• Death Of A Snowman

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Release date: 11-9-2010
    Director: Christopher Rowley
    Cast:Nigel Davenport, Ken Gampu
    Year: 1978

    The Movie:

    Also know as Soul Patrol and Black Trash, Christopher Rowley's 1978 Death Of A Snowman is one of those odd movies that's intermittently awesome and mind numbingly dull. The film is set in South Africa and when it begins, criminals around Johannesburg are being murdered one after the other in increasingly violent ways.
    A newspaperman named Steve Chaka (Ken Gampu) figures out that the people behind these killings are a group of black militant vigilantes calling themselves War on Crime and he sets out to find out who is behind this mysterious organization. He teams up with local police Lt. Ben Deel (Nigel Davenport) who helps him out with tips and information. The deeper Chaka gets in his investigation the more dangerous things become - but who is really behind all of this and what are the real motives behind the killings?

    Death Of A Snowman is a decent mix of conspiracy thriller, political statement and flat out blaxploitation/drive-in movie elements that makes for an interesting watch. The film is very erratic in its pacing - a perfect example of how this affects the film is the movie's tendency to switch from an action scene to something dull like a few minutes of Chaka at his typewriter - as such, it's all over the place as far as tension goes, but this shortcoming is compensated for by the film's very spontaneous feel. You'll probably not have much difficulty figuring out the big reveal towards the end of the movie, but getting there is fun thanks to some random character intros and exits and sporadic flashes of awesome, if poorly choreographed, violence.

    The best character in the film is a white hitman type (played by writer Bima Stagg) who looks ever so dapper in a funky hat with his chest hair exposed whenever possible. If you've seen the trailer for An American Hippy In Israel he looks kind of like the main character from that trailer. At any rate, he shows up about mid way through, does some stuff, and then just sort of disappears for no real reason. He does, however, add some welcome bizarre character to the film.

    The opening sequence in which a truck collides with a car as a precursor to the assassination that's going to take place is a good one, kicking them film into high gear the way an Italian crime film director like Enzo Castellari might, and the film benefits from an interesting disco-heavy soundtrack made all the more enjoyable by a few live nightclub numbers. Some fun chase scenes, fist fights, and quite a few shoot outs ensure that the action is solid here, but the more dramatic aspects of the picture don't always work so well. The dialogue is uneven, flipping from pretentious to just plain silly, while the storyline ponders everything from race relations to political tension to the merits of Death Wish style justice. The final action sequence where Chaka's old man shows up to help his son, axe in hand, makes the whole thing worth watching. The film is ambitious, if not always successful, and generally entertaining, if not always as intelligent as it was probably trying to be. All involved are trying their damndest to make something out of this picture, and even if they only succeed sporadically, they get enough right that this exploitation oddity winds up being worth a watch.

    Video/Audio/Extra Features:

    Synapse's anamorphic widescreen transfer is a well authored release of some rough looking source material. Expect to see print damage throughout, frequent color fades and periodic scratches. Colors look about as good as they probably can here, but given the age and obscurity of the film they don't pop off the screen like some films do. The dark scenes are definitely poorly lit and it can be frustrating, but it looks like the film was shot this way. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement to note - no authoring quirks at all, really - it's just that the elements available for this disc obviously weren't in pristine shape and it doesn't appear that much of a restoration was done.

    The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix has also seen better days. The levels are generally well balanced though there are times where the sound track gets a little hot in the mix. Dialogue is generally clean but you might have trouble with some of the accents. Subtitles would have helped here but there aren't any. Hiss and pop are audible throughout but these are generally minor problems. This mix won't leave you on the floor gasping for air but it gets the job done.

    The disc includes the film's original trailer and a menu that offers chapter selection.

    Final Word:

    Death Of A Snowman is worth a watch for fans of oddball international trash films. It's more ambitious than you'd probably expect it to be and the flashing moments of greatness more than compensate for the slower parts. As far as the disc goes, it's not Synapse's best effort but lord only knows what elements were around for this one. It's not a disc to win any A/V awards, but it's watchable enough and even if the extras are slim, the movie's worth checking out.