Avalanche (1978)

An avalanche of stock footage and primitive special effects conspire to bury poor bloated Rock Hudson’s career in this Roger Corman-produced late 70s entry in the disaster film canon. And while the avalanche sequence, regardless of how unconvincingly it was edited, at least provided the only moments of excitement, the film otherwise seemed intent on putting so little effort into even the expected tropes of the genre you barely were given a chance to laugh at the characters’ various crises!

We all know that in order for a disaster movie to function, it needs a bunch of folks (preferably played by recognizable actors past their prime looking for a payday) to be battling their own personal demons. Substance abuse, infidelity, disgraced professional, and self doubt are all good choices that allow the audience to wonder if the giant comet hitting Earth will somehow make two people you think you also remember from an episode of The Love Boat put their marriage back together. It’s really the great American story – can I use this catastrophic event which killed scores of people to achieve a bit of personal growth?

But like a drunked-up snowboarder racing down the Matterhorn, Avalanche careens haphazardly from one briefly seen set of characters to another. There’s the ice skater who is worried she’s not good enough to beat her rival. There’s the stud skier who cheats on his crazy old lady and taunts her into attempting suicide. There’s the photographer who is somehow also an avalanche expert, warning Rock that the resort is in danger, while also trying to romance Rock’s ex-wife. There’s Rock’s mother whose main characteristic is she likes to drink. There’s even a little anonymous kid who is only introduced halfway through the movie so that he can get trapped on a ski-lift! (And not even a reclusive Yeti would be surprised that the kid survives, but the adult with him lands like a sack of rocks while the guys with the rescue net stupidly look on.)

As the star and proprietor of the resort, you would expect that Rock would have the most going on and he does, but none of it amounts to much. His efforts to patch thing up with his ex-wife (a poorly cast and clearly bored Mia Farrow playing a character so vacuous, I’m still not sure why she was there or why Rock would even want her back) include him forcibly kissing her, blowing her off for lunch, and hooking up with some other bimbo the day before the avalanche.

And while you might normally give the film credit for not having them end up together, it’s handled so strangely (following some stilted dialogue about how she loves him and has to go, he’s left in the ruins of the resort with champagne in his hand while she gets in a cab that somehow was called and is able to get through after the avalanche while spooky music plays) that it almost feels like a parody of Rock’s 1950s melodramas like All That Heaven Allows.

Rock also rants and shouts periodically into the telephone about making sure some guy flies up to the resort with a file. It has something to do with a planning commissioner who’s under investigation and Rock donating to his senatorial campaign. Why we should care isn’t explained and it felt like someone without any knowledge of shady business dealings just tossed off a few scandal-like sounding catchphrases into the script. Avalanche though is the type of thoughtlessly told story where this issue is never raised again because the plane with the guy bringing the file crashes into the mountain setting off the eponymous avalanche!

With the film’s fleeting (for a disaster film) 90 minute running time, the aftermath of the avalanche has to be dealt with so fast that its impact as a catastrophe is muted. In fact, things happen so quickly following the avalanche that there’s a scene of guys loading victims in body bags on a flatbed trailer even while Rock’s mom is getting CPR from his ex! Most efficient disaster response ever!

The avalanche got handled so quickly in fact, that the movie had to insert a second disaster at the last minute to pad things out, when the ambulance carrying Rock’s mother and ex hit a slick spot on a road and crashed off a bridge into a river and exploded! And leaving Rock’s ex hanging from the bridge! With Rock in hot pursuit! Really though, the whole affair was pure negligence on the part of the driver. There was no reason for him to be driving like a maniac. Rock’s mom was well enough that she took off her oxygen mask in the back of the ambulance and demanded a Bloody Mary!

But despite its grim and speedy finale, there are a lot of other memorable moments in the movie. How can you not laugh uncomfortably at the domestic taking place betwee the pro skier and his lady when he tells her to throw an apple at him and when she doesn’t, he throws milk in her face? And what about that snow mobile race where a man and woman were cussing each other and kicking one another as they raced side-by-side? The resort even had a nightclub where people could awkwardly dance! And who can forget when a shirtless Rock was hanging out in his hot tub pretending to admire some woman’s bare ass? I know I sure can’t – because I tried!

Considering Roger Corman’s track record, it’s surprising that Avalanche was such an expensive failure. Not because Corman is legendary for squeezing watchable product out of low budgets, but because despite the money spent on it, far from looking like a motion picture event, Avalanche appeared to be nothing more than just another unimaginatively named cheap, forgettable disaster TV-movie of the era like Fire or Flood.

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