Thursday, August 2, 2018

TV Movie Terror: Snowbeast (1977) review


Bo Svenson (Gar Seberg), Yvette Mimieux (Ellen Seberg), Robert Logan (Tommy Rill), Clint Walker (Sheriff Paraday), Sylvia Sidney (Carrie Rill)

Directed by Herb Wallerstein

The Short Version: JAWS in the snow tells of a flesh-hungry Bigfoot ruining everybody's vacation at a popular Colorado ski resort on its 50th anniversary. For a Made For Television production, it's pretty decent and arguably the best cast to ever see a Sasquatch. Wallerstein treads as close to Spielberg's blockbuster fish opus as he can without receiving a lawsuit; and much like Spielberg's movie, you see very little of the monster. You do see lots of skiing, though; so much, in fact, that if you've never hit the slopes before, you'll feel like an expert after watching SNOWBEAST.

A carnivorous Bigfoot attacks and eats skiers during the 50th anniversary of Rill's Lodge Winter Carnival. The Lodge's owner, an old flame, a former friend, and the town sheriff go on a hunt for the monster to stop it before it can kill again.

In the annals of Made For TV horror, SNOWBEAST (1977) is one of the better known of the form--amassing a minor cult following from both genuine devotee's, and fans poking fun of its accidental campiness. It's a fairly well made one--with some surprisingly good performances, a compelling script by Joseph Stefano, and a few moments of concrete suspense. Unfortunately, much of this ends up covered in an avalanche of unintentional humor by some of the limited scenes of the Bigfoot itself.

Aside from breaking a few windows and a surprisingly intense attack on a gymnasium, the brute force of the flesh-eating cryptid is sloppily presented. To be fair, this is possibly due to the constraints of small screen production values and limitations on violence. With that said, the title monster has an awfully hard time breaking down a flimsy barn door; later displaying his primal ferocity by ripping a ski rack from the back of a truck. Moreover, other than a long shot of it on top of a hill partially hiding behind a tree, you never get to see the entire monster in-frame; instead, you get a clawed hand here, a clawed foot there, or a close-up of its face. This particular Bigfoot is supposed to be 12 feet tall only judging by the numerous POV shots, it's around half that size. 

As mentioned above, the creature's screen time is extremely limited. As a supplement, the movie is generously padded with skiing scenes. Lots of skiing. So there's that. The Colorado scenery is quite beautiful and the photography of Frank Stanley (DP of Eastwood flicks like MAGNUM FORCE and THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT) gives viewers a few good glimpses of it. And then there's the skiing scenes. To mix things up a bit, there's also snowmobiles. There's so much skiing that you'll feel like you've been on vacation in the Alps.

In spite of the abundance of snow action, what makes SNOWBEAST an enjoyable experience is less its monster than the characterizations between the three main leads due to the script from PSYCHO (1960) scribe, Joseph Stefano. Clearly JAWS (1975) was fresh in the minds of the filmmakers and Stefano swims a little too close to Spielberg's movie at times. Stefano even treads the outskirts of angles in Benchley's original novel that were dropped from the film version by way of the love triangle between Bo Svenson (THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS [1978]), Robert Logan (the DANIEL BOONE television series), and Yvette Mimieux (THE TIME MACHINE, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL).

Bo Svenson is top-billed as Gar, a former Olympic gold medalist who used to walk tall, but since fallen from grace and seeks the help of Tommy, his wife's former lover and the owner of the Rill Lodge. There's some good material here in that you feel there's a genuine friendship between the two men and that there may be some fire still flickering between Tommy and Ellen, Gar's wife. Avoiding the usual cliches this sort of love triangle brings with it, Stefano teases a potential affair between the two former lovers, but then throws in a surprising sequence that gives Gar both his manhood back and his wife.

Robert Logan had just come off of two back-to-back successes with related nature movies--the popular THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975) and ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE (1976). Logan was a family film fixture in the mid-to late 1970s so the snowy locale of SNOWBEAST was a good fit for him. After his Bigfoot excursion, Logan remained in the great outdoors with two sequels in the Wilderness family series--THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1978) and MOUNTAIN FAMILY ROBINSON (1979).

With an alleged 12 foot tall Sasquatch and the 6'6" Svenson there was room for one more big man in the form of 6'6" Clint Walker. The actor known for seven seasons of CHEYENNE (1955-1963) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) plays Sheriff Paraday--basically splitting the Brody role with Robert Logan. Walker isn't in the movie all that much; and his extra scenes in the longer cut (although his presence is most welcome) make little difference since he's given next to nothing to do. Walker's participation is so neglected, his sheriff character feels inconsequential to the action since he doesn't really do anything; and his undignified exit from the film is lazily implemented. Instead of having the Big Man square off against the Bigfoot, the monster kicks a stack of logs down a hill, turning the truck over that Walker never gets out of. Somehow, the logs manage to defy the laws of physics and end up planted through the back of the truck, too--successfully trapping Walker inside.

The other Big Man, Bo Svenson, does take on the snow 'squatch in a terribly disappointing climax using nothing more than a ski pole. Since Svenson had recently taken over the Buford Pusser role from Joe Don Baker in the WALKING TALL sequels and subsequent television series, what better way to end the picture than to have Svenson whack the hell out of the hairy beast with a tree like so many county line drug dealers and gangsters.

There needs to be more TV horror movies on DVD and or blu-ray and the fans of SNOWBEAST will be more than pleased with this presentation from Retromedia. Containing two versions of the movie--the original 72 minute version first broadcast in April of 1977; and an international version that runs approximately 16 minutes longer (see photo above and insert). The latter cut (which played in syndication after its debut) is slightly better than the shorter, premiere airing. Expanding even more on the three-character arc--as well as featuring more scenes with Clint Walker--it fills in some massive holes bigger than the Abominable Snowman's foot prints.

A remake starring DUKES OF HAZZARD's John Schneider hit the slopes in 2011.

Movies about Sasquatch were huge in the 1970s... literally. Some of the entries became fan favorites like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) and CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976). SNOWBEAST (1977) trails those two, but is unique for its strong cast and how brazenly it rips off JAWS (1975). If it weren't for the cast, and a couple tense moments, there'd be little to recommend outside of the spectrum of TV Movie curators, camp collectors, and Cryptid completists--all of whom will want to track this one down.

This review is representative of the All Region Blu-ray from Retromedia. Specs and Extras: running time: 01:12:42; international version running time: 01:28:21

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Bruka, Queen of Evil (1975) review


Alex Lung Ji-Fei (Hon Ping), Rosemarie Gil (Manda), Etang Discher (Bruka), Sandra de Veyra (Louisa)

Directed by Albert Yu and Felix Villar (uncredited on this version)

The Short Version: The kung foolery continues in BRUKA, QUEEN OF EVIL, the infinitely entertaining, unjustly obscure HK-Filipino co-pro sequel to DEVIL WOMAN. Doubling up on the snakes and piling up as many demented ideas as its near 100 minutes will allow, BRUKA throws that film's serious tone right in the garbage. In its place is this tale of vengeful Ophidio-females that embraces pure nuttiness with its menagerie of majestically rock-bottom creatures including giant stone monsters; angry midgets; a walking killer tree you could've made in your backyard; and a bat man that looks like a stunt guy in thermal underwear with kites glued to his arms. Yes, staples of the best bad cinema has to offer are all present and accounted for. Fans of wacky Asian cinema will be riveted; all others--especially Ophidiophobics--will be repelled. Fangs for the good time, nonetheless.

Rescued from a fiery death by an old woman with a giant snake for a body, Manda learns this slithery hag is her grandmother Carol Pak, once a human being and now Bruka, a half-human, half-snake demon--who, out of anger, sold her soul to the Devil to doom her daughter for marrying Manda's father; leading to the child being cursed with a head full of snakes. Wishing to look like a normal woman, Bruka gives Manda a magical black stone that, so long as she keeps it in her mouth, will keep her scalp free of writhing, poisonous serpents. Meantime, Hon Ping, an impoverished man proficient in Kung Fu, struggles to raise his sister and care for his sick mother. He's given an offer he can't refuse to save Louisa, the daughter of a rich man. Unbeknownst to them, Manda has kidnapped her and other women to be sacrificed within Bruka's mountain hideout somewhere in the Valley of Death; and only a magical weapon from an old kung fu master can stop them.

Asian cinema is notorious for its extraordinary ability to successfully maintain viewer interest by substituting abject weirdness for a nonexistent plotline. BRUKA, QUEEN OF EVIL, another co-production between Hong Kong and the Philippines, is one such picture. Even more gonzo than DEVIL WOMAN (1974), Albert Yu's and Felix Villar's sequel surpasses it, wasting no time in upping the absurdity ante. Within the first ten minutes alone you're introduced to a giant snake with the head of an old white-haired woman; a motley clutch of angry midgets; around half a dozen stone monsters; and a lumbering, walking tree. 

On top of that, the script crams an entire backstory in there--revealing that the old lady snake-thing is Manda's grandmother; the Bruka of the film's title (referred to as Carol Pak in the subs on this fullscreen, mandarin language version).

Like its predecessor, BRUKA is loosely based on characters from the wildly popular 'Darna' comic book created by Marcial "Mars" Ravelo; characters of which were also inspiration to a number of other movies and television incarnations. Reportedly borrowing from the Gorgon legend to create Manda, Queen of Snakes (named Valentina in the comic book), Bruka would appear to have been influenced by the Naga's of Hindu mythology; serpentine monsters with human features. Called Kobra in the comics, the character would be altered over the years; even being re-interpreted as a male character.

Famous for playing guileful elders in many dramatic productions, Etang Discher's portrayal of the snake woman could be perceived as a literal representation of those more realistically human roles on her resume. Outside of a final duel with the hero and his magic stick, she's not given a great deal to do other than scowl menacingly while keeping tabs on victims via her magic crystal ball; and never leaving her mountain cave setting. 

BRUKA basically follows the same narrative as DEVIL WOMAN; but unlike the earlier movie, Manda figures into the overall story more than she did previously. Revenge is again her motive; apparently not killing enough people in the first picture. Looking far more attractive than before, Manda kills any man she comes across and even patronizes a local club where she, like a predator, lures sex-hungry men to their doom. Once she has her coils around her libidinous victim, the magical stone keeping her hair silky smooth comes out and the lengthy locks transform into a mop of coral snakes; so these lothario's--as per the Head and Shoulders slogan--never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Picking up right where the first movie ended, Rosemarie Gil returns as Manda, saved from a fiery death by her scaly grandmother. Despite the film's title, Manda dominates the first half of the movie--only to take a backseat during the second half when Hon Ping goes on his adventure to find Manda--encountering numerous bizarre characters including an eccentric priest and his leper hunchback assistant who, in the film's one instance of Christian symbolism, states all the terrible occurrences are from an absence of the Almighty.

An actress of repute in her native Philippines, Gil has been in the business since the late 1950s. She married Eddie Mesa, the Filipino Elvis Presley, in 1961, but separated from 1970 to 1986; and have been together ever since that time. Prior to her two 'Snake Queen' pictures, Rosemarie Gil had a role in the 1972 US-Filipino co-pro NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN. Her daughter, Cheri Gil (who debuted in DEVIL WOMAN), is also a very successful actress in her own right.

The hero of BRUKA comes in the form of stone-faced Alex Lung Ji-Fei, star of DRAGON'S NEVER DIE (1974) and a handful of other Pascual movies in what amounted to a short, two-year film career. He looks good in the action scenes but nothing about him stands out from the countless other fist and kick performers of the day. Incidentally, BRUKA was Lung's last movie.

As Hon Ping, destitute and penniless with a starving mother and sister he's trying to care for, Hon is eventually offered a job to rescue a rich man's daughter and gets a bit more than he bargained for. Accepting on little more than a handshake, Hon ends up battling it out with stuntmen in monster suits; including a guy in a homemade bat costume and a walking tree that makes the schlock monsters in FROM HELL IT CAME (1957) and THE CREEPING TERROR (1964) look Stan Winston worthy.

Whereas DEVIL WOMAN was more of a kung fu flick, BRUKA has a sense of adventure about it; impoverished, with very little variance in settings, but an air of adventure just the same. Hon Ping must undertake a quest to find an old master who has the only weapon powerful enough to stop Bruka, Manda, and their army of cheapjack monsters. It's not a sword or another type of bladed implement, but an old dirty rope the elder was using to hold up his pants! But this isn't any ordinary string; this one--with the help of some expert editing--can be turned into a pole that virtually kills the monsters by simply touching it. This brings us to the fighting sequences...

The action choreo is less brutal than before, but handled by the same trio--Brandy Yuen, Corey Yuen, and Yuen Bun. The bulk of the fights are with fantasy characters so it's difficult to take anything seriously when a demonic tree is walking mere feet behind our hero and he doesn't seem to notice; it's like something out of a cartoon. During the last 40 freakshow minutes, the fighting is virtually non-stop. Mediocre at best, it's a step backward from the plain fist and kick combos of DEVIL WOMAN. The use of wirework is poorly rendered--even worse than late 60s pictures--long before the use of harnesses was perfected in mid 80s HK action pictures.

The action being less than stellar, it doesn't afford Alex Lung Ji-Fei many opportunities to showcase his only selling point. He should be given credit, though, for a scene near the end when he grapples with dozens of snakes (including some BIG ones) wrapping all around his body. It's perplexing why there's no actual choreo between Rosemarie Gil and Alex Lung; no double standing in for her or anything. Her exit from the picture is even more lazily constructed than DEVIL WOMAN. The Bruka battle is hilarious for the length of time it lasts, but could've done with a bit more creativity since the rest of the movie wasn't lacking it. 

Having played the leader of a vicious bandit gang in DEVIL WOMAN, Japanese martial artist and veteran bad guy of a few dozen Hong Kong Kung Fu pictures, Yukio Someno returns as a different character with no lines, no explanation, and seemingly only there for marquee value. Billed as a 'guest star', he's only in the movie for the one sequence joined by a bizarre horse-faced man, or alligator or dog-face; it's difficult to tell.

Fans of DEVIL WOMAN will be surprised at how preposterously over the top BRUKA is. Big on ideas but beggarly in budget, it makes up for zero production value with its rampaging, dancing midgets and menagerie of monsters. Sloppy subtitles only make things worse in an unintentionally funny way with expert elucidations like, "The men died after a few sentences"; died laughing, perhaps. Fans of HK and Filipino exploitation and midget tossing take note.

This review is representative of the Desert Island Films DVD. *The audio is out of sync for nearly the entire length of the movie* Running time: 01:36:49
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