Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The Last Winter (2006)
“It’s haunted. We’re grave robbers. It’s coming up from the ground. Ghosts. I mean, what is oil anyway? Except… dead plants and animals from a long time ago.” Even as I type these words spoken by Zach Gilford’s doomed character during the film’s climax I get goose bumps.
Haunted oil? Drilling in the Arctic opens a gateway to hell? One could only hope for so much cosmic justice. The Last Winter, an excellent new direct-to-DVD horror film, raised a question posed in another apocalyptic film, 12 Monkeys. As Bruce Willis’ character mumbles to Brad Pitt, “Maybe we deserve to be wiped out.”
I thought this was a great concept for a supernatural horror film. The spirits of the animals whose fossils got turned into “fossil fuels” come back to haunt the creatures destroying the planet. The creatures of course, are us. The film follows the crew of a small oil-drilling rig in Alaska in the dead of winter. Strange things are happening left and right, and, well, the workers that aren’t disappearing are, of course, dying in gruesome ways.
The dramatic setting of the Arctic ice caps alone was enough to make this an enjoyable and absorbing film. The director, Larry Fessenden, had previously directed Wendigo (2001), another snow and ice horror movie. While Fessenden is no beginner, artists definitely have the odds in their favor when making pictures in such stark and barren natural environments. The flat, pure, bright white snow makes a wonderful blank canvas. Such perfect terrain exists the world over, but is neglected by a film industry centralized to urban and sub-tropical locales. Avid viewers will recall some of the most memorable shot on location horror films of the thirty years utilized bleak winter landscapes to convey a sense of isolation and dread. To name a few; The Thing (1982), The Shining (1980), Dream Catcher (2003), and the lesser known but equally ambitious Frost Biter (2000)
I must say I appreciated the ensemble cast of character actors. Genre favorite Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Blade 2) plays a stubborn engineer sent up by the oil company to kick ass and take names. The rest of the cast is also made up of people I remember dying in pretty hideous ways in the other movies they starred in. There is James Le Gros, who played Mike in Phantasm 2. Horror fans will recall he replaced Michael A. Baldwin as the main character only in that single installment in the Phantasm series. Viewers may also recognize Le Gros from his smaller parts in movies like Drugstore Cowboy, Near Dark, and Point Break. And we have Kevin Corrigan, who played Leonardo DiCaprio’s bone-headed cousin in The Departed, and “Goon” in the 1998 independent comedy Buffalo ’66.
As the tiny handful of my readers who watched Cookers, Encounter At Raven’s Gate or Ghosts of the Civil Dead may know, I am a fan of the atmospheric, somber horror films, and this is one of those. They make a nice little change of pace from the mile a minute gore-and-cheese fests I usually write about. I ONLY review movies that I like on this site, and I do it to spread the good word about different examples of B-movie horrors that people may otherwise skip. So check this one out. You may start to believe in ghosts as well as global warming.