Written by: William Arthur, Larry Dreyfus
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tom Blair, Jim Iaquinta and Carol Perry
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
By 1984, the “Old Dark House” film had been mostly sidelined or reconfigured into slasher flicks, as casts were being wrangled in all other sorts of locales to be slaughtered: camps, schools, trains, etc. Enter The Cold (also known by its more sensible title, The Game), a pseudo-throwback to those silly murder mysteries from the notorious Bill Rebane, a two-time MST3K target (for Monster A Go-Go and The Giant Spider Invasion) and MVP of many public domain DVD collections.
A trio of millionaires have grown bored of being rich, so they stage a game each year to amuse themselves. This year, they’ve gathered up nine people, brought them to a huge mansion, and given them a proposition: the last one standing will win a million dollars if they can survive the game--literally. Apparently, the rules just entail staying alive once bizarre events begin to occur and the participants begin to disappear one by one (how come it’s never two-by-two, ark style?).
The setup is obviously reminiscent of House on Haunted Hill, and this is what it would look like if your local haunted house troupe decided to stage a production of the William Castle classic. It’s an amateur piece of work, from the shoddy actors’ flat line deliveries to the uninspired camera work. Most of the guys look like they should be in beer commercials, and the production design can best be described as “dollar store chic.” The props look like they were raided from the nearest (and cheapest) store aisle, and all this comes at the service of a script that feels like the roughest of drafts: some conversations make no sense, characters pop in and out, some scenes are forgotten about--ultimately, it’s all pretty incoherent, even if the film is aiming to be a huge gag.
You’d think all these shortcomings would make The Cold irredeemably shitty, but it’s not. I don’t want to say it transcends its flaws since that’d be giving it too much credit, but I can say that it’s rarely boring. Rebane takes a kitchen sink approach, tossing in spiders, sharks (in a pool!), snakes, rats, Russian roulette, out-of-body experiences, an alien (which resembles the lovechild of E.T. and a xenomorph), and old people wearing cheap masks. A hunchback is even skulking around in the background for no apparent reason. There’s also the malevolent coldness that gives the film its alternate title; realized by fog machines hidden just around the corner and off-screen, the frigid air creeps throughout the hotel because…well, I guess the gamekeepers just want to make their guests uncomfortable. In a film called The Cold, no one so much as contracts a case of the sniffles.
Rebane furiously stirs all this around with little regard for pesky things like logic or coherence, leading to a schizoid experience that hops around haphazardly. A dinner table conversation gives way to a dance sequence at a Podunk bar (where most of the contestants are picked up; at one point, there’s even a jam session (at least some of the guests are also musicians and the hotel apparently has a recording studio), and some of the horror sequences (like a couple exploring a nearby abandoned barn) are intercut with sillier scenes (like sauna sex). Oddball flourishes, such as a “once upon a time” narration, silent music style piano bars, and stock haunted house noises add to the cacophony of madness that is The Cold. Rebane’s attempt to outrun his dime store aesthetic with sheer lunacy is charming, and there are actually some impossibly effective moments and characters. My particular favorite is the pearl clutching belle with an old south drawl who’s petrified over the prospect of their hosts spying on them--especially in the bathroom (her sanctimony doesn’t prevent her from being one of the participants in the aforementioned sauna sex, though).
And the really great thing about The Cold is that it’s one of the most knowingly inept films I’ve ever seen. As it screeches to a close after its various befuddling twists and turns, the narrator returns and reflects the viewers’ confusion and confirms that nothing that’s just happened makes any sense. It’s difficult to argue with, as Rebane has sufficiently pulverized most conventions during the past 80 minutes. I’m not sure how The Cold managed to escape the sights of Mike and the ‘Bots, especially since it appears to have been discarded into the dustbin of public domain like most of Rebane’s work. Mill Creek tossed it onto their Chilling Classics set (by now, you should know they’re liberal with the term “classic”), where it has a typically unimpressive presentation, though it’s certainly watchable enough. A low-rent, goofball flick like The Cold isn’t exactly a public domain gem, but it’s a unique bad movie experience, which is better than just a plain bad movie experience that often results from dipping into the public domain pool. Rent it!
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