Big budget disaster movies ruled the 1970s and just before the genre had given up the ghost Roger Corman took a shot at it with his movie Avalanche. The most surprising thing about this film is that even before frame one had been shot one of the big television networks offered Corman $2 million dollars for the broadcast rights and as the budget was only $1.7 million he was already in profit mode before production had even started. Now the network wasn’t going to pay that kind of money for the film to star one of the Roger Corman players so in this instance we have a New World Picture with two bona fide movie stars; Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow.
High up in the mountains millionaire entrepreneur David Shelby (Rock Hudson) has built a massive ski resort, much to the chagrin of environmentalists, and has invited winter sports athletes from all over the world to compete at the opening of his winter wonderland. Also arriving for the big opening is Caroline Brace (Mia Farrow) David’s ex-wife who is in this movie because you can’t have a disaster film without an estranged couple of some sort. I think there may even be a law or something.
Adding to the drama is wild life photographer Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) whose job in this film is to warn David about the dangers of an impending avalanche but more importantly to sleep with Caroline so we can have a romantic triangle. We certainly aren’t going to fill the ninety minute running time without some serious padding and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg we also have…
• David being investigated for illegal campaign contributions that got him the land for his resort.
• World class skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses) cheating on his emotional damaged girlfriend.
• Sports announcer Mark Elliot (Barry Primus) and his cheating spouse (Cathey Paine).
• Bruce Scott narrowly escaping a small avalanche to heighten the oncoming threat.
• David’s mother is here and spends most the time with David’s bookkeeper getting a tour.
• Nick Thorne stealing explosives to trigger a small avalanche…this achieves nothing.
• David sleeping with his secretary so we can get in some nudity.
Rock Hudson’s character is a cross between the idiot mayor from Jaws and his character from Giant as he both ignores the dangers, “We can’t close the beaches, it’s the Fourth of July!” and is a rich and arrogant bastard whose attitude towards women is a tad prehistoric. Now normally this would be enough to place the blame for the oncoming disaster squarely on his shoulders but not for this movie, oh no we also have David demanding that his assistant fly in important papers, despite the terrible weather conditions, which results in that poor dude’s plane crashing into the mountain and causing the giant avalanche. So not only is he a callous, sexist, arrogant jerk he’s also a murdering asshat.
Finally at about the hour mark we get the titular avalanche and for the most part it is pretty exciting; snowmobile racers are sent flying, skiers swept away under tons of snow, people trapped high in the air on damaged chairlifts, and the almost total destruction of the ski lodge.
And because this is a Roger Corman production it must have at least one WTF scene in it and for this movie we get the emotional damaged girlfriend of skier Bruce Scott, who upon seeing him in bed with another woman decides to kill herself with an overdose of pills, but before she can down the bottle she is killed by the avalanche. That is some hard core dark shit there. But believe it or not that isn’t even the weirdest death in this movie as there is a bit where the sports announcer and a small boy are hanging for dear life from a broken chairlift and just as the boy is rescued power lines hit the chairlift cables and the poor sports announcer is electrocuted, falls and misses the safety net held by the rescue team because…well, because they really suck at their job.
The big dramatic death in the film has to do with David’s mother Florence Shelby (Jeanette Nolan) who along with David’s bookkeeper is trapped in the buried ski lodge and in danger of asphyxiating due to broken gas lines. They are rescued in the nick of time but then the ambulance that is rushing poor Florence to the hospital loses control and careens off into a chasm and explodes. Proving that sometimes it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed or be in a Roger Corman movie.
I do give the film bonus points for it ending with Caroline telling David that she loves him but still getting in a cab and leaving him in the dust. So at least director Corey Allen leaves us on a nice note, and I thank him for that, but sadly the dramatic ramblings of the script really hamper much of the film. This isn’t the worst of the genre but its low budget and pointless subplots hamper it from being a disaster movie worth recommending.
Trivia Note: The makers of Meteor borrowed some of the avalanche footage from this movie because apparently bad optical effects and Styrofoam snow is at a premium in Hollywood.