SEPTEMBER 30, 2012
At first I was confused by the clear plastic case on the DVD for Hypothermia instead of the standard black, but when I opened it up it all made sense - it comes with a reversible cover that boasts completely different box art, so the clear plastic was there to let you see it. I also noticed that it was superior art, and as I slid it out to reverse it I realized that my assumption about the film was backed up by this alternate cover, which I have posted below for your enjoyment (you can see the "default" cover on the Amazon link below).
Now, I see that poster and I think: "Oh cool, this looks like a B movie from the 70s." You know, something you'd catch on late night cable, perhaps with a horror host, scaring the shit out of impressionable youth or entertaining those who were possibly a bit drunk. Then it would disappear, find its way onto MST3k or one of those Mill Creek budget packs, and be championed by nostalgic viewers and/or people like me who watch a lot of crap and can appreciate a straight up monster movie every now and then. Plus it's eye-catching, unlike the rather bland cover they went with that shows some people standing on the ice, plus the monster below them if you look at it really closely. I guarantee everyone who buys this DVD will be sporting the alternate cover, and I can ALMOST guarantee that they probably cost themselves a few sales by not using it in the first place.
As for the movie itself, it's pretty good, with two big blunders that keep it just shy of a full blown recommendation. One would be the not particularly good monster suit; while one could argue it totally fits with the cheesy 70s Bigfoot and swamp creature suits you'd see, that sort of "retro" approach can only get you so far, and as a result it never feels very menacing. And either by design or by post production second guessing, many of its attack scenes are confusing, as the shots of the monster never last long (and are often set in near total darkness). So you can barely see anything and what you DO see looks silly - it's not a good combo.
The other issue is the very ending, which... actually I have no idea what the hell happened there. I will welcome all theories, but I'd be even more interested in hearing someone who found it in any way satisfying. Even with the cheesy suit, I was on board with the movie and ready to defend it (a few friends had offered "condolences" when I tweeted that it was today's HMAD), but that ending made it hard to argue with them. Much like my love of pop rock bands and the show Prison Break, I understand why folks find it so bad, and it's not worth the debate - by any reasonable measure you're "right", but dammit I like it anyway.
And I can justify that admiration with the film's first hour or so (it's only 72 minutes with credits), which quickly sets up the scenario and its characters, and keeps the pace chugging along as the monster stalks them from above, surfacing often enough to keep it from being dull but not so often that we don't get a chance to know who our characters are. It's certainly interesting to see Michael Rooker playing a normal family man for a change; I can't even remember the last time he played a character that didn't put me on edge (Cliffhanger?), and he actually acquits himself nicely in the role. If nothing else, hopefully some filmmakers/casting types will see this movie and realize Rooker can play sympathetic roles and not just villains and weirdos.
Also: yay, practical FX! One of the characters gets a pretty nasty wound on his arm early on, and the other assorted injuries and deaths are given the ol' pre-CGI treatment that I always prefer. Hell, I can even appreciate that they tried to do a practical monster rather than a CGI one; it would probably look bad either way on this budget, so at least the actors have something to react to and interact with instead of staring at ping pong balls and green screens. I can also appreciate any movie that takes place almost exclusively on the ice - there's a cabin we see briefly in the first act and a little trailer that they use every now and then (which we learn is a set on the making of featurette), but the rest of the time they're really out there on the ice, falling through holes into the freezing water when applicable and probably not having too much sensation in their fingers and toes throughout the bulk of their scenes.
That tidbit is one of the few things learned on the making of, which is sadly lacking much in the way of interviews or anything like that - it's mostly just a random assortment of production footage and "fly on the wall" type stuff. The guy who designed the suit offers some thoughts (and we see director James Felix McKenney give it his approval), but otherwise there isn't much to chew on here. Rooker shows up a few times (it ends on his last day of shooting), but the other actors are barely glimpsed, which is a shame as I would have liked to hear the actress playing his wife explain why she had the same scolding look on her face and tone to her line delivery throughout the film. Doesn't matter if her husband is being a Clark Griswold-ian family man, or there's a monster swimming nearby, or she's just seen a loved one get killed, she always looks and sounds like a woman who just found out her kid got caught smoking at school and has to drive over there on her day off to pick him up from the principal. Bold choice.
However the other two bonus features are kind of awesome. One is the full version of the fishing show that we see on a TV for a brief moment; it's too small to tell in the film but the star of this "show" is none other than Larry Fessenden, and he's a riot playing a straight-faced parody of those Sunday morning shows. It runs about four minutes, just long enough to amuse and make it worth your while. The other one is even better - a ten minute account of the guy who has to bring a major prop for the film all the way to upstate New York. He's joined by his dad, and a hefty portion of the piece is his old man telling him about watching horror movies with the (future) mom of the family back when they were first dating. It's a wonderfully sweet little concept, and the exact kind of bonus feature I like - something unusual that you know wasn't slapped together by one of the producers looking to make his DVD look more interesting to buyers. No one will buy Hypothermia for this little piece, but damned if it isn't worth keeping the disc out of respect for such a great idea.
The underwhelming monster and totally jarring ending make this one a tough sell, but if you're in the mood for a more serious monster movie (i.e. NOT the ones they show on Syfy) with a unique setting, I think it's worth the whopping 70 minutes it takes to watch it. Rooker fans should enjoy seeing him do something a little different, and it's a huge improvement on McKenney's Off Season, something I always like to see. Knock em dead next time, sir.
What say you?