Snowbeast (1977) **Ĺ
You know, Iím not sure anything in the whole world of B-movies says ď70ísĒ louder than a made-for-TV bigfoot flick thatís also a Jaws knockoff. Itís a bit on the listless side, and devotes way too much time to the soap-opera subplot about an ex-Olympic skier and his troubled marriage to a TV news reporter, but Snowbeast is much better than its reputation would suggest, and the oft-made claim that you never get to see the monster simply isnít true. You never see it clearly or for any length of time, but thereís a big difference between that and never seeing it at all.
Somewhere up in the Rocky Mountains is a ski resort called Rill Lodge. Its owner, the aged Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney, later of Damien: The Omen II and Mars Attacks!), is gearing up for the lodgeís annual Winter Carnival, playing hostess to as many of the tourists as she can get within earshot and ballyhooing the upcoming coronation of local girl Betty Jo Blodgett (Jacquie Botts) as Snow Queen to the maximum extent that the denouement to a piddly-shit backwoods beauty contest is susceptible to being ballyhooed. Meanwhile, two of those touristsó teenagers Heidi (Annie McEnroe, from The Hand and The Howling II) and Jennifer (Kathy Christopher, of Beasts)ó are out on the North Slope taking advantage of the early hour to ski in solitude. As it happens, this isnít a very good idea. The secluded North Slope is the home of a grumpy, Sasquatch-like creature which attacks Jennifer shortly after Heidi sees its gigantic footprints in the snow, and gets scared off the mountain.
Reports that a killer bigfoot is on the loose in the vicinity of the lodge are just about the last thing that Carrie Rill or her grandson, Tony (Robert Logan), wants to hearó or wants the folks staying at Rill Lodge for the Winter Carnival to hear, either. Leaving Heidi with his assistant, Buster Smith (Thomas Babson), Tony leads the Rill Lodge Ski Patrol up onto the North Slope to look for any sign of Jennifer. Tony finds just that when the girlís shredded and blood-smeared jacket turns up on the main skiing course, and he gets a look at the monster that did the damage, too. He sees it only very briefly, glaring down at him from a stand of trees further up the mountain, but itís enough to tell Tony that the creature is neither a man in a furry parka nor any animal that heís ever laid eyes on. However, with the financial health of the family business riding to a great extent on the events of the coming week, Tony is reluctant to get the word out. On his grandmotherís advice, he simply orders signs posted on the North Slope marking it as off-limits to lodge guests and goes looking for Sheriff Cole Paraday (Clint Walker, a big name in 70ís made-for-TV horroró look for him in Scream of the Wolf and Killdozer, too).
Now letís talk about that soap-opera subplot for a bit. Tony Rill used to be close friends with a man named Gar Seberg (Bo Svenson, from Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and the lesser of the two 1973 TV versions of Frankenstein), who had won a gold medal skiing in the 1968 Winter Olympics. Tony was also, in a sense, Sebergís rival, for he too was in love with Ellen (Yvette Mimieux, of The Black Hole and The Time Machine), the woman Gar eventually married. Right about the time that Tony is finding out that heís got a killer Sasquatch on his hands, the Sebergs arrive at Rill Lodge; Gar needs a job, and heís hoping that Tony needs a ski instructor. Tony agrees to take his old buddy on, but he has something else in mind for him above and beyond teaching the tourists to ski. Gar, you see, is also an accomplished marksman, and Tony could use a man with that talent just now in his efforts to get rid of his unwanted guest on the North Slope without calling attention to its presence there in the first place.
Tonyís plans for keeping the anti-monster operation on the down-low are progressively scuttled by the bigfoot itself, however. First, the creature kills Buster Smith when he goes out looking for the missing Jennifer alone and after his usual working hours. Itíll be a couple of days before his body turns up, but the same cannot be said for Jennifer, who is found by the son of another Ski Patrol member in the disused barn on what used to be the Fairchild farm at the bottom of the mountain. The patrolman calls in Sheriff Paraday on what he initially figures for a murder case, but Paraday himself rules that out once he gets a look at the body. As he later tells Tony, ďanimals donít commit murder, and whatever did that isnít even halfway human.Ē Even then, Tony is able to keep a lid on the situation by telling Paraday about what he saw on the North Slope, and volunteering his and Garís services in helping the sheriff hunt and kill the creature, but that hunting expedition hasnít even been planned in any detail before circumstances move beyond it. For one thing, Ellen Seberg has her own run-in with the monster when her reporterís antennae start twitching in response to the secretive behavior of Tony, Gar, and the rest of the Ski Patrol, and she goes out on the North Slope herself to investigate. For another, the monster heads into town shortly thereafter, and interrupts the rehearsal for Betty Jo Blodgettís coronation, killing the girlís mother while itís at it. So much for keeping things quiet, huh? A couple of days later, Tony, Gar, and the sheriff make good on their previous intentions, and end up bringing Ellen along, too. The monster is a lot smarter than anyoneís been giving it credit for, though, and their foray against it turns out to be much more eventful than a simple hunting expedition.
Nobodyís ever said, ďDudeó thereís this awesome movie I saw last night called Snowbeast... You have to check it out!Ē and Iím certainly not going to be the first. (Okay, so maybe I just wasó but you know what I mean, damn it!) That said, if you, like me, are a completist collector of 70ís-vintage bigfoot movies and Jaws rip-offs, then maybe you do have to check out the one film Iíve yet encountered that plays both cards at once. The Jaws angle is pursued only half-heartedly in comparison to something like Piranha or Up from the Depths (neither Tony nor his grandmother is quite mercenary enough to qualify as a true Evil Capitalist, and thereís no climactic scene of the monster wreaking massive havoc among the hoodwinked tourists), but itís sufficiently present to distinguish Snowbeast from The Legend of Boggy Creek and its legions of imitators. If youíre sane, however, and donít feel a burning need to see every tacky movie about legendary simians made in the years between Nixon and Reagan, you can safely give Snowbeast a pass. You wonít be missing a great monster, you wonít be missing any exciting bloodshed (although the folks in charge of this one got away with a hell of a lot for broadcast TV), and you wonít be missing a gripping story. All youíll be missing is a competently inoffensive time-waster from the high end of so-so.