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DEATH OF A SNOWMAN
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Reviewed by: Pat Torfe

Directed by: Christopher Rowley

Starring:
Nigel Davenport
Ken Gampu
Bima Stagg
Madala Mphahlele

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about

Steve Chaka is a newspaper reporter covering a series of vigilante attacks against criminals. Someone calling themselves "War On Crime" is claiming responsibility, and promises more deaths will come until the streets are crime-free. Meanwhile, Chaka's good friend and police detective Lt. Ben Deel is investigating the War On Crime murders. While Deel doesn't believe Chaka is involved in the crimes, he feels that Chaka is being used by the organization. As the duo investigate the case, the more deadly things become.

Is it good movie?

I haven't seen a Blaxploitation film in quite a while, and DEATH OF A SNOWMAN certainly fits the bill. Coming from 1970s South Africa during the height of the racist apartheid system, there's a certain irony to be found with this film, especially when you consider that the heroes have relatively little screen time together. Nonetheless, the film, with its funky music and 1970s fashion, is an entertaining one.

Possibly the best thing about this film is Bima Stagg's writing (in typical Blaxploitation fare, it's hilariously clumsy) as well as his performance as the hitman, Johnson. First of all, the dude looks like a member of the Bee Gees, what with the scraggly beard, hair and chest hair. Second of all, the lines this guy spits out are pure cheese. It's a 'so bad it's good' thing, stiff acting and all. Top all of this off with a rather large magnum (think DIRTY HARRY) that when he pulls the trigger, Johnson states that he's compensating for the "gravitational pull of the moon". If that's not awesome, I don't know what is. The guy is full of stuff like this.

As our protagonists, Deel and Chaka are a likable duo with a believable relationship. Of note is seeing Chaka (played by Ken Gampu, one of the first black South African stars in Hollywood) playing a hero that breaks the mold of your typical Blaxploitation film: a character with a strong set of morals who wasn't a pimp or what have you that you'd think of when you see a film of this nature. The other curiosity is the fact that despite being filmed in South Africa, no mention is made of the apartheid. Despite this, you could kind of interpret what screenwriter Bima Stagg and director Christopher Rowley seem to be trying to do. That is, make the film out to be a sort of crude social commentary about the continual deception and corruption in South African race relations at that time, as well as in the races themselves. It's noble, but truthfully is a little hard to see amidst the whole Blaxploitation thing.

This 'Blaxploitation thing', if you're not prepared for it, is what brings the film down: the car chase and gun play scenes aren't particularly well filmed, the dialogue as mentioned is crude and clumsy, and the editing is haphazard. What's really unfortunate is the underdeveloped relationship between Deel and Chaka, despite the camaraderie. We don't see enough of these two together to really get to know them, which is a shame.

DEATH OF A SNOWMAN isn't the best of Blaxploitation, nor is it the worst. It's a curiosity to see a film of this nature come out of Johannesburg during the 70s, but it's also an entertaining one. If you can get past the bad aspects of Blaxploitation and get in with the good (though the dialogue might be bad or good, depending on your perception), this is a fun little slice of action from the 70s that will entertain.

Video / Audio

Video: Presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture appears to be decent. There doesn't appear to be much if anything in terms of remastering, despite the quality of the print source. Scratches, dirt and defects are here, along with inconsistencies in the colour and detail. While it could look much better if given proper remastering, it could also look much worse.

Audio: The only audio option is a Dolby Digital Mono track, which like the picture hasn't been remastered. The levels are consistent for the most part, but background noise and distortion are a bit of an annoyance. Dialog comes through clear, though dubbing is all too apparent, at times. Again, could be better, but also could be worse.

The Extras

The only extra is the film's three minute theatrical trailer.

Last Call

It's Blaxploitation whether you love it or hate it. This isn't the best way to start off your journey in the genre if you're new to it, but those who are fans of the genre will want to check the film out. The quality of the audio and video are suspect, but better than what you'd find on VHS.

ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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