Ice from the Sun

Ice from the Sun – Eric Stanze

Nationality: USA

Pros: Some pretty interesting elements and a sometime general atmosphere that far transcends its nominally ‘horror movie / slasher movie’ packaging.
Cons:  Some truly bone-headed ideas somehow left in there that should have been on the cutting room floor. 

Ice from the Sun

Somewhere hidden below and behind the familiar world lies an obscure and pitch dark branch of American film-making – indie horror.  This is a bizarre and mixed world where horror misfits exercise their imagination and where blood-soaked student film-makers rape and murder student actors in shaky home DVR style.  The dvd producer Scream House is one of the centres for this in the US and a glance through their catalogue brings up titles like Catwalk Cannibals, Machine Head, Shatter Dead, Blood Shack etc.  This is a deep dark perverted world where maiden aunts, elderly parents and fragile vegetarians should not venture.  As a phenomenon, this possibly represents one of the most unrestrained areas of film-making there is in the ‘west’ and, as such, it is not without interest to students of just how deep the rabbit hole can descend.  However, when it comes to quality of film making and interesting storytelling, this place can be very mixed indeed.  Art of blood and guts rather than story – sometimes.  But not always.  In this bloody freedom of expression, there had to be some imaginations that went beyond just finding more inventive ways to kill people.  Like everywhere, there are always things of interest to be found if you can handle the search. 

Ice from the Sun turned out to be exactly that.  An American indie horror film with something going on in it that took it beyond the basic crude horror environs, while still remaining firmly rooted in that as a foundation and source of energy.

Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun

Let me get one thing clear from the start.    Ice from the Sun is a deeply flawed film.  So much so that it makes me very glad I am not using a rating system for it.  I would want to give it five stars for being a genuinely original piece of cinema filled with strangely vivid, unusual and daring images and content . . . I would want to give it one star for making such bone-headed mistakes in the process!  

Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun

The basic and simple premise of the film – that of taking a clutch of practically random characters, finding their phobias and then ‘playing with them’ and their fears until horrible death – is simple enough. Classic slasher movie material really and, as such, may seem highly uninteresting. But the rather visionary way that the film is handled and (somehow) the extremely rough edges and home movie feel rather transcends that.  I must stress and stress again that it is this that generates the real originality of the film. It is more like admittedly gruesome and extreme surrealism than a slasher movie or any familiar horror styles. Even though you know what is happening from the start (because a wretched angel explained the whole plot in the prelude!  See below for the flaws), it is still surprising and startling in the way it plays with its subject matter, simply because it dares to let in a surreal aesthetic. One character, who seems terrified of her own promiscuousness, is transformed into a dog-girl in a freak show. A girl with a phobia of churches fights off a huge eye (on stage) under the stare of a mad priest with two naked dog people on a leash. Etc etc. This stuff is good! The somewhat rough acting and `home movie' appearance (with some incredibly fuzzy and grainy picture quality) don't really detract at all because they fit nicely with the crazy onslaught of disorienting images. If it wasn't rough and ready, it wouldn't work! Startling visual images and unexpected events come at you one after the other – sometimes very shocking and gruesome and with more than a few genuine ‘wince’ moments. 'Pointless' and 'random'? Sometimes yes, but what is intrinsically wrong with pointless and random?  It is 'pointless' in the sense that a weirdly significant dream may be considered pointless. It compels in that game-like pointlessness with what I would almost go as far as to call a visionary power. Yes – in SPITE of everything that is wrong with the film.

Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun

On the down side there are two huge blunders that one really wonders why they somehow got through into the finished item.  Firstly, the religious ‘framework’ story that contains the main action of the film simply doesn’t work. I am not just bashing religion here, it is simply that this badly handled side to the story cheapens the whole thing and gives it a level of triteness that is very off-putting. They root the whole film in a very childish and unappealing mush of heaven and hell, wizards and angels, which really doesn't need to be there. It would have been so much better if it had stuck to what it really is - a fantastical and surrealist game played by an enigmatic `puppet master' type figure - without bringing in all that extra rubbish.

Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun

The other really terrible mistake is the voice of the main character. That might not sound like much, but if you watch the film, you will know what I mean. It must have been processed electronically and sounds like an archetype of every clichéd sinister bad-guy voice that you have ever heard! It's the annoying American cool devil – worse than you would expect from a bad kids cartoon or a poorly dubbed Japanese anime – and it REALLY clashes with the starkly spare visuals. Must have ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ . . .

Ice from the Sun
Ice from the Sun

These flaws prevent me from calling this a really good film.  It isn’t one that I could say to people with enthusiasm “You have to watch this – it’s really interesting”.  However . . . If one can somehow blot out the problems and gloss over the somewhat laboured plot that surrounds the central ideas of the film, then what is left is actually something quite special.  This mix of the excellent and the dire is so frustrating that I wish I could have a go at the film myself with a pair of scissors! Bottom line: Eric Stanze had something amazing here potentially. But he really should have got, perhaps, a more skilled writer in to shape it up a bit.  Or at least given some good hard thought to that story.  Stanze’s other (later) films that I have seen might be a bit more competently done, but none quite match Ice from the Sun for that touch of the really strange.

 

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