Deep Freeze (2002): Thing Is…

Matty gets to grips with a suspiciously familiar-sounding sci-fi horror by another guy named John.

A group of American researchers?

In Antarctica?

Fending off a monstrous beast they’ve unearthed from the ice? 

Cobbling together a straight-to-video riff on The Thing (1982) is one, erm, thing, but doing so when you’re also called John — well, that takes a pair of cojones brassier than your average colliery band. Happily, John Carl Buechler just about pulls it off. Though DEEP FREEZE never rises above tepid (heh), the veteran FX wiz/director does litter this agreeable bit of hokum with a few points of interest. 

Chief among them is the film’s photography. Calling to mind the luminous aesthetic of The Shining (1980), Buechler and his cinematographer, Thomas Callaway (Night of the Scarecrow (1995), a bunch of Charles Band and David DeCoteau flicks, and auxiliary unit posts on Buechler’s Friday the 13th: The New Blood (1988) and Ghoulies Go to College (1990)), gift Deep Freeze an unexpectedly bright sheen. Like Kubrick, they don’t cloak their horrors in darkness. Instead, they bathe them in a queasy artificial glow indicative of the halogen tube lights that line the breakout spaces, bunks, and corridors of the South Pole lab where this tale of geologists battling a trilobite (a kind of giant prehistoric woodlouse) unfolds; a snowbound prison of sorts, where days and nights are the same, and time all but grinds to a halt [1]. Adding to this effectively rendered sense of monotony is the film’s lingering sensibility and deliberately static pace (which’ll likely be a patience-tester for those seeking thrill-a-minute schlock). The camera is continually perched at eye level and shots stay put for longer than they ought to, emphasising the pressure cooker tedium experienced by those locked inside, and bolstering the unshakable feeling that everyone is being watched, always. And as Buechler makes screamingly clear… They are. 

While the overly rubbery, joke shop-type FX used to bring the trilobite to life aren’t the best fabrications to come from the sorely missed Buechler’s Magical Media Industries, they are fun once they take centre stage in Deep Freeze’s frantic final third, when the creature carnage moves beyond POV shots and a very obvious hand puppet (per my original notes: “a ribbed, grey-painted baseball mitt”). There’s a real doozy of a gag at the sixty-six minute mark in particular; a beautifully icky and alarming moment that almost equals the baulk-inducing sequences of mouth-terror found in Jack Sholder’s The Hidden (1987) and Gary Jones’ Spiders (2000)

Built from a script featuring input from the individual talents responsible for such distinguished cult items as Electra Glide in Blue (1973) (Robert Boris), Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996) (Dennis A. Pratt), and Voodoo Academy (1999) (Matthew Jason Walsh), Deep Freeze is somewhere between the lot of them in terms of tone; a potpourri of moody posturing, creeping dread, and kitsch. It never completely gels, but it’s an interesting mix and the whole endeavour is surprisingly character-centric. They’re a comic book bunch, without question, and the majority of the younger cast members seem a mite too hunky and pretty to convince as genuine geology geeks, but there’s enough dramatic meat on their bones to make you care about what happens to them — especially when Götz Otto’s pill-popping Schneider starts cracking up and becomes as big a threat as the trilobite.

Produced by Buechler, Regent Entertainment, and German companies A.C.H. GmbH & Medien Capital Treuhand GmbH & Co. 1.KG (which, presumably, explains the marquee casting of German stars Otto and Alexandra Kamp), Deep Freeze hit U.K. DVD via bargain bin favourites Third Millennium on 10th June 2002. It landed on U.S. disc just over a year later, on 22nd July 2003, through Roger Corman’s New Horizons, who issued it under the title ‘Ice Crawlers’.

USA/Germany ● 2002 ● Sci-Fi, Horror ● 83mins

Götz Otto, Allen Lee Haff, Alexandra Kamp ● Dir. John Carl Buechler ● Wri. Robert Boris and Dennis A. Pratt and Matthew Jason Walsh, from a story by Robert Boris

[1] Incidentally, the stock footage used to illustrate the exteriors of the outpost was, in fact, cribbed from The Thing.

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