrilogy soundtrack CD some years back and never get tired of it. This is to 2001 A Space Odyssey what a Euro Spy flick is to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

film said...

I find the last instalment in the Gamma One franchise that spawned the swinging cult masterpiece Wild, Wild Planet, to be a complete let down. I just felt that it was without passion and inspiration.