Who says you have to look to old Italian-made horror films to achieve your quota of blood, torture, and gore? You can find it all right here on your own doorstep from people like writer, director, and editor Eric Stanze and his 1999, super-low-budget, direct-to-video niche flick, "Ice From the Sun."
Right away you're wondering why I'm spending any time at all on this disc, and it's because I think it's important to see what young, new filmmakers are up to in their spare time. Naturally, "Ice From the Sun" was meant for a very specific, limited public and was never intended to be reviewed by a mainstream critic for the ordinary viewer. But I have the feeling that the more grief a conservative chap like myself heaps upon the film, the more it will serve Mr. Stanze's purposes and the better delight his target audience. I would not want to disappoint him or his followers.
The sci-fi terror plot begins with an unclad man writhing in agony in what looks like a concrete basement, intercut with a woman being garroted in a park. Somehow, there's a connection between the woman's eventual escape and the man's tormented actions as he appears to make the strangler's cord disappear. Then we witness the would-be garroter get his head blown off. And that's just for starters! The woman goes home, and after some sitting and thinking apparently decides to commit suicide by slitting her wrists in a bathtub. I say "apparently" because here the disc skipped ahead about twenty minutes. No amount of coaxing could get my Sony 7700 player to track the offending section, so my alternative was to back up from the spot it skipped ahead to and retrace my steps in reverse to a place where the player would simply stop altogether. It's the only disc I've ever had trouble with. Anyway, I was able to see the lady drawing water for her bath and the next thing I saw was her lying nude in a tub of blood a few minutes later, confronted by another nude woman, a higher power of some kind, asking her to help find and stop a demon from continuing his malignant ways.
At his point, the story line depends upon a good deal of exposition to convey its premise, the kind of long, static explanation that belongs in a novel, not in a movie. In fact, I had to repeat the entity's speech twice to be sure I followed what she was saying. Even then, I'm not sure I understood much. It seems the suicide victim, Allison, is enlisted to save the world. An evil wizard, Abilin, long ago lived in another dimension, with a fellow named Abraham his apprentice. For kicks they would summon six humans a year into their world in order to hunt and kill them before making them their servants. But the apprentice got uppity and killed his master, making the apprentice even more powerful than his old mentor. Allison, being the only human ever to escape his foul clutches, is called upon to destroy him. Six more people are subsequently summoned for the latest of Abraham's chases and killed in various grotesque ways. They're all grisly but one in particular stands out: A girl is dragged naked behind a pickup truck, and then salt is poured in her wounds. Lovely. In essence, the whole affair is a variation on the old slasher theme, with fantasy overtones, multiple levels of existence, and shards of ice scraped from the sun used solely to camouflage the gaping plot holes.
The movie has all the earmarks of an experimental project made by an impoverished film student out to strut his stuff. Stanze utilizes every technique he can think of that would total less than a buck ninety-eight to get his ideas across. He uses crosscutting, quick-edits, montages, fast forward, slow motion, black-and-white, color, and negative-image photography, colored lights, colored filters, extreme close-ups, extravagant long shots, handheld cameras, cinema verite style, you name it.
Stanze is like a kid who has just watched Jean Cocteau's classic 1930 film "The Blood of a Poet" and wants desperately to translate some of its avant garde contrivances to his own quasi-progressive, science-fiction, horror-film needs. He shows an admirable inventiveness while working on a shoestring, but raucous technique and repulsive images do not make for praiseworthy entertainment. It comes off as pretentious, stupid, and painful. (If that doesn't sell the film, nothing will.)
"Ice From the Sun" is amateurish on all counts, far more so than "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Night of the Living Dead," which may be praising it with faint damns. The performances are unskilled, the actors seldom reacting to anything so much as reciting lines at one another. Sets are whatever is handy--an empty lot, a basement, a room somewhere, a stand of trees. Carnage and blood are everywhere, but real frights, tension, or suspense are nowhere to be found. This is not a scary film.
What's worse, there is nothing even faintly amusing about it, unless none of it is supposed to be taken seriously. It's an unrelentingly gloomy film. The disc informs us the entire cast and crew were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. Have young people no sense of humor these days? Among those responsible for the production, besides Stanze, are its stars--Ramona Midgett, Angela Zimmerly, Todd Tevlin, Jason Christ, Tommy Biono, Jo Palermo, and DJ Vivona--director of photography David Berliner, and producer Jeremy Wallace. Presumably, Mr. Wallace came up with the buck ninety-eight.
The film's 1.33:1 standard-screen picture quality is grainy, and in color the hues are blurred most of the time, in part to give the illusion of its being a home movie like "Blair Witch" and in part because I'm sure the filmmakers could not afford to do anything better with their inexpensive Super-8 camera.
Likewise, the audio is primitive, a two-channel stereo, with pounding music loud and ill focused and dialogue accompanied by the kind of background noise usually associated with a portable cassette deck.
Surprisingly, the DVD comes with two separate commentary tracks, which may be more diverting than the movie itself. On one of the tracks we hear the director and sound engineer; on the other some of the stars. There is also a brief stills gallery and an astounding six, count 'em, six track selections.
I imagine the primary interest in this film to be among that number of young people who enjoy sticking pointy metal objects through their cheeks while raging against their condition and doing nothing about it; or at best those folks who live on a vapid diet of MTV and think they're listening to innovative self expression. But these are probably my own exaggerated, overly protective, middle-class biases showing up.
"Ice From the Sun" was only Stanze's second major film, following "Savage Harvest (1994) and succeeded by such video classics as "The Severed Head Network, Volume 1" (2000) and "Volume 2" (2002), and "I Spit on Your Corpse, I Piss on Your Grave" (2001). Here and there in "Ice" one can detect the slightest vestiges of creative fancy peeking through the rubble of horrific brutality, gimmicky, and din. Given the right circumstances, Mr. Stanze may yet produce a film worthy of his talents, but it hasn't happened yet. "Ice From the Sun" is not rated, for obvious reasons.