Snowbeast vs. Vanishing on 7th Street: Two terrible movies, one less funny

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While the rest of America was at home watching the film establishment's glitzy annual circle jerk, where it elaborately congratulates itself on a year of acceptable filmmaking, my girlfriend and I were in an otherwise empty Chez Artist watching one of the worst indie films I expect to see this year -- and when I say "indie," I mean that only in the sense of "limited distribution," which, in this case, is clearly owing to that Vanishing on 7th Street is an awful movie. At least the 1977 made-for-TV crap-a-thon Snowbeast I saw on Saturday night had a certain nostalgic charm and a mostly coherent plot; the only thing Vanishing has going for it is, uh, there's a horse in it. So that's pretty cool.

Also, the screening of Snowbeast came with jokes, courtesy of Matt Vogl and Harrison Rains, the good gentlemen of Mile High Sci-Fi, sort of a live version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. And it's certain that Snowbeast was worthy of the treatment -- as either Vogl or Rains pointed out (you couldn't see them while they were doing the jokes), the movie is "about eighty percent filler," given to ridiculously long scenes involving people going around on skis or in snowmobiles -- one joke involved playing the minute-or-so long theme from CHiPs over a scene that was just some people snowmobiling from one place to another, which was so long they had to restart the theme several times. Another joke was that, because the filmmakers clearly had to shoot late in the afternoon (it's set and shot at Crested Butte, Colorado!) due to a shitty budget, there's never anyone else on the slopes during those scenes -- Vogl and Rains milked Crested Butte's seeming lack of popularity for laughs throughout.

It's also woodenly acted, incompetently directed, shoddily written and hilariously low-budget; one plot point is that the ski resort the movie's set at can't shut down (even though the snowbeast is running amok) because it's winter carnival is coming up, and that's when it attracts "the tourists all year." The scene of the winter carnival is literally filmed in what looks like a high-school gym and attended by what looks like some 25 to 30 people.

Vanishing doesn't even have a low budget (I'm sure it wasn't high, but the film boasts some decent special effects) and an obscure cast as an excuse -- Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo at least qualify as B-listers. Even its director, Brad Anderson (who at a better time in his career directed the terrifically creepy The Machinist) should know better. Here's the premise: On a random day, the power shuts off, everything goes dark and everyone just vanishes, leaving only a handful of people who happen to have lights on (candles, a flashlight, etc.) when the deal goes down left in existence; these people have to unwit the sinister, encroaching darkness to remain alive. So right off the bat, it's got a more intriguing premise than Snowbeast.

Within the first ten minutes, though, that intrigue is negated by the film's numerous flaws of internal logic and the most ham-fisted overacting I'd seen since, well, Snowbeast. For example, everything stops working, even cars, except a backup generator in the bar the characters are hunkered down in seems to work, and their flashlights work, and eventually they even get a car to work by jumping it on the generator that somehow works. (A simultaneous example of both bad logic and overacting: Thandie Newton (frantically): Why does this one work and not all the others?" Christensen (gratuitous product placement): "It's a Chevy?" And then, yelling: "I don't know, it just does!")

Thankfully, as mentioned, the movie theater was utterly empty, allowing my girlfriend and I to play Vogl and Rains ourselves and mock the movie with impunity. In both cases, at least there were jokes.

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