Sunday, September 27, 2020

'Hukkunud Alpinisti' hotell (1979)

... aka: Отель 'У погибшего альпиниста'
... aka: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel
... aka: Hotel a Halott Alpinistához (Hotel for the Dead Climber)
... aka: Hotel "At a Lost Climber," The
... aka: Hotel of the Deceased Climber
... aka: Otel u pogibshego alpinista

Directed by:
Grigori Kromanov

Police inspector Peter Glebsky (Uldis Pūcītis) receives a phone call asking him to come to a very secluded ski lodge called the "The Dead Mountaineer's Hotel," which gets its name from a unnamed climber who was caught in an avalanche and carried 500 meters to his death there. The man's likeness is even found in the hotel lobby highlighted with neon as soon as you enter. While that sounds a little bit morbid and perhaps doesn't make this appear to be the ideal vacation retreat, it makes up for it with booze, billiards, a mini-nightclub and the scenery. Upon arrival, Glebsky is greeted by Alex Snewahr (Jüri Järvet), who owns the hotel and all of the surrounding land, including the mountains. Only there's a problem: Alex claims he didn't call the police. Sensing it was a prank, a false alarm or perhaps some kind of mistake made by one of the guests staying there, Glebsky calls up his superior and informs him that he'll be back the following day. After all, it's a treacherous and very dangerous drive through the snowy, foggy mountains to get there and certainly not one you want to attempt in the evening. Glebsky decides to stay the night. "Lell," Alex's Saint Bernard, is even kind enough to get his luggage and show him to his room.

Glebsky briefly meets the other six guests. There's Hinckus (Mikk Mikiver), a gravelly-voiced tuberculosis patient sent there by his doctor for some fresh air. The eccentric Simon Simonet (Lembit Peterson) first claims to be "commander of the cyber-forces" but then confesses to actually being a government physicist working on the top secret "Midas Project." He's come there to climb but since there's too much snow to do that, he opts to climb the walls instead. Alex's distant relative Brun (Nijole Ozelyte), who's basically just there loafing and smoking weed, is there, along with Olaf (Tiit Härm), the only other guy there under the age of 40. And then there's the attractive and glamorous, though very peculiar-acting Mrs. Moses (Irena Kriauzaite), who's married to the significantly older Mr. Moses (Karlis Sebris). Mr. Moses claims to be some kind of "traveling businessman" and just kind of sits back and watches as his wife flirts with anything in pants.

One of the guests drops an anonymous note on the floor addressed to Glebsky stating that Hinckus is actually a dangerous gangster and homicidal maniac known as "Owl" who's hiding out here and is plotting to murder somebody. Before the inspector can even confront him over the validity of those claims, there's an avalanche. Both the power and the phones lines are knocked out and it will take at least a week for someone to dig out the roads leading there. Sounds like the perfect time for a murder or two, doesn't it?

Olaf is soon found dead in his room; his arm outstretched toward a briefcase and his head rather unnaturally twisted around almost completely backwards. Coinciding with the discovery of the body is the arrival of a mysterious man who just sort of turns up there out of the blue claiming to be a friend of Olaf's. He - Luarvik (Sulev Luik) - proves to be every bit as strange as the other guests when he gains consciousness, claiming that while he knows Olaf he doesn't know what he looks like. He seems to be after something in his suitcase, which the inspector has hidden, and is also pallid, physically weak and needs to sleep a lot.

Though Hinckus would be high up on the suspect list, he is found knocked out and tied up to a bed. Simon is then found delirious and claiming he found (and tried to get romantic with) Mrs. Moses' corpse, though she is soon found still alive. Brun seems curiously unperturbed by the murder of Olaf and even jokes around about it. A strange contraption is found among Olaf's belongings that Simon hypothesizes is either from the military or outer space. And Alex keeps casually bringing up things like aliens and zombies ("the third state of living organisms"). Just what exactly is going on?

Can't really go into too much further detail as not to spoil the ending / resolution (fyi, don't look at my tags either!), only I'll say that it may or may not involve something supernatural / otherworldly and it's something so out there that the inspector (who narrates the proceedings; sometimes unnecessarily) hasn't told a soul about it even years after the fact. Gee, I'm not a lot of help, am I?

This is another of those movies that's not really within just one genre as there are elements of mystery / suspense, crime, science fiction, surrealism and horror all weaved in plus lots of flashbacks, nightmares, hallucinations and oddball characters and even some bizarrely-placed b/w newsreel footage showing real people falling to their deaths trying to escape from a burning high rise apartment building. While it's well-made, handsomely-shot and keeps you guessing, it's at its best as a visual piece and uses its locations exceptionally well. The sense of isolation is superbly pulled off thanks to lots of long shots of the hotel. There are loads of lens flares and beautiful shots of the sun peaking out from behind the mountains. The art direction on the hotel interior, which is usually dark but with shots of color and flickering light (thanks to them having to switch over to the generator), is also excellent. And the mood is perfectly set by Sven Grünberg's eerie synth score.

Based on the 1970 novel Otel "U pogibshego alpinista" by siblings Arkadi Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky. The brothers, who will forever be best known for writing Andrei Tarkovsky's highly acclaimed Stalker (1979), also adapted this for the screen. There was a 2009 DVD release from Ruscico (given the awkward title of The Hotel "At a Lost Climber") that includes English subtitles. The novel itself was finally made available in English in 2015 thanks to Melville House and is titled The Dead Mountaineer's Inn.

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