Saturday, September 13, 2014

Blood Glacier / *1/2 (2013)

Had “Blood Glacier” been made from within the big studio system, audiences would likely be hailing it as the worst film ever made; but in the hands of an amateur B-movie director who operates from a place of calculated silliness, it at least inspires uproarious howls of delight – especially if you are a viewer that has any kind of background in science. In some twisted way, it all comes down to intention. So many rules about human and animal biology are broken in this zany creature feature that it calls into question the sanity of the writer, Benjamin Hessler. Was he under the influence of illegal substances when he concocted this absurd premise? His audacity becomes our pained amusement, and for 98 jaw-dropping minutes we watch on – sometimes with horror, other times with laughable shock – as a story about hybrid mutants slithers around on screen as if in the final throws of dramatic suffering. This is one of those endeavors that will no doubt endure the test of time on viewing lists of very ambitious bad movies.

The hilarity of the material, needless to say, will either inspire admiration or resentment, of which I had a balanced supply of each. The film deals with a situation transpiring in the German alps; it opens on a quiet morning in a mountain pass where a group of scientists is monitoring the retreat of a large mountain glacier, and a sensor goes dead at the base of it. They promptly send out Jarek (Gerhard Liebmann) to repair it, essentially because someone high up in the professional chain of command is arriving soon to gather details on the progress; since climate change has resulted in exponential melting, it is imperative that these men and women in the frozen wastelands gather accurate details to further the study. Alas, when Jarek wanders closer to the sensor, he spies a phenomenon on the glacier itself that baffles reasoning: a distinct red hue covers the glacier, as if cranberry juice poured over the surface. The inevitable questions – is it blood, or some other kind of natural substance? – are interlaced with a sense of doom, and when Jarek’s dog wanders away from the site and it attacked by something in a nearby cave, it opens the story up to all sorts of bleak possibilities before descending into the craziest hell I have ever seen.

What those possibilities are inspire a long and endless mystery – of what, even I cannot describe clearly, and I have seen the movie twice. From what I can gather, though, the reddish liquid-like substance on the glacier is not actually blood, but some sort of foreign algae substance that contains traces of some kind of alien life form. Ok, let’s work with that. When wild animals come into contact with that substance, it takes root in the stomach and combines the DNA of the host animal with whatever it has ingested, often resulting in the creation of a hybrid creature that will, inevitably, burst from the animal’s interiors and wreak havoc on anyone that crosses their paths. Director Marvin Kren, clearly an enthusiast for the genre of gruesome monsters that leap out of shadows, takes his most direct influences from “Alien” and “The Thing” (ultimately marrying them to the standards of 1950s creature gore-fests), but opts to leave out interlocking explanations; the mythology of his creations is ambiguous at best, and when the characters attempt to explain it all in nervous circles of onlookers, they read the dialogue as if were an skit they have to improvise on.

If the meaning of the ideas is lost in the haystack of diatribes, then the performances indicate an underlying impatience in the actors with the screenplay’s utter stupidity. There are subplots aplenty to try and keep the characters engaged while they await the monsters to leap out and attack them, including one in which Janek, still broken-hearted over a recent break-up, comes back into contact with his former girlfriend during a visit of superiors, and they dance around one another as if afraid to acknowledge the reasons for their split (or the infatuation that still exists between them, despite their obvious emotional wounds). Another twist involves a spectacular miscalculation; there is a scene where a young woman, scantily clad (in the Alps, no less), is running nervously across a hill when she falls and is attacked by one of the creatures, and it uses a stinger to pierce the side of her leg. What is it doing? Why did it choose her? The better questions are more basic. Who is she? And how the hell did she get that far up into the mountains without any connection to anyone else, and with very minimal prep work in the wardrobe? Here is a woman who looks like she just got displaced from Camp Crystal Lake.

And then there are the creatures themselves: gross, odd and curiously abstract, they are never actually seen with any level of clarity because the camera continuously whips past them in a flurry of rapid shots. Those well-versed in the formula of creature features once perceived this device, a staple in horror films, as a way to develop tension; in the context of seeing random pieces of them fly across the screen, one suspects that the cinematographer, Moritz Schultheiss, is using the ploy as a way of hiding very bad special effects – or worse, taking away attention from the fact that the technical wizards actually never finished their creations. Whatever the reasons, there is only enough present on screen to get by with the implication that they are there in the room while actors let out horrific screams. That they occupy space like overgrown insect hand puppets may be another funny detail to some viewers who choose to respond with total humor; to any logical enthusiast of the genre (b-rated or otherwise), they are gimmicks that feel like last-minute cop-outs.

Look, I can be just as amused by the B-movie mentality as anyone else. Some of the most enjoyable experiences we have at the movies involve blatantly silly material, because to have a good time we often have to be given subjects that are conduits for disbelief suspension. But “Blood Glacier” is conflicted about that intention. It never has the opportunity to establish those ground rules because it is haphazard and unfocused, even by B-movie standards. That in itself makes it unintentionally funny on a different plane of reasoning; even while the ideas and execution are inspiring their own chuckles, the incoherence of the screenplay and disconnected pacing of the direction add a facet of nonsense to the mix that causes additional disorientation, and by the first hour mark our laughs (as powerful as they are) become automatically replaced by annoyance and frustration. And yet it doesn’t aim high enough to be held to that standard. There is also no denying that it was fashioned– and played – by individuals who genuinely had some element of enthusiasm in their work ethic, and they play through the story until the final frame with a refreshing gusto. There is an audience out there somewhere for a movie is ridiculous as “Blood Glacier,” I’m sure. But I’m not patient enough to be part of it.

Author’s Note: The DVD version of “Blood Glacier” defaults to an English dub over the original German-speaking track. Fans of the “Godzilla” technique of badly lipping the original dialogue may find added comfort in what they see here; the dub is beyond obvious and stupid, but provides an extra level of laughs if the occasion calls for it.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Horror (Austria); 2013; Not Rated, contains scenes of violence and blood/gore, and some language; Running Time: 98 Minutes

Gerhard Liebmann: Janek
Edita Malovcic: Tanja
Brigitte Kren: Ministerin Bodicek
Santos: Tinnie
Hille Beseler: Birte
Peter Knaack: Falk

Produced by Katharina Bogensberger, Helmut Grasser and Constanze Schumann; Directed by Marvin Kren; Written by Benjamin Hessler

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