The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Riki Lindhome, Robert Forster, Jim Cummings, Demetrius Daniels

 

Young couple PJ and Brianne check in to a holiday cabin. They’re in love. He’s intending to propose later that evening. But before that, they go out to dinner, PJ gets on the wrong side of some local rednecks and things almost get physical. Back at the cabin, while PJ showers, Brianne is attacked and dismembered by a person or thing unknown. When the cops show up, there are body parts everywhere and Brianne’s vagina is missing.

That gruesome detail is emblematic of a film otherwise made strictly to a formula, the twist added by writer/director/star Jim Cummings lifting everything onto another plane.

This sort of thing used to happen from time to time when B movies were still being made – a gifted but hardly box office director would be given a crew who knew their shit and a week to turn something out. As long as it satisfied genre conventions, the back office was happy. And if it flopped, at least it didn’t cost much.

These days it’s the Lifetime Channel and other like it whose churn-em-out production schedules keep camera crews and lighting riggers, set dressers and make-up artists in work, and enable them refine their skills.

Superficially, from its aerial establishing shots to its set-ups in diners and gas-station forecourts, The Wolf of Snow Hollow looks like a standard-issue TV shocker. But there is that missing vagina to consider. A few minutes further along into the running time, again in an extremely familiar scenario, we are introduced to a snowboard instructor, who we understand immediately from the TMI backstory we’re being given at speed is “the next victim”. And sure enough, in no time the big bad wolf has killed her too. This time her head is missing.

 

A woman with a missing arm
How was your day, hun?

 

Is it a wolf – there are plenty in the snowy hills that surround Snow Hollow? Or a human – as rationalist cop John Marshall (Cummings) suspects?

Marshall’s fellow cops consist of his dad (Robert Forster in one of his final roles), a sick and old sheriff who will not retire and who’s good only for raising morale. As for the rest of them, trusted buddy Julia Robson (excellent Riki Lindhome) aside, they seem to consist of post-truthers convinced it’s a werewolf, or cops so lazy they want the FBI to take the case.

On top of that is the attitude of the local townsfolk towards the police. They’re dismissive, contemptuous, angry that the cops “haven’t caught him yet” – writer Cummings neatly catching the mood of the “defund the police” moment.

But what most elevates The Wolf of Snow Hollow from standard-issue grisly whodunit territory is the character of Marshall himself, a recovering alcoholic who has so much internal fury that even when he says “anger management issues” at an AA meeting he looks like he’s going to bite someone.

Marshall is furious all the time – when he’s not snarling at his wife, or railing at his daughter, he’s punching colleagues in the face or firing them for being stupid, his character acting as a kind of blackly comedic counterpoint to the ongoing slaughter. At one point he even smacks the pathologist examining a dead body.

He’s a good guy under it all, probably, though Cummings doesn’t give us an easy ride – if you saw Cummings’s portrayal of a troubled cop in Thunder Road, it’s pretty much the same guy here, except a bit smarter and a lot angrier .

You could say the same for the entire film – smart, angry and angular yet familiar enough to almost slide by unnoticed, if you weren’t paying attention. Cummings currently has The Beta Test in post-production, a horror thriller set in Hollywood. Sounds promising.

 

 

The Wolf of Snow Hollow – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

American Perfekt

Fairuza Balk and Robert Forster in American Perfekt

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a good rule of thumb that road movies set out in any American desert and made on a low budget have a knack of turning out OK. There’s often something fairly oddball going on too. Made in 1997, the same year that its star would appear in Tarantino’s career-boosting Jackie Brown, American Perfekt sees Robert Forster playing a psychiatrist driving through the empty desert who stops to pick up a female hitchhiker (Amanda Plummer). She is clearly deranged but no matter how mad she apparently seems, he’s even madder – it’s only thanks to a coin toss that he’s giving her a ride, rather than killing her. Half an hour or so down the line, David Thewlis has crashed onto the scene, grinning crookedly and looking at least as demented as the other two. Another half hour and a death-wish sheriff (Paul Sorvino) and the sultry, damaged-goods Fairuza Balk have arrived too. American Perfekt’s trick is to take this bag of boiled sweets and serve them up with a plot slightly borrowed from the Dice Man – just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, there’s another flip of the coin and things bolt in a different direction. By the end blood, needless to say, has been shed, and it’s not always been pretty blood either. The film, on the other hand, has never looked less than great – the bleach-strong desert light really helps – hence the nomination for the Camera d’Or at Cannes for DP William Wages. It’s not a perfect film by any means – things do get a bit overwrought as we hurtle towards the closing credits – but this odd, dark, whacked-out cult item does have flavour to spare. How odd that Paul Chart has barely directed anything since.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

American Perfekt – at Amazon