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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

1.52 --- Red Snow

Directed by : Jeannot Szwarc
Written by : Michael Cassutt
Starring : George Dzundza, Barry Miller, Vladimir Skomarovsky, Victoria Tennant
First aired : 21st of March, 1986.

Colonel Ilyanov (George Dzundza, Deer Hunter, Salem's Lot), a high-ranked party officer on his way down, is sent to the heart of Siberia, beyond the arctic circle, to investigate the deaths of some party officials. Arriving there by train, he is greeted by the current party responsible Provin (Barry Miller, Saturday Night Fever), as well as the enduring darkness which lasts from october to march.

Ilyanov and Provin are assisted by the town major Titov (Vladimir Skomarovsky, 2010), who seems less than enthousiastic about the whole deal. After scouring the files for suspicious things, Ilyanov finds nothing even remotely fishy, but his curiosity sparks up after seeing a familiar looking woman called Valentina Orlova (Victoria Tennant, LA Story) on the street. He checks up on her in the files, and sees that she has been exiled by Stalin...50 years ago. He is rebuffed by Provin, who says that this woman is just a descendant of that other one. Ilyanov still finds it an odd coincidence, and decides to investigate further.

Checking out the bodies of slain officials, Ilyanov discovers that their corpses are strangely enough bloodless. He demands to be taken to the crime scene, and finds an old church which is considered abandoned, yet has footsteps in the snow walking from and to. Suddenly, a wailing wolf in the distance interrupts their search, and Ilyanov rushes to the woods to check the situation. What he finds leaves him in a state of shock - the aforementioned Valentina feeding off wolf's blood, while sporting a pair of vampiric fangs ! Ilyanov runs back, but someone knocks him out cold with a big chunk o' wood.

Awakening in his room, Ilyanov is told by Titov that he just ran into a low branch and lost consciousness. The canny old komisar believes none of it, and demands that Titov takes him to that old church, convinced that those were vampires out there. At the church, he finds all the coffins empty...which is because the welcoming committee was set up for him - turns out that there is a whole colony of bloodsuckers there, and Provin is one of them !

Titov then explains the whole situation to Ilyanov - those vampires are all refugees from the various parts of Russia, some exiled by Stalin, some coming here by choice to stay safe. Over the years, their community has expanded, and the town struck some sort of a deal with them - the vampires would protect them from wolves and criminals, and the villagers would keep them safe from prying eyes. Party eyes turn to be particularily prying though, and Ilyanov soon finds out he's the next course on their menu. Titov argues that he should be let alone, and Ilyanov uses this moment of confusion to flee the church.

Running away with Titov, two of them are soon assaulted by a pair of wolves. The chasing vampires are just too late for Titov, whose throat is slit by a wolf, but Ilyanov survives, and is now in a tight spot. He accepts his fate, telling the vampires he is as good as done anyway, and how the old Soviet values he fought for are not there anymore, how he's useless now. Valentina informs him that there might be a way for him to fight back, in the name of the people, and regain some strength and dignity he lost.

Back in Moscow, Ilyanov informs his superior of a job well done - Titov was a rotten apple, a traitor and a disgrace, while comrade Provin helped him immensely during his investigation. His boss congratulates him on a job well done, and leaves the room saying how he wished he had more men like him...to which Ilyanov silently replies, "you will, comrade, you will", and smilingly reveals his new pair of fangs.

***

A neat little vampiric mystery piece concocted by the screenwriter Michael Cassutt, Red Snow remains interesting, if a bit leisurely-paced, from start to finish. Dzundza is not only a decent actor here, he more importantly looks the part, completely resembling one of those stock KGB types from the cold war era.

The writing, though, suffers from some overweight politicking - Ilyanov, a staunch party supporter, making a cross sign across his chest when first meeting a vampire is the first sign of suspect intentions - Valentina's and Titov's "throw the communism down" speeches at the end are just unneccessary. What on Earth were they thinking having vampires bitch about party politics - was the supposed message "hey kids, commies are evil because they abuse the undead" ? The ending twist is good, but considering the fact Soviet Union did collapse few years after this episode aired, you get the feeling that the makers wanted to insinuate bloodsuckers tore down the iron curtain.

Still, acting, mystery, and above average sets bail this one enough to just dismiss the abovegiven antics as "sign o' the times". And oh, hands up all of you who thought Chris Nolan was so dashingly original to make a whodunit set in a place beyond the arctic circle...

Comments on "1.52 --- Red Snow"

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:55 AM) : 

No, the message is that the 'outcasts' of society were being driven to do whatever necessary in order to survive. Plus, the vampires were not actually hurting anyone, so why should they and the humans in the town be wiped out by the Communists?

Though yeah, the thought of vampires working to bring down the Soviet Union is a strange one. Kind of fun, though.

 

Blogger Paul said ... (11:20 PM) : 

This has historical value. By the 80s years of propaganda and Soviet shortcomings disilusioned progressives, hence the vampires as dissident angle and Soviets as sub-undead. At the same time progressives were horrified at the Reagan nuclear buildup, so the common interest to prevent nuclear annihilation with the Soviets could still be expressed on network TV in the 1980s.

 

Blogger Martijn said ... (2:12 PM) : 

Contrary to public opinion in the west Christianity survived in the USSR even during the repressions by Stalin. The Soviets even recognized this as long as it didn't contradict the power of the state, the Patriarch of Moscow even had official recognition by the Soviet authorities. Many people continued in their faith and thus it could return to mainstream after the fall of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev mentioned in an interview that at his parent's house the icon of the Holy Mary hang side to side with the image of Lenin.

 

Blogger jared terry said ... (3:21 AM) : 

So-so episode. Interesting from a cultural point of view in as much that cold war paranoia looms large and overt throughout the episode.

While the cold war was not at its height in 1985/6 (1982-82 represented a second peak of fear, notably this was the years in which the day after and threads were shown. I especially recommend seeing 'Threads') it was still very much being represented in film. This is the most overt engagement with communism of the series, I view its partner to be the excellent episode in which nuclear war is started and the woman is able to stop time but not restart it as a warhead hangs in the sky.

A middling story then but valuable as a representation of the 'other'. That alien 'other' being communism of course. We still have representations of the other today but it is now religious fundamentalism as expressed by terrorism.

 

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