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Into the Storm (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 89 minutes.

OK for children.

In late April of 1974 I was in St. Thomas on business. I had a flight to Knoxville, where I had an office, the next day, but the wind was blowing a gale and I thought it would be wise to fly to Knoxville immediately. So I flew to San Juan and caught a flight to Atlanta with a change to Knoxville. It was a bumpy ride to Atlanta and I just missed the connection to Knoxville. Being that it was a five hour wait for the next plane and that the drive wasnít that long, I rented a car and set out.

It got darker and darker and the rain started and got so bad it was like driving on the bottom of the Mississippi. There was only one other car on the highway and I followed his red tail lights for about 60 miles until he turned off.

I found out why. There was a road block and a detour. I told the highway patrolman I was going to Knoxville and the detour was miles out of my way. He said that a tornado had just blown the town two miles down the road away and there was another one coming. I asked what to do. He said they travel northeast at around 45 miles an hour so I could run away from it.

I turned on the detour and drove for about another hour at about 80 mph as the rain kept getting heavier and it kept getting even darker. I was alone on the road, not a car in either direction. There was absolutely no radio reception; nothing but static. I felt as if I were trapped inside a horror movie, halfway expecting to see Boris Karloff standing in the middle of the road waving a lantern for me to stop and stay in his castle. California earthquakes are nothing compared with this.

Finally I saw a motel on the side of a cliff. I checked in, took the bedding, moved down to the boiler room at the bottom of the cliff and slept there until the sun rose. I was relieved to see that the rain had ended. I drove directly to the Knoxville airport and flew home to Los Angeles. Only when I arrived did I discover that I had driven straight through the middle of the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded, now known as the ďSuper Outbreak.Ē At one time as many as 15 different tornadoes were going at the same time. Thirty F4/F5 tornadoes were reported. I was unbelievably lucky.

This is a movie that brilliantly captures the horror of a tornado storm in the guise of a small town, Silverton, that is targeted by two F5 tornadoes, as well as many others. The protagonists are a father and his two sons and a team of storm chasers.

After a slow, poorly crafted start, it is extremely well-directed with fine pace and high tension by Steven Quale. After starting out as an ordinary day, all hell breaks loose. The visual and practical special effects (Randall Starr) that create the storms are spellbinding. Shown are tornadoes attacking everything in their paths, picking up cars as if they were feathers, enhanced by exceptional sound (Per Hallberg) capturing the fury of the storms.

But lots of practical effects were needed, also, to create the high winds. The actors endured 100 mph winds blowing debris all around them created by fans.

The only other negative in the film is near the end when two characters are trapped and think they are doomed. Each gives a long maudlin soliloquy, recording their goodbyes on film. It stops the pace and tension dead in its tracks. Itís not enough to ruin the movie, but a good editor should have seen that these scenes have no place in this film.

The result is an amazingly tense, realistic rendition of what itís like to be in a tornado storm. Tornadoes are unpredictable. They can form quickly and touch down quickly. Sitting through this is as close to actually being in a tornado as is possible. Watching this film was so real it made me realize once again how lucky I was as probably the only person who drove straight through the worst tornado storm in history.