The Snow Devils / Snow Demons / The Space Devils / Devil Men from Space / La Morte Viene dal Pianeta Aytin (1965/1967) -**½
On the one hand, it is perfectly legitimate to claim that the Gamma 1 series came to an end with the worst movie of the bunch. On the other, it is equally legitimate to say that the tetralogy went out with a bang. The Snow Devils, while undeniably an exceedingly shitty film, is also the most entertaining episode in the Gamma 1 saga since The Wild, Wild Planet, with which it shares an absolutely unapologetic embrace of ideas which would be scoffed at by seemingly any filmmaker in full possession of his faculties. Perhaps you’ve heard of it— this is the one in which yetis from outer space attempt to conquer the world with global warming.
High in the southern sector of the Himalayas stands Indus, a weather station attached to the United Democracies Space Command under the direction of one Lieutenant Harris (probably Black Belly of the Tarantula’s Nino Vignelli)— who has to be the single oldest lieutenant in the whole UDSCO. Harris is just telling his staff about the new leave rotation devised by their boss up on Space Station Gamma 1 when something lobs a big, heavy rock through the control room’s picture window. Harris tries to maintain order, but before he can make much progress on either blocking up the shattered window or figuring out who threw the stone, something very large lets itself into Indus, massacres the crew, and abducts the lieutenant.
Some time later, UDSCO chief General Norton (Enzo Fiermonte again) places a call to Gamma 1 looking to talk to Commander Rod Jackson (still Giacomo Rossi Stuart) about the bad business at Indus. Unfortunately, both Jackson and his first officer, Captain Frank Pulasky (Renato Baldini, from Devil of the Desert Against the Son of Hercules and Isabella, Duchess of the Devils), are on leave just now, so Norton orders communications officer Terry Sanchez to find the commander and have him report to headquarters. At this point, I’d like to interrupt the narrative for a moment to discuss one of the most bizarre casting shuffles I’ve ever seen. Now those of you who know Planet on the Prowl may recall that in that movie, Sanchez was played by Ombretta Colli, while her romantic rival, Janet Norton, was played by Halina Zalewska. In The Snow Devils, however, Zalewska plays Sanchez, and Colli plays the Other Woman! I have absolutely no fucking idea what this is about. Regardless, Sanchez eventually tracks down her two superiors at some dockside resort, where they’re playing some mutant form of checkers with the young boy whom Jackson swore to take care of at the end of the last movie. (It’s a long story, and it really isn’t worth going into.) The men cut short their vacations, and the next change of scene puts them in Norton’s office, listening to another of the general’s trademark grumpy briefings. To make another long story short, physical evidence at the scene indicates that Indus was attacked by 300-plus-pound humanoids with really enormous feet, and Norton wants Jackson and Pulasky to fly out to the Himalayas and see if they can find any bands of rampaging abominable snowmen. On its face, that might sound like a prodigious waste of a space station commander and his right-hand man, but there’s another angle here that makes the situation more serious than it looks at first glance. Every major concentration of glaciers on the planet is melting at an alarming rate, and UDSCO’s scientists have somehow traced the source of the problem to a mountain within comfortable hiking distance of Indus.
Jackson and Pulaski do as they’ve been ordered (the commander is noticeably more tractable this time around than he was in the last movie), circulating the story that they’re biologists investigating claims of yeti sightings. As cover stories go, that’s remarkably close to the truth. Once at the foot of the mountains, they hook up first with a native named Sharu (Wilbert Bradley, from Triumph of the Son of Hercules and Samoa, Queen of the Jungle), who makes all the arrangements for their big trek, and later with Lisa Nielson (here’s that Ombretta Colli character I mentioned before), fiancee of the missing Lieutenant Harris. Nielson is certain that Harris is still alive, on the grounds that it makes no sense for the yetis to have taken him with them if they intended merely to kill him— after all, they slew the rest of the Indus crew where they stood, and left the bodies where they lay afterwards. And because she works as an assistant to a UDSCO scientist with a top-secret clearance, she knows the true nature of Jackson’s mission; she wants the commander to bring her along on the hunt for her man. When Jackson tells her that to do so would be contrary to orders (again with the obeying orders— Jackson really is a changed man), Nielson tells him she’ll be going up into those mountains, one way or the other.
The expedition is nothing if not eventful. First, the helijet Jackson planned to use to take them most of the way to their destination is destroyed in an unexplained explosion (which will stay unexplained for the full duration of the film). Then Sharu catches a porter behaving suspiciously; when he brings said porter to Jackson and Pulasky for comeuppance, it turns out to be Lisa Nielson. Next, every porter except Nielson runs away in the middle of the night, evidently for fear of the abominable snowmen. Finally, when the remaining four members of the party seek shelter in a cave, they meet the yetis face to face. Man, what a sight that is! You remember back in the 80’s, when pro wrestling programs would always begin with a bout between some at least moderately important wrestler and some poor nameless schlub in an unadorned monochrome singlet whose job it was to lose and lose big? Well picture one of those professional losers with green face-paint and gray fur all over his body, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the yetis in The Snow Devils look like. Jackson and company assume at first that their furry captors are at approximately the same intellectual level as Neanderthal Man, and that the masses of advanced machinery in the deepest part of their cave complex were built by some now extinct hyper-culture, but they learn differently when the abominable snowmen take them to meet their leader. Egren (as the boss-yeti is called) has taken it upon himself to learn English, and he reveals to the humans that he and his people are really aliens from the planet Aytin, who came to Earth 100 years ago to escape the death of their homeworld. They’ve been causing the melting of the glaciers in order to make our world more hospitable for them— the overall climate is rather too toasty for their comfort as it is. You might ask why a species that likes sub-zero cold would want to raise the temperature at the poles, but that’s only the first step in the plan. Once the world’s lowlands have all been flooded by the rising sea levels, Egren’s people will turn the temperature back down again, covering most of the globe in a solid sheet of ice. Obviously that kind of power couldn’t be generated on Earth without anybody getting wise to it, so the yetis have set up a base elsewhere in the solar system from which they beam the necessary energy to Egren’s relay station. Of course, since the villain has just helpfully explained all the details of his plan save one (he never got around to mentioning the location of the offworld power plant), Jackson and his people now know everything they need to stop him. Sure enough, the moment the yetis lock the rest of the humans up in the cell where they’ve been keeping Lieutenant Harris, the whole lot of them escape through the air conditioning ducts, locate a storeroom, and use the supplies therein to flood the whole cave complex with homebrew ether. (Just like Mom used to make!) Only Egren remains conscious long enough to oppose the escape, but in his impaired state, he manages to destroy his own relay equipment while trying to stop Jackson, Pulasky, Harris, Nielson, and Sharu. Evidently Hunter S. Thompson had it wrong— there’s nothing more helpless and irresponsible than a yeti in the depths of an ether binge. Now it’s just a matter of finding and destroying that base out in space somewhere.
I don’t think there’s any possible way to make a movie about yetis from space and not have it come out at least moderately enjoyable. When the space yetis in question look like eleventh-string pro wrestlers and give counterproductive supervillain speeches too, you’ve got potential for true comedy gold. But the makers of The Snow Devils were not content with that. They also gave us one of the worst Wacky Nativestm on record, pseudoscientific blather the likes of which even I have only rarely heard elsewhere, a casting switcheroo that defies any reasonable explanation, and an encore performance from the same stock disaster footage we already saw in Planet on the Prowl. It’s a real shame this movie couldn’t have been a little more tautly paced, because the draggy third act, with its listless attack on the yetis’ secret base (I wanted to see those goofy chrome rockets in a dogfight, goddamnit!), is a terrible drag upon what had been up to then a quite festive romp through the country of cinematic lunacy.