The Force On Thunder Mountain

Director:Peter B. Good                               
Christopher Cain, Todd Dutson, Borge West

I miss American National Enterprises. In the late 70s to the early 80s, they were responsible for introducing to late night television some of the cheapest, cheesiest, and most obscure movies ever, both of their own creation and what they picked up to distribute. Though out of business now, you can still see their movies occasionally. The first time I stumbled across one of their movies, I knew I was in for something entertainingly shabby, by the fact they ripped off their logo from Republic Pictures. (What a source to rip off from!) Bad as their movies (except for Didn't You Hear) might be, there is usually something about them that makes them kind of fun to watch for fans of obscure movies - if you look at them just the right way.

The Force On Thunder Mountain is one of their few movies to have made it to video. Watching it, I have to wonder if it received any kind of release, because it's barely a movie. It's really a backyard production; only five people ever appear in the movie, it's set in the wilderness where it's less of a hassle to plunk down a camera and start shooting, the almost non-existent props could have been taken out of the actors' closets, and there's only about twenty minutes worth of story, patched together with endless reels of stock footage. The desperation here is the most interesting part of the movie, but at the same time it brings clear that the makers of this movie could barely do anything, and therefore could only do the slimmest excuse for a story. Maybe this explains why there is no writing credit of any kind in the opening credits.

The story (what there is of it) starts somewhere in the American wilderness (the credits thank the Uintah and Wasatch National Forest Service) in 1888, where two fully toothed prospectors, carrying only shovels, hike up a mountain to search for gold. "I'm tired!" exclaims one. "Bull feathers!" exclaims the other. A rock slide scares them away, and the scene ends. There is absolutely no point for this introduction to be here, because we are told later in the movie (which takes place in modern times) about how for hundreds of years, spooky events from Thunder Mountain have scared away Indians and settlers. On the other hand, maybe there is a point to this scene after all; one of the actors playing the prospectors did double duty on this movie, being an executive producer. Maybe he demanded something a little extra for his investment.

These stories haven't scared off Christopher Cain's character, who is listed just as "Father" in the credits. Back home, work had hurt his relationship with his son Rick (Dutson), so he thinks that a vacation for just the two of them in a spooky place will do the job.  Father is a strange guy, looking around and flashing his pearly whites all the time, and shouting at random various statements. When they get out of the car in the middle of the woods, Father shouts, "Gosh, this is really fantastic!" He isn't afraid to shout "Gosh..." this and "Gosh..." that throughout the movie. This isn't the only clue that he's short in the brain department; he makes strange deductions during their hike when weird things start to happen. When he and Rick hear a voice clearly groaning, "GOOOOO....... BAACCKK...", he says "It's just the wind." When Rick shows him a fossilized six-toed footprint, Father says in a matter of fact voice, "Well, it's not uncommon for a human to have six toes."

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The two of them, with Jake the family pooch, start off on their journey. (It's not explained how they fit enough food for the pooch in their small backpacks, let alone sleeping bags and food for themselves, but what the hell.) "That's where we're going," says Father, pointing. We get a shot of Thunder Mountain - DAAAAAAHHH!!!!! the soundtrack blares. Rick also gets into the spirit by also saying, "Gosh," then adding, "it sure is a long way!". We get the same shot of Thunder Mountain once again, and once again DAAAAAAHHH!!!!! the soundtrack blares.

There are two more instances where we see that shot and hear DAAAAAAHHH!!!!! on the soundtrack, but I'm getting ahead of myself again. Father, Rick, and Jake start their hike. "Look, an eagle!" We see several minutes of eagle stock footage. Not long later, "Look there - cougar cubs!" We see several minutes of stock footage of cougar cubs. Soon after, "Look, coyote pups!" We see several minutes of stock footage of coyote pups. Then even later...I think you get the idea. This movie is packed with stock footage that looks even more washed-out than the surrounding footage (though there's barely enough to be called "surrounding".) The stock footage isn't just nature footage - when Rick sees a U.F.O. going behind the mountain, it's footage from Invaders From Mars. When the mysterious bearded man living on Thunder Mountain tells Rick of his extra-terrestrial origins, the flashback footage of his crashing flying saucer is rendered by stock footage of an atomic bomb.

I'm ahead of myself again. Oh, what the hell - there really wasn't much more in-between than stock footage, except for several incidents where Father, Rick, and Jake get into mysterious and spooky situations (such as briefly warping into a desert and back again) that would have had any sane person fleeing back to civilization after going through two such incidents at the most. Plus, I doubt you'll ever find - or even want to see - this movie. When Rick's stupidity gets him separated from Father near the end, he encounters the truth when he meets Om, that mysterious bearded man who's really an alien. Turns out he crashed nearby a thousand years ago, was stranded on Earth, and had been doing all these mysterious things to scare away people from the mountain all of this time. Um, if he was stranded, then what's the explanation for that U.F.O. that's been around for at least 90 years? Om then shows Rick a stone toadstool that can do magical things, like burn and unburn a bush, and cut down and put back up a tree, both done by reversing the footage. (Is this device a "magic mushroom"?) Om keeps Rick for a day to teach him how to use "the force", as it's called here, because he wants a successor to learn this power. These scenes unintentionally reek of child molestation, with such stuff as the two sleeping next to each other and Om uttering stuff like, "Tomorrow, you'll feel different." One thing I never understood about all of this is if Om wanted a successor, why was he scaring everyone off all of this time? Or why didn't he just walk to civilization?

Make no mistake about it; The Force On Thunder Mountain is a bad movie. I'm certainly not recommending it. But if you look at it at that angle of sheer desperation, it can be interesting at times to watch. You wonder what everyone - the actors, the director, the producers, and everyone else - was thinking during the making of it. Did they think they could put this in theaters? What market was this intended for? What happened to the people involved here? Whatever happened to American National Enterprises? They were one of a kind, and only they could have made such a movie.

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See also: Earthbound, Seven Alone, Star Kid