TV REVIEWS : Suspenseful Mountain Mayhem in "Snow Kill"

If you can bear with the preposterous plot turns in "Snow Kill" (at 9 tonight on cable's USA Network), you might find the murder, terror and suspense in a bloody winter wonderland the ticket to chill a summer night.

David Dukes' wry killer, quick with a quip, is the show's throttle. Terence Knox as a vengeful mountain trapper and Patti D'Arbanville as a steely executive on a wilderness expedition are the heroes.

The script, by producer Raymond Hartung and Harv Zimmel, tightens the noose around three disparate groups of people: a trio of escaped convicts, a mountain man and his pregnant wife and five fast-track executives on a crazed wilderness hike to test their mettle. The action converges on beautiful, rugged, snowy mountainsides (the show was shot in Utah), and the point-blank carnage is graphic and brutal.

Director Thomas J. Wright and editor Tom Pryor know how to maneuver the violent slopes, from breakneck mayhem (as when one of the villains is dropped by a crossbow arrow to the throat) to mayhem that is felt but not dramatized (the slaughter of the pregnant wife in a mountain cabin, only her naked legs visible behind a bed).

The story's undeniable momentum clouds outrageous plot spins: twice Dukes' killer fouls up easy chances to finish off Knox's hero; later the hero has the villain wallowing in a gorge but inexplicably fails to get out his crossbow and nail him. Finally, when the trapper again has the menacing Dukes cowering, the D'Arbanville character (whom mad dog Dukes just tried to rape) talks the trapper out of it on the inane logic that they need him alive.

That may be cynical--any loophole to keep the narrative going--but it's also not a sin for a pulp horror story. You do get hooked. And Dukes' inevitable demise is truly the stuff of Grand Guignol.

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