Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)‘Do you remember what that hairy ape said about a secret base?’

The polar ice caps start to melt at an alarming rate, causing global flooding. A weather station in the Himalayas is attacked by unknown forces and its crew all but wiped out. The Commander of Space Station Gamma and his right-hand man are recalled from their intergalactic posting to investigate and save the Earth…

This was the last in a loose series of four Italian space operas directed by Antonio Margheriti, under his usual pseudonym of Anthony Dawson. All featured the heroic activities of Space Station Gamma One and hit the big screen over six months, the first three being released over a few weeks in the summer of 1966! This tardy conclusion finds Jack Stuart (real name Giacomo Rossi Stuart) returning as the square-jawed Commander Rod Jackson from ‘War Between the Planets’ (1966) which was the third of the films. The first two had found the station under the command of Mike Halstead (Tony Russell), the last of which was the deliriously demented ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966). This time around, there’s a little more James Bond than Flash Gordon about Stuart, and the action is partially based on Earth, but the final act is all too familiar to fans of low-budget science-fiction of the time.

Things are looking grim in the Earth’s shiny space-age future. General Norton (Enzo Fiermonte), head of UDSC (United Democracies Space Command) is wearing his best frowny face. It never rains, but it pours. It’s not enough that the temperature of the planet is on the rise and the ice floes are melting. No, one of his weather stations in the Himalayas has been trashed as well. The culprit? Persons or monsters unknown. The scientific team have all been killed except for Lt Jim Harris (Renato Baldini) who is AWOL. Time to call in Jackson: Rod Jackson. Yes, there’s no one more qualified to go on an undercover mission than one of the most famous faces in the cosmos. And yes, he doesn’t bother with a false identity because everyone does know who he is.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘Cool threads, Daddio!’

Fiermonte sends him, along with Man Friday, Captain Pulasky (Goffredo ‘Freddy’ Unger) to the Himalayas. Their cover story is that they are mounting an expedition to hunt for the Abominable Snowman. At first, it seems unclear why they need to assume this fiction at all, after all, Baldini’s fiancee, Lisa (Ombretta Colli) is already on-site looking for her man so presumably what’s happened to the weather station is public knowledge. And how investigating this incident is supposed to help with figuring out why the world is on the brink of environmental collapse is also a bit puzzling. That is what Stuart and Unger are supposed to be looking into, after all.

But it turns out that our heroes have a right to be cautious. Their original plan was to scout the area of the weather station by helijet, but their vehicle explodes on the ground the night before their flight. This looks like the work of local guide Sharu (Wilbert Bradley) who seems to be a fully-paid up member of the school of cartoon villainy, grinning and smirking for all he’s worth behind their backs. Apparently, there’s no time to get them another vehicle (I guess UDSC are a bit short in their helijet pool?), so Stuart and Unger decide to tackle the slopes on foot. In a staggering development, after Stuart won’t let her come along, Colli puts on a parka and joins incognito as one of the bearers. In a further shocking development, the bearers all desert when they reach slopes that are ‘taboo’ (Stuart and Unger obviously being unfamiliar with the behaviour of natives on safari in jungle films of the 1930s and 1940s).

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘The plumage don’t enter into it. It just pooped down my back.’

Now, if this all doesn’t sound good, the first act of the film turns out to be quite fun. For a start, we get Fiermonte’s minions trying to contact Stuart, who is on leave from the space station. They try to track him down at various locations. Firstly, they ring a Countess who is playing crazy golf in her bikini(!), then at a martial arts dojo. In the end, they reach him at a country club where he is doing what all square-jawed, handsome playboys do in their spare time: getting beaten at draughts by a young kid (that’s ‘checkers’ to any Americans out there). This is all quite silly, of course, but seems to be setting the audience up for the kind of tongue-in-cheek romp akin to Russell’s insane visit to ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966). Unfortunately, it turns out that Stuart isn’t in for the same kind of trip.

Things start to drag a little when our heroes begin trekking across the snowy slopes. It’s plain the cast did go on location to mountains somewhere and, for once, this footage is well-matched with the studio work. Colli and Stuart inevitably end up kissing in his tent, but, instead of taking the usual 007 approach, Stuart acknowledges that she’s lonely and needed comfort, and takes things no further. What a gent! And that’s all the romance he gets, despite the obvious interest of sexy Lt Sanchez (Halina Zalewska) back on Gamma One. Eventually, the expedition is attacked by a group of green-furred yeti when they take shelter in a cave and, best of all, it turns out that they’re not our everyday Abominable Snowmen at all, they’re aliens!

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

The publicity photoshoot for ‘Lord of the Rings’ wasn’t a complete success.

Once they are captured, Earth’s new green furry overlord, Igrun (Furio Meniconi) gleefully explains everything in the best supervillain manner when he really doesn’t have to. These extra-terrestrials have evolved on an ice world and are looking for a new place to live, so they have decided to terraform our planet. I’m not sure how melting the ice caps would help in this respect? Perhaps they should have just hung around for 50 years and let global warming do that for them. Anyway, our heroes are banged up in a cell with the lost Baldini. Although the tiny room’s only feature is a very large wall cover over an air duct, it’s never occurred to the weather station commander to use it to try and escape but, no worries, Stuart is right on it. Yes, this is one of those movies where only the hero is allowed to come up with a plan, or have any ideas, even when they would be blindingly obvious to an 8-year old.

Unfortunately, it’s at this point that all the fun starts draining out of the film. Stuart and his gang take on Meniconi via some (very) conveniently available chemicals and a conflict that’s over far too quickly. The rest of the film centres on the search for the alien’s main base, which involves a lot of the Gamma One personnel staring at read-outs and scratching their heads. Even Stuart falls asleep at his desk, perhaps mirroring the reaction of most of the audience. The final wrap up is defiantly unspectacular but far worse is the fact that all this post-Himalayan ‘action’ has taken up almost the entire second half of the film. Or at least it seems that way.

Snow Devils/La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin (1967)

‘Is it quitting time yet? I’m dying for a pint.’

As well as delivering the ‘Gamma One’ quartet, director Margheriti also travelled to the stars with ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1961) and made early 1960s Euro-Horrors with both Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele, including Steele’s solo turn in the particularly notable ‘The Long hair of Death’ (1964). He also directed a couple of low-grade Eurospys, and the best screen muscleman, Reg Park in ‘Hercules, Prisoner of Evil’ (1964) (which actually featured him as ‘Ursus’, not Hercules!). Working in the Italian film industry at this point, inevitably he also helmed some Spaghetti Westerns and Giallo films, including ‘Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye’ (1973). But, of course, the zenith of his career was that wonderful stew of caveman, dinosaurs, aliens and robots that the world came to know as ‘Yor, the Hunter from the Future’ (1983).

Sadly, this film is one of his lesser efforts. Initially pleasing, but soon more than a little boring. Some fun concepts are wasted, which, if handled with more flair and creativity, could have made for an enjoyably cheesy experience.