Roger Corman takes on Irwin Allen with the snowbound disaster pic AVALANCHE, on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.
Businessman David Shelby (Rock Hudson, GIANT) has risked his own personal fortune to open up a lavish ski resort on a mountain where silver prospectors were killed in an avalanche years before, and is banking on a celebrity athlete-filled grand opening sports competition to ensure his success. He has met with resistance from the government, environmentalists, and even his own company, as well as local wildlife photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster, MEDIUM COOL) who warns him that clearing off all of the trees to build his luxurious chalet will leave the slope more vulnerable to avalanche. "King of the Mountain" David is even less likely to listen to Nick when his visiting ex-wife Caroline (Mia Farrow, ROSEMARY'S BABY) takes a liking to the more rugged yet environmentally-sensitive "mountain man". When his warning to ranger Phil (Jerry Douglas, who recently ended a twenty-eight year run on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS) about the build-up of snow on top of the mountain falls on deaf ears, Nick takes it upon himself to fire explosives into the build-up to disperse it. While overseeing the opening festivities including skiing, snowmobile races, and a skating tournament, David also has to worry about issues stemming from the unethical acquisition of some of the land so he calls his lawyer (X Brands, BEAU GESTE) to fly in regardless of the worsening weather conditions which have already damaged the ski rink overnight. When the plane crashes into the mountain, it sends a massive avalanche raining down on the unsuspecting athletes and spectators as well as the resort itself where a gas explosion makes things worse. David, Nick, and Caroline – as well as survivors and overwhelmed rescue units – must work together to save others who are still in danger in the aftermath.
Although it could never approach the scope and star power of Irwin Allen's disaster films, the Roger Corman-produced $1.7 million AVALANCHE gives it an admirable (and somewhat more entertaining) try. Everything is in place, from the well-established potential danger, the big event that goes on in spite of the risk, a love triangle and the contentious subplot relationships, and the multiple rescues of individuals, couples, and groups scattered by the avalanche and still in danger, as well as media who would rather capture the action than assist the rescues. The cross-section of humanity caught up in the disaster include David's mother Florence (TV regular Jeanette Nolan, THE BIG HEAT) and accountant McDade (Steve Franken, THE PARTY) – who have more chemistry than the main love triangle – womanizing Olympic skier Bruce (singer/songwriter Rick Moses, who does not contribute a theme song) and his clingy squeeze Tina (Cathey Paine, HELTER SKELTER) who is the ex-wife of guest commentator Mark (Barry Primus, AUTOPSY), slutty skater Annette (ALABAMA'S GHOST), her less confident rival Cathy (Pat Egan) – doubled by Olympic skater Cindy Perpich – her coach (Antony Carbone, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM). The roughly five minute avalanche sequence is mostly bloodless but still quite intense with the frenzied trampling of extras amidst showers of Styrofoam debris compensating for a couple ropey opticals shots. Hudson, Farrow, and Forster actually have little to do in the aftermath – apart from dig and trudge through the snow to look like they are part of wide effort – until the small-scale climactic action setpiece.
The lensing of Pierre-William Glenn (Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT) lens the film some production gloss while the score of William Kraft (PSYCHIC KILLER) and sound design contribute heavily to the effectiveness of the avalanche sequence. Director Cory Allen was a prolific veteran of episodic television as an actor and director but his only prior features had been the Corman-produced THUNDER AND LIGHTNING and the X-rated PINOCCHIO. After ROCK 'N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, associate producer Michael Finnell would go on to become Joe Dante's regular producer from THE HOWLING through SMALL SOLDIERS. The story was conceived by Frances Doel who had worked on a number of earlier Corman films starting with THE WILD RACERS as script supervisor before becoming a regular screenwriting collaborator with BIG BAD MAMA up through his more recent return to big monster movies on the SyFy network. Coming out before the PG-13 rating, the PG-rated AVALANCE features some racy bits including Bruce's and Annette's bedroom antics as well as some briefly-glimpsed frontal nudity from Cindy Luedke (who plays David's secretary).
Releasing on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment and on DVD in a fullscreen transfer by Corman's New Concorde, AVALANCHE comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 Blu-ray looks as spectacular as the shooting allows. Colors are attractive with the reds and yellows of ski-suits and jackets popping against the snowy backgrounds and blue skies, close-ups are sharp while still flattering the stars (particularly Farrow and Nolan) – the subtle glow around highlights in some shots is an effect of diffusion filters – while the action scenes are cleanly rendered in their mix of second unit material inserts, stock footage, and opticals. The stock footage makes itself apparent by the fair to heavy scratching and increased grain while the clarity of the second unit footage makes the plastic snow and Styrofoam snow blocks obvious. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio is in fine condition. Distributed by Kino Lorber, and presumably authored by the company that does their discs, the main menu screen looks rather unimaginative with a poster image in the center of the screen in between large blue borders, but it does appear to be the first of Scorpion's releases to make use of the pop-up menu function.
Producer Corman appears in a short interview (6:40) in which he reveals that CBS showed interest in the project during the early planning stages and paid two million dollars for the TV rights, meaning that he had a $300,000 profit on the film even before theatrical and international sales. Corman chose director Allen because he was good with actors and he knew most of the action would be shot by second unit and after principal photography. He was dissatisfied with the avalanche visual effects shots which arrived at the last minute and surprised when the producers of METEOR wanted to use the avalanche shots in their film (after having spent the effects budget for depicting other worldwide events caused by the meteor). Co-star Forster also provides an interview (12:29) that is less substantive at almost twice the length. Forster's memories of the film are fuzzy. He recalls more about working with Hudson and Nolan (Farrow spent most of her time with her kids off camera), but he recalls meeting Teague on the film and appearing uncredited in LADY IN RED because his agent didn't want him to do the small film (this of course lead to Teague giving him the lead in ALLIGATOR which is one of his favorite roles). The only other extra is the film's theatrical trailer (2:13). (Eric Cotenas)
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