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Imaginative but dirt cheap
on July 19, 2004
"Ice From the Sun" is one of those movies you'll most likely find hiding out under the Sub Rosa distribution label. What does that mean and why is it important? If you like horror movies enough to watch cheap, cheesy, and often atrocious shot on video productions, you will run across this company sooner rather than later. Sub Rosa is turning into Troma's out of work brother-in-law, releasing the most sordid dreck ever seen on home entertainment systems. Most of the films sporting the Sub Rosa label would never see the light of day if it weren't for the advent of DVD technology. Even the famed grindhouses of New York City wouldn't have shown the likes of "Shatter Dead" or "Peter Rottentail," not even on a bet. The only thing that I can possibly say in defense of companies like Sub Rosa is that occasionally they distribute something like Eric Stanze's "Ice From the Sun." Don't get me wrong; "Ice From the Sun" is micro budget filmmaking on every level. The acting is downright awful, the pace uneven, but what works often overshadows what fails. I don't think I'm stretching to say that this movie is one of the best shot on video films I've ever seen. And, sad to say, I've seen quite a few.
Normally, you shouldn't worry too much about plot with one of these camcorder productions. The movies exist merely as conduits through which wannabe filmmakers with a "vision" can indulge in scene after scene of catsup soaked gore. "Ice From the Sun" differs in that it spends a great amount of time-perhaps an inordinate amount of time depending on your view-setting up what is actually an intriguing idea. A young woman named Allison (Ramona Midgett) commits autocide only to discover the image of a glowing angel instructing her to return to earth in order to defeat an evil known as The Presence. Apparently, back in the Middle Ages a sorcerer and his apprentice built an alternate dimension made out of ice from the sun. Ever since, every few years the sorcerer and his assistant Abraham (DJ Vivona) bring six humans to the dimension to play a series of bloody games. Eventually, Abraham killed the sorcerer and seized power for himself as The Presence. The angels in heaven and the demons in the underworld both despise Abraham, but the ice barrier prevents the armies of above and below from launching an invasion. The last time Abraham/The Presence abducted a batch of humans, one of them escaped back to earth alive. This mistake convinces the angels and demons that The Presence is losing his grasp on power. If Allison can go to the dimension and convince Abraham to remember his life on earth, the ice wall will collapse and restore balance to the cosmos.
Getting in the way of Allison's mission are six lunkheads teleported to the alternate dimension as part of the latest series of games. None of them have a chance in you know what to win anything except a horrific, painful demise. As they lurch about the dimension, which looks a lot like a forested area in New Jersey or some similar place, Abraham wipes them out. The most memorable scene involves a girl, a rope attached to a truck, and a bag of salt. There's also a grotesque medical examination bit, and a melting skull trick that actually looks better than what we saw at the end of the first "Indiana Jones" picture. A few of the games are unintentionally funny, such as the girl who ends up transmogrified into some half dog creature and the running eyeball scene. Overall, while there's more than a few situations of stomach churning gore, the movie is not a non-stop gorefest a la "Dead Alive." This, I think, is what sets the film apart from other shot on video productions. Well, that and the fact that Stanze attempts to ramp up the technical aspects of filmmaking.
The imaginative use of light effects and cinematic wizardry ultimately elevates "Ice From the Sun" from the rest of the camcorder crowd. Weird camera angles, jump cut editing, the use of negative photography, and hallucinatory imagery might have you scratching your head from time to time, but it does work in an odd way. It is difficult to look at Stanze's picture and not think you're watching a particularly cheap film shot by a former music video director. Personally, I hate the heavy reliance on cinematic gimcracks currently plaguing nearly every action film, but to see someone do it effectively on such a low budget isn't as annoying as seeing it done in a summer blockbuster. Regrettably, you must take the good with the bad, bad in "Ice From the Sun" meaning the acting. The only competent actor in the entire production is DJ Vivona as The Presence. Everyone else falls as flat as a pancake, especially Ramona Midgett. This gal delivers every piece of dialogue like she's letting marbles fall out of her mouth.
You can't have everything work, I guess. "Ice From the Sun" is worth a watch for those stalwart souls, like me, who must on occasion foray into the dark depths of shot on video filmmaking. Extras on the DVD version of the film include two commentary tracks-one from Stanze and one from a few of the actors-and two trailers for the movie. You also get a few stills. The soundtrack for the movie, which I do believe is available on compact disc, is your typical thrash/death metal/industrial (whatever they call it these days) tunes. Occasionally disturbing, often eye catching, and acted with all the aplomb of a lead statue, "Ice From the Sun" is a fun way to pass a couple of hours.