Young couple PJ and Brianne check in to a holiday cabin. They’re in love. He’s intending to propose later that evening. But before that, dinner, and PJ gets on the wrong side of some local rednecks and things almost get physical. Back at the cabin, while PJ showers, Brianne is attacked and dismembered by a person or thing unknown. When the cops show up, there are body parts everywhere and Brianne’s vagina is missing.
That gruesome detail is emblematic of a film otherwise made strictly to a formula, the twist added by writer/director/star Jim Cummings lifting everything onto another plane.
This sort of thing used to happen from time to time when B movies were still being made – a gifted but hardly box office director would be given a crew who knew their shit and a week to turn something out. As long as it satisfied genre conventions, the back office was happy. And if it flopped, at least it didn’t cost much.
These days it’s the Lifetime Channel and other like it whose churn-em-out production schedules keep camera crews and lighting riggers, set dressers and make-up artists in work, and enable them refine their skills.
Superficially, from its aerial establishing shots to its set-ups in diners and gas-station forecourts, The Wolf of Snow Hollow looks like a standard-issue TV shocker. But there is that missing vagina to consider. A few minutes further along into the running time, again in an extremely familiar scenario, we are introduced to a snowboard instructor, who we understand immediately from the TMI backstory we’re being given at speed is “the next victim”. And sure enough, in no time the big bad wolf has killed her too. This time her head is missing.
Is it a wolf – there are plenty in the snowy hills that surround Snow Hollow? Or a human – as rationalist cop John Marshall (Cummings) suspects?
Marshall’s fellow cops consist of his dad (Robert Forster in one of his final roles), a sick and old sheriff who will not retire and who’s good only for raising morale. As for the rest of them, trusted buddy Julia Robson (excellent Riki Lindhome) aside, they seem to consist of post-truthers convinced it’s a werewolf, or cops so lazy they want the FBI to take the case.
On top of that is the attitude of the local townsfolk towards the police. They’re dismissive, contemptuous, angry that the cops “haven’t caught him yet” – writer Cummings neatly catching the mood of the “defund the police” moment.
But what most elevates The Wolf of Snow Hollow from standard-issue grisly whodunit territory is the character of Marshall himself, a recovering alcoholic who has so much internal fury that even when he says “anger management issues” at an AA meeting he looks like he’s going to bite someone.
Marshall is furious all the time – when he’s not snarling at his wife, or railing at his daughter, he’s punching colleagues in the face or firing them for being stupid, his character acting as a kind of blackly comedic counterpoint to the ongoing slaughter. At one point he even smacks the pathologist examining a dead body.
He’s a good guy under it all, probably, though Cummings doesn’t give us an easy ride – if you saw Cummings’s portrayal of a troubled cop in Thunder Road, it’s pretty much the same guy here, except a bit smarter and a lot angrier .
You could say the same for the entire film – smart, angry and angular yet familiar enough to almost slide by unnoticed, if you weren’t paying attention. Cummings currently has The Beta Test in post-production, a horror thriller set in Hollywood. Sounds promising.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020