The amount of films that attempted to cash in on the success of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws is quite staggering, unfortunately, the number of them that turned out to be bad is quite staggering, but as many low-budget shark films hoped to get some of that Jaw’s money there was also quite a few filmmakers who took the formula that Spielberg utilized so well and then to it in inland. That was the case with Snowbeast, a made-for-television horror film that hoped to chill viewers but, instead, bored them to death.
NBC’s Snowbeast was not the first film to take the Jaws formula and apply it to a more land-based threat, that honour would go to William Girdler’s Grizzly, but it does get credit for going with the legendary Bigfoot as its threat, which is great because this particular monster has been underutilized by filmmakers for decades. The movie opens with a couple of female skiers coming across a set of “Bigfoot tracks” and while the one girl passes it off as the work of a prankster wearing novelty snowshoes, which is not an unreasonable assumption, a horrifying roar causes her companion to flee for life, leaving her dumbstruck companion at the mercy of the creature. This attack is one of the film’s many encounters that is shot from the point-of-view of the monster, a technique utilized well in Jaws due to the problems they had with their mechanical shark, yet in the case of Snowbeast the over-reliance on POV shots is not a case of a filmmaker’s ingenuity overcoming an obstacle but one of low-budget necessity and a terrible Bigfoot costume.
The film’s primary antagonist, if you don’t count the barely seen Bigfoot, is ski resort owner Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney), who convinces her grandson Tony (Robert Logan), who is the one who came across the bloody jacket of the first victim and has also seen the creature himself, that it would be bad for business if word got out there was a monster in the hills and she suggests that they simply close off that part of the woods and post “Restricted Area” signs and wait for the Winter Carnival to be over before investigating further. Sadly, this cliched plot element is the least of this movie’s problems as the filmmaker’s attempt at padding out the movie’s meagre 86-minute running time is even worse than its lack of monster action, with a lot of soap opera drama concerning the arrival of Olympic-has-been Gar Seberg (Bo Svenson) and his wife Ellen (Yvette Mimieux) there isn’t much to engage the viewer. Gar hopes to land a job at the ski resort while Ellen must deal with feelings she has been harbouring all these years for Tony, who she had a fling with before marrying Gar, and during any of these scenes, you will be praying for a Bigfoot attack.
Needless to say, the cover-up doesn’t last long once the body of the first victim is discovered, its bloody remains found in an abandoned barn, and so Sheriff Paraday (Clint Walker) plans to spread the story that there is a lone savage bear on the loose to keep the public from panicking, which to be fair, is a better explanation than either an avalanche or a Bigfoot, but his efforts to “snow” the population with this story quickly becomes moot when the Bigfoot creature attacks the local school, while the Winter Carnival preparations were underway, resulting in panicked stampeding and the injuring of poor ole Mrs. Rill. As luck would have it, Ellen is also a television journalist who recently did a piece on the “Bigfoot controversy” and when she stumbles across some Bigfoot tracks she immediately follows them, instead of calling down to the police, who she sees at the nearby crime scene, as any sane person would have done. And all I have to say about that is Ellen surviving to the end credits is a tad disappointing. When our group of supposed heroes eventually band together and go after the creature we don’t so much as have an exciting climax as one where the survivors just stand around waiting for the end credits to roll, in what must have been a career low-point for all involved.
Where Snowbeast differs from Jaws is that the local Sheriff in this film is all for covering up the fact that there is a monster roaming the mountainside, he even shoots and kills a poor bear so that he can drag its corpse in front of the townsfolk to prove that the threat is over which makes this guy more of an irresponsible asshat than the film’s hero. We never get a scene where he butts heads with the resort owner about keeping the Winter Festival on schedule and, strangely enough, the hero at the end of the film turns out to be the washed-up Olympic skier, who dispatches the beast with a well-placed ski pole, while both Tony and Sheriff Paraday come across as a pair of useless twits. Being this was a made-for-television event it had obvious limitations, mostly due to network censorship, thus nudity was a definite no-go but even the violence one would expect in a movie about a killer Bigfoot was completely missing, and it being made-for-television was no excuse because in 1972 ABC aired their “Movie of the Week” The Night Stalker which was practically brimming with action and violence with Darren McGavin tracking down a particularly nasty vampire, and while not graphic in nature it was still pretty damn impressive. Now, in the case of Snowbeast, we get none of this as eighty percent of the film consists of shots of people skiing through the woods and those rare scenes revolving around the monster are not only bloodless but the film cuts away for a commercial break before anything even starts to happen.
Note: These commercial breaks are heralded by the screen “fading to red” which one must assume was intended to fill in for the lack of blood, but one of these transitions doesn’t even occur during an attack but with Sheriff simply staring off into space.
• The ski patrol can’t even find the tracks of Bigfoot’s first victim, so they can’t even verify anything happened at all, but as it hasn’t recently snowed there’s no reason they couldn’t have simply followed the ski tracks of her companion back to the site of the incident.
• This movie replaces the Jaws “We can’t close the beaches, it’s the Fourth of July” with “You can’t close the mountain, it’s the Winter Carnival.”
• We don’t get a “This was no boating accident” scene but we do have a callous resort owner covering up the first death by having it reported as being avalanche related.
• The Sheriff calls for Tony to be brought to the abandoned barn to hopefully identify the victim, but as he points out “She has no face” exactly how exactly did he expect Tony to make any kind of positive identification? Did the girl have a well-known birthmark he hoped Tony would recognize?
• Who knew that a flimsy ski pole would be a proper weapon against something as powerful and as menacing as a Bigfoot? That’s something they should put in the advertisements.
• With this film Clint Walker’s horror cred takes another hit as it follows his other equally bad made-for-television horror flick, Killdozer, and the fact that his character dies in Snowbeast is about the only surprising thing about this flick.
This film may have been an attempt to capitalize on the phenomenal success of Jaws, by giving us a community plagued by attacks from a monster and a group of “heroes” tracking it down, but the filmmakers failed to even deliver on that premise as not only does the beast itself have less than one minute of actual on-screen time, mostly relying on those endless POV shots of the creature wandering around the woods, but our protagonists is not particularly likable, which makes it harder for us to care if Bigfoot stomps them all to death. Of all “nature attacks” movies Snowbeast is easily one of the worst because not only is it a lazy Jaws rip-off, it barely passes for a “So bad it’s good” entry due to the lack of any decent onscreen Bigfoot action, making this one a hard film to recommend even to bad movie lovers.
Movie Rank - 3/10
There are a lot of bad movies that fit into the subgenre of nature/horror films but Snowbeast stands alone as one of the cheapest and least effective of the lot, and it is clear that Clint Walker and Yvette Mimieux were both in obvious “paycheck mode” as they look checked out from frame one of this piece of made-for-television dreck.