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December 2009

Snowbeast

cast: Bo Svenson, Yvette Mimieux, Robert Logan, and Clint Walker

director: Herb Wallerstein

86 minutes (PG) 1977
Exposure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Mark West

Snowbeast

As the Rill ski lodge in Colorado begins its 50th annual winter carnival, there's something hiding in the woods on the mountain, terrorising the upper slopes. Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney, the gran from Mars Attacks, looking impossibly young here) doesn't want anything to get in the way of the carnival, so tells her grandson Tony (Robert Logan, who operates at a completely different speed to everyone else in the film) to sort things out. This coincides with Tony's old friend Gar (Bo Svenson) turning up, a down-on-his-luck Olympic skier, who hasn't skied since the 1968 games (this was released in 1977), but now wants a job. With him is his wife Ellen (Yvette Mimieux) and the three of them share a past - it's almost Jules et Jim, but not quite when, back in the day, Ellen was in love with both men but chose to marry Gar "because he needed me." Teaming up with the local Sheriff Paraday (Clint Walker), the quartet take to the slopes to track down and kill the bigfoot before it can kill anyone else.

If you're willing to accept the pace and style of a late 1970s' TV movie - as I was - then this is good fun, a cheesy cheery treat that's well written (by Joseph Stefano, some way from his Psycho days) and very enjoyable, though not without its downsides. For starters, this is essentially Jaws on the ski slopes. The opening even has a woman terrorised by a manic POV camera, with rousing 'attack' music (only a few notes shy of the Jaws theme itself) playing in the background. We have the 'selfish and self-serving' authority figure, who's more worried about losing the public than the danger that's presented, we have the trio of types (in this case, Sheriff, local man and newcomer) though in a shift from the bigger budget original, we never get a clear shot of the bigfoot at all. The film does suffer from the formula inherent in TV movies - there's an oddly disjointed soundtrack, that swells at inopportune times - when characters chat tenderly (especially Tony and Ellen), it becomes almost muzak in its blandness - and ad breaks are signalled by the screen fading through red.

Having said that, this does have a lot going for it, assuming you're in the right frame of mind. The acting, on the whole, is very good and even if they were playing little more than their regular types, the actors give it their all. The locations are wonderful, beautifully photographed and used as often as possible (this occasionally feels like filler though, such as when we follow a character skiing for a good chunk of time) and the cinematography in general is superb (a lot of the actor close-ups are shot in front of the setting or rising Sun). The effects are minimal (hence the certificate) and with the bigfoot itself, seem to consist of a hand, a foot and a mask that is seen perhaps twice. The direction is competent, though the set pieces (especially an out-of-turn attack on the carnival hall by the bigfoot, and an attack on a barn) are very well handled.

My enjoyment not withstanding, I'm not entirely sure what the audience for this is. It is dated, naturally enough, and for a monster-movie, the certificate and stubborn desire of the filmmakers not to show their snow-beast don't mesh together, but it does work. If you're interested in spending 90 minutes watching the kind of movie that they don't make any more (I'm not counting the sci-fi rubbish, which generally have 'poor' stamped through them like Skegness rock) - and certainly not with acting quality like this has - then you could do a lot worse than this.



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