The 1978 film Avalanche tells the story of a beautiful resort that’s been built in the mountains of Colorado. Self-righteous photographer and activist Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) keeps insisting that it’s not environmentally safe to build a resort up in the mountains. According to him, there’s too much snow building up and it’s inevitably going to lead to an avalanche.
The owner of the resort, David Shelby (Rock Hudson), insists that Nick doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Sure, David may have had to cut a few ethical corners to get his resort built and he may currently be under criminal investigation but that doesn’t make David a bad guy. All he wants is to have a nice and expensive resort located in the most beautiful and dangerous place on Earth. Does that make him a bad guy?
Unfortunately, if David was watching the film with the rest of us, he would be aware of all the shots of snow ominously building up on the side of the mountain. However, David would still probably be distracted by the presence of his ex-wife, Caroline (Mia Farrow). David would love to get back together with Caroline but Caroline finds herself growing attracted to Nick. When David isn’t chasing after Caroline, he’s trying to keep his mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), from drinking all of the liquor in the resort. Good luck with that! Florence is an eccentric old person in a disaster film so, of course, she’s going to be drunk off her ass for the majority of the run time.
There are other dramas occurring at the resort, of course. TV personality Mark Elliott (Barry Primus) is upset because his ex, Tina (Cathey Paine), is hooking up with arrogant skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses). Bruce is upset because Tina expects him not to cheat on her. Ice skater Cathy Jordan (Pat Egan) is hoping to conquer her insecurities. Rival ice skater Annette River (Peggy Browne) is …. well, she’s there. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the whole point of the ice skating rivalry was since they all end getting buried in snow regardless. Then again, maybe that is the point. An avalanche doesn’t care about your personal dramas. All it cares about is destroying tacky resorts that overuse wood paneling.
Yes, the avalanche does come crashing down the mountain eventually. It takes a while, though. There’s almost an hour of Rock Hudson walking around with a pained look on his face before the snow finally comes crashing down. For all of Nick’s talk about how the avalanche would probably be the result of too many people skiing, it actually happens because someone crashes a plane into one of the mountains.
Obviously, the avalanche is the main reason why anyone would want to watch a movie called Avalanche. Anyone with any knowledge of the disaster genre knows that no one watches these movies for the human drama. They watch them because they want to see at least 10 minutes of solid destruction. A disaster movie can get away with almost anything as long as the disaster itself looks good.
The disaster in Avalanche does not look particularly good. This film was directed by Roger Corman and, despite being one of the most expensive films that Corman ever produced, the avalanche effects are definitely a bit cut-rate. At the same time, the cheapness of the special effects does provide the film with its own odd charm. Just consider the scene where one of the ice skaters gets covered in snow while spinning around with a triumphant smile on her face. (Sure, she might be dead and she’ll certainly never make it to the Olympics but at least she finally mastered a fairly basic skating move.) The avalanche effects are super imposed over the image of the skater spinning but it’s obvious that it didn’t occur to anyone to tell the skater, “Hey, act like there’s a gigantic amount of snow crashing down on you!” It’s so inept as to be charming, like when a child draws a really ugly picture but it’s cute because at least they tried and, as a result, you wait until the child leaves your house before you throw it away.
The thing I love about Avalanche is how everyone is even more ineffectual after the avalanche than they were before it. Usually, in a movie like this, the disaster leads to unexpected heroism and the villains getting the comeuppance. In this one, the avalanche just inspires more stupidity. Fire trucks and ambulances literally collide with each other while heading for the resort. At one point, a group of fireman set up a net directly underneath someone falling out of a ski ramp chair just for the person to somehow land a few inches to the left of them. Though the film sets David Shelby up to be the villain, it’s hard not to feel that everyone at the resort is just an idiot.
Listen, I love Avalanche. It’s terrible but it’s a lot of fun and the less-than special effects go along perfectly with the overheated (or, in some cases, underheated) performances. Rock Hudson wanders through the movie with a strained smile on his face that has to be seen to be believed while Mia Farrow and Robert Forster both try so hard to make their underwritten characters credible that you can’t help but kind of appreciate their devotion to a lost cause. If nothing else, the shots extras reacting to superimposed shots of the avalanche makes this film worth a look. This is a cheap and silly movie and if you don’t enjoy it, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.