Directed by: Corey Allen
Starring: Rock Hudson, Mia Farrow, Robert Forster, Jeanette Nolan, Rick Moses, Barry Primus, Cathey Paine
Here’s a prime example of the kind of film that it takes a disaster movie fan to appreciate. The Roger Corman production Avalanche, starring a Rock Hudson well past his prime and a Mia Farrow of the pre-Woody era, is certainly not a good movie. However, once things get going it is actually pretty fun to watch, if only for all the wrong reasons.
Hudson plays David Shelby, the owner of a newly constructed ski resort, and everyone’s there for the grand opening. ‘Everyone’ includes Hudson’s mother Florence (Jeanette Nolan) and ex-wife Caroline (Farrow), a very manly wildlife photographer named Nick (Robert Forster), a TV celebrity and his slutty wife, a couple of “cool” ski stars and a couple of pretty figure skaters.
The first 50 minutes are spent introducing characters and launching a bunch of soap-operatic machinations, mostly having to do with people going to bed with people they shouldn’t go to bed with. The script also plants a possible subplot about David being implicated in a scandal after having donated money to a crooked politician, but then forgets all about it. Probably just as well.
Nick the manly photographer warns David about the snow and weather conditions. David and a guy who I believe is some kind of security chief don’t think it’s necessary to take any precautions. And we all know where that will lead…
After an early teaser featuring one of the downhill stars being chased by a minor snow slide and escaping by ski-jumping into a tall tree (!), the big one hits at about 55 minutes, and is caused by a private plane crashing into the mountainside. Below, the grand opening of the resort is underway and the pistes are full of people when the snow comes roaring down the mountain. This sequence features mass panic, stupid reaction shots and stunning avalanche effects accomplished through a combination of scratchy old stock footage and massive amounts of not very real-looking styrofoam snow. There are some optical effects as well that can hardly have been very state of the art even back in 1978.
While you couldn’t care less about the silly plot and stupid characters, the film offers up a bunch of ridiculous and cheesy moments that makes viewing pretty fun after all. Like the downhill star claiming “I ski like I make love”. (Meaning he reaches the finish fast, or what?) Like the snowmobile race that turns into Rollerball on snow, drivers kicking each other and randomly somersaulting backwards off their rides. Like the horny figure skater hurrying to a rendez-vous with her ski star lover, and starting to undress on the way to his room — yes, outdoors — despite the fact that there’s a howling snow storm going on around her. Like the cook in the kitchen that is scalded by boiling soup as the avalanche hits the hotel. Like David’s mother trying to dig her way out of the buried hotel with, of all things, a chair. Like Caroline last being seen in a mountain cabin that is buried by the avalanche, only to later turn up outside the hotel without explanation.
Perhaps the finest scene is saved for the finish, where the ambulance carrying David’s mother and Caroline skids off a bridge and crashes down into a ravine where it lands in water. Then it EXPLODES! Mostly, I suppose, because the cheap avalanche effects meant Corman still had some money to spend on explosives.
Yes, Avalanche is a sloppy, low-budget Irwin Allen rip-off where even the sound editing is pretty crap. But if you enjoy a bit of garbage now and then, there’s fun to be had watching this one.