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

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