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SCREAM OF STONE (1991).

Director Werner Herzog may not always make the greatest movies, but they're worth a look when this madman is dealing with obsessed crackpots. This, his most recent fiction feature, may be far from his best, but I still can't understand why this mountain-climbing melodrama never got a U.S. release. It boasts grueling locales, a couple of Hollywood names, and is unquestionable more interesting than most of the shitty U.S. pics currently sucking up theatre space... If you've got a fear of heights, the opening sequence will have you shitting your pants, as we watch a climber working his way up a treacherous cliffside, at a nausea-inducing altitude, using only his bare hands. This isn't a CLIFFHANGER-style studio-fake-job though, it's the real thing. After Herzog has gotten our attention, the script pits the contrasting philosophies of two mountain climbers against each other. On one hand, there's Martin (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), a young, brash TV celeb who prefers freehand style (often on AMERICAN GLADIATORS-style indoor walls). On the other, there's Roger (Stefan Glowacz), a older, world-class veteran climber. After some tedious drama, the thrills finally kick in when Roger and Martin head to Patagonia, Argentina and attempt to scale a hellish chunk of rock, rising almost straight out of the earth and layered in ice. Bright idea, guys. Roger has already tried twice (and failed), and the story turns into The Older Pro vs. The Rebel Hotshot, with Donald Sutherland coming along (on auto-pilot) as a often-manipulative journalist. There's also Mathilda May (the sexy naked space vampire in LIFEFORCE) as disposable romantic relief. The end result? Roger goes into seclusion (in South America) in the aftermath, but a year later, they return to the peak for another highly publicized duel-ascent. Best of all, the always odd Brad Dourif has a hilarious bit part as a kook named Fingerless, who lives on the mountain in order to stay perpetually "on the edge," and pops up from time to time to babble about how he's someday going to go back up the mountain to find his lost fingers. Brad's at his wigged-out best, and personally I'd love to see him and Crispin Glover playing brothers someday... Since the human drama is convoluted, I'd advise you to forget all these flat leads and revel in the spectacular, top-of-the-world footage, which includes torturous climbing, sudden snow storms, and godawful filming conditions. Capturing the beauty and determination of the sport, it's during these moments that you can see why Werner was drawn to this half-baked script. It looks like the cast and crew were put through hell, but I bet Herzog was having a ball every inch of the way.

© 1996 by Steven Puchalski.