Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that I’m an avowed fan of monster movies featuring bigfoot, sasquatch, and yetis. It’s true! I even ranked 47 of them elsewhere, and if you’re surprised to hear there are that many of these movies out there, rest assured that the number has nearly doubled since I wrote the list. Most are direct to DVD features, but in 1977 the folks at NBC decided the topic was good for one of their television movies of the week. So buckle in as we head up into the mountains to watch as a furry, bipedal creature terrorizes a ski resort in… Snowbeast!
When: April, 1977
Snow time is fun time, and for one Colorado ski resort it’s also Winter Carnival time. The celebration draws both locals and tourists alike, and Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney, Beetlejuice) is hoping this year will be another rousing success for her resort’s bank account. Trouble rears its head, though, when a young woman is rescued from the slopes with an outlandish story about her friend being slaughtered by a large beast. Carrie asks her grandson Tony (Robert Logan, The Adventures of the Wilderness Family) to keep the news quiet — no one would believe it anyway, but why start a panic? — but when another body is discovered it’s decided that something must be done. Sheriff Paraday (Clint Walker, The Night of the Grizzly) believes it’s a rogue bear out of hibernation early, but Tony’s taking no chances. An old friend, Olympic biathlon champion Gar Seberg (Bo Svenson, The Inglorious Bastards), returns to town in search of work, and Tony hires him to kill the creature. Together, these three brave souls head up to face their destiny in the jaws of the beast.
Snowbeast landed at #23 on my own ranked list of 47 bigfoot movies, and that still feels about right. It’s a solid cast acting against the natural beauty of Colorado, and while the script (by Joseph Stefano, Psycho) is something of a Jaws (1975) riff it checks the necessary boxes where it counts. As competent as it is all around, though, it’s the limitations — both financial and censorship-wise — of television that hold this one back from being truly fun.
Tony is a good, reliable everyman who leads throughout even as he takes a backseat action-wise to the other two men, while the sheriff frequently goes off on his own in search of that elusive bear. He eventually rides into town triumphant with a bear carcass dragging behind his truck, but much like the similar celebratory scene in Jaws both the audience and the other leads know that animal isn’t the culprit. Tony and Gar exchange knowing glances, and we shake our heads in knowing alliance. Of course, it helps that we’ve seen glimpses of the creature.
Again, budget being an issue, the beast’s physical look here isn’t exactly ideal, but the brief flashes early on as his giant claws swing toward faces and drag away corpses do the trick. A later full-body shot isn’t quite as encouraging, and yes it absolutely does remind of the Bumble from 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (pictured above), but it suffices. Along the same vein, we’re also never made privy to the carnage and bloody leftovers thanks to TV restrictions meaning the best we get is a bloody jacket. Some of the bloodletting can be read on characters’ faces, though, including Gar’s who at first balks at the idea of killing a rare animal only to change his tune once he sees what’s left of a young woman’s body. Happily, the yeti isn’t devoid of fun, and it delivers a few thrills despite those limitations with the best being its nighttime descent into town as everyone gathers to celebrate the Winter Carnival — panic ensues, people run for their lives, and the Carnival Queen’s mother is attacked while sitting in her truck.
TV veteran Herb Wallerstein directs the sequence with a thrilling intensity that raises the film’s pulse rate noticeably, but sadly, he only really recaptures that energy once more during a siege on a cabin where Gar and his wife are canoodling. The beast smashes and trashes the walls and windows while it runs circles around the outside, and the couple’s panic is tangible during the length of the assault. More scenes like these would have lifted the film’s energy and reputation, but the closest we get are a few POV shots as the creature stalks its prey Jason Voorhees-style through the snowy hillsides.
The script isn’t big on surprises, necessarily, and genre fans will have a good idea where things are going at most turns. One unexpected turns, though, involves a love triangle of sorts. No, the beast doesn’t get in on the action, unfortunately, but Gar’s wife Ellen (Yvette Mimieux, The Black Hole) was once Tony’s arm candy. It makes for some awkward conversations, but while savvy viewers will think they know where that particular subplot is going — especially as the three men head into the mountains — they’d be wrong.
As Jaws ripoffs go, Snowbeast is definitely one. Go in understanding the TV movie limitations, though, and there’s some fun to be had with its tale of a large animal terrorizing people during a profit-driven celebration… especially if you picture it as the Bumble.