’m a bad Canadian. Well, not really, but I do take a lot of stick from my fellow citizens for making no secret of the fact that I abso- lutely fucking hate winter. Maybe it’s my Texas roots, maybe it’s having been diagnosed several years back with end-stage arthritis, maybe it’s some deep-seated pathological fear of irrevers- ible dick-shrinkage – I dunno. But every year without fail, I go into a locked-down, hermetic funk not long after Halloween and stay there until mid-April. Small wonder, then, that I have a certain masochistic fondness for snowbound horror movies and, as we all know, there’s a good-sized back catalogue of frostbitten frights for these schlong-shrivelling nights. From Black Christmas and The Boogens to Snowbeast, The Shining and beyond, I manage a few hypother- mic horror binges each winter. Hence, when I recently discovered the largely forgotten 1973 ABC movie-of-the-week A Cold Night’s Death (a.k.a. The Chill Factor), it seemed like destiny calling. The few reviews I could find online basically describe it as The Thing meets Waiting For Godot with Robert Culp, Eli Wallach, and monkeys, so sign me the fuck up! Right? Well…

Culp and Wallach play scientists Robert Jones and Frank Enari, re- spectively, who are dispatched to a remote, snowbound mountain research station when their colleague who runs the place stops answering his radio. They arrive by helicopter to find him frozen to death next to an open window and his test monkeys barely alive. (Good thing the monkeys weren’t brass, because… well, like… balls, right? Get it? Oh, never mind.) After getting the heat back on and restoring the primates to health (settle down, PETA), old friends and long-time co- workers Jones and Enari take over the opera- tion and soon begin bickering alternately about

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their experiments, housekeeping chores and the reasons why their hitherto-perfectly-sensible predecessor lost his shit so catastrophically. “It wasn’t insanity that took Vogel,” Enari postulates early in the proceedings, “it was boredom.” Well, that theory eventually gains some significant traction for all the wrong reasons.

Cue the obligatory Mysterious Malfunctions – lab equipment going cattywumpus, windows in- explicably left open during snow- storms (with both parties denying responsibility), generator shutting down – to convince our isolated and increasingly stressed-out pro- tagonists that Someone/Something Else is lurking in various empty rooms and shadowy corridors.

Trouble is, A Cold Night’s Death suffers from an overabundance of lurking and a paucity of pouncing; I’m usually in favour of legitimate- ly earned atmospherics over cheap-ass jump scares, but a spot of payoff is eventually in order, no? Alas, for all this film’s promising ingredients, it’s ultimately not to be.

Am I being unfairly lofty in invoking John Car- penter and Samuel Beckett for comparative pur- poses? Maybe, but think about it: The Thing gives us eleven men and one very unfriendly alien in a

cold, hard allegory about isolation, paranoia and human frailty, and Waiting For Godot is a sad but convulsively funny slice of existential angst in which two shabby losers wait eternally beside a road for someone who never shows up. A Cold Night’s Death seems to start out with similarly weighty issues on its mind, but then just kind of runs in circles for a while before saying “Fuck it” and turning in for the night.

Some movies take up residence in Bowen’s Basement because they’re great, others because they’re so bad they’re great, and some simply because they’re curiosities. A Cold Night’s Death falls squarely into that final category, a would- be psychological thriller that refuses to choose between sci-fi, the supernatural and plain-ol’ human craziness until the very end, with a final reveal that’s more “Huh?” than “Yikes!” Cast- ing two respected B-movie stalwarts who prove to be superior to the material is nothing new; watching them carry a sparsely-plotted film with only monkeys for a supporting cast and virtually no special effects is nominally interesting, but soldiering through it for more than an hour will surely test any genre film fan’s nerd-mettle. It’s a noble experiment, but that’s also how they de- scribed Prohibition. Now, best get the hell out of this cantankerous old bear’s basement; I got a hankerin’ for more hibernatin’.

A Winter's Tale by John W. Bowen

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