Death of a Snowman (aka Soul Patrol and Black Trash) Movie Review
Written by Steve "Alien Redrum" Pattee
DVD released by Synapse Films
It's time we defended ourselves and made the streets safe for the people. – War on Crime
Directed by Christopher Rowley
Written by Bima Stagg
1978, Region 1, 87 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on November 9th, 2010
Nigel Davenport as Ben Deel
Ken Gampu as Steve Chaka
Peter Dyneley as the Captain
Bima Stagg as Johnson
When criminals start getting picked off in Johannesburg, South Africa, reporter Steve Chaka (Ken Gampu) just might have hit the mother of all sources when the leader of the vigilante group "War on Crime" contacts Chaka and takes responsibility for the recent murders. To sweeten the pot, this mysterious caller has promised to call him before the next killings.
However, Chaka's good friend in the police department, Lt. Ben Deel (Nigel Davenport – Chariots of Fire), is questioning the motives of the "War on Crime" source and begins to wonder if Chaka is just being used as a pawn in a much bigger picture. It doesn't help that Deel's boss is convinced the reporter is involved with the vigilante group, and demands the the lieutenant keep a close eye on him, without giving up any information the police have. Talk about testing a friendship.
It soon becomes apparent that Deel's instincts are sound, and Chaka finds himself in the middle of a mess. He only has himself to rely on for finding out who "War on Crime" really is, and what the group hopes to gain.
Death of a Snowman is a self-labeled exploitation movie and across the web it commonly gets tagged blaxploitation. To some degree, both are accurate descriptions since the film meets the necessary requirements of the 'ploitation bill. It has car chases, gun fights, goofy dialog, senseless killings and a funkalicious soundtrack. However, what's interesting about Death of a Snowman is that it aspires to put out a decent thriller without having to rely on the necessities of the genre. There's very little nudity, for example, that is usually one of the staples of an exploitation flick, no matter what sub-genre.
The film has a lot of issues, mainly editing and dialog. The former's major problem is the jarring segues between scenes. There is no subtlety or grace. One moment you'll be watching Chaka fax something to New York, then immediately after you are watching Lt. Deel and his boss argue about something. The scenes jump nonsensically on occasion, taking you out of the movie.
The dialog's main issue is every conversation is exposition filled. There just can't be a "Hey, how you doing?" in this wordy movie. There's always something added to a majority of the conversations that just isn't needed. Hell, even something that should be a simple discussion on a reporter's personal life turns into an unnecessary diatribe. In the script's defense, though, the movie is chock full of memorable lines that will bring a laugh on those Friday Fun Movie Nights.
However, Death of a Snowman has a lot of things going for it, too. The first is that it's a flat out good story. Unoriginal, sure, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Chaka is in a position where he doesn't disagree with what "War on Crime" is doing, just the methods. And once the bigger picture is revealed, skewing Chaka's perspective of the group, he goes after the leader for nothing more than his own conscience.
Nigel Davenport and Ken Gampu, as Deel and Chaka respectively, have a really good onscreen synergy. The two actors play off each other well, and the friendship they share is believable. Unfortunately, the pair do not share much screen time. They are usually off doing their own thing, only running into each other at random moments. This is odd since the filmmakers go out of their way to establish that there is a history with the two, only to separate them more often than not. It's a damn shame, too, considering how well Davenport and Gampu work together.
The scene stealer of the Death of a Snowman, though, is Bima Stagg. In addition to penning the film's script, Stagg doubles as Eric Strauss, Johnson. He doesn't have many lines and his role is more of a subplot than anything else, but he makes every moment memorable. His character is also the catalyst for one of the more shocking scenes in the movie. Surprisingly enough, he only went on to act in one other film, Survivor (which he also wrote). It's too bad, since he had the emotionless baddie look often needed in grindhouse pictures of that era. It should be noted that Stagg also wrote Stander, a terrific film starring Thomas Jane as a South African police officer turned bank robber, which was based on a true story.
Death of a Snowman isn't the best of the exploitation films that came out around the same period, but it's far from the worst. Flawed, sure, but it's an enjoyable film that unfortunately got buried under the mountain of classics that came out around the same time. It can't compete with those, but it can hold its own if you are looking for one that you haven't seen before. This one is definitely worth a rent.
Video, Audio and Special features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.