There’s no beast like Snowbeast, or at least there’s barely any actual Snowbeast in the film of the same name; apart from a big furry arm in the curtain-raiser, the fabulous furry fella is largely off-screen in this celebrated Jaws rip-off. Made for American tv and somehow out-of-copyright for the next few decades, veteran director Herb Wallerstein’s film led him to oversee the production of Alien for Fox, but Snowbeast isn’t the same kind of genre game-changer. Despite the relative blandness, Snowbeast comes from the fecund mind/pen of Joseph Stefano, who wrote Psycho for Alfred Hitchock, but seems to have had his natural skills and abilities eradicated here.
Snowbeast gets its Jaws rip-off credentials in early by having a woman-in-peril from the outset, having just found two massive footprints in the snow. ‘Some joker must have got snow-shoes from a mail-order novelty house’ explains a friend, but this convincing explanation turns out not to be true. ‘It must be a mutant, left over from the last ice-age,’ voices another character, but even this doesn’t satisfy our hero, Olympic skiing champion Gar, played by Bo Svenson. Gar’s wife Elen (Yvette Mimieux), a tv producer, has recently interviewed 150 people about their sightings of Bigfoot, and that unique experience turns out to be co-incidentally relevant to this particular situation.
Gar and the local sheriff Paraday (Clint Walker) are keen to track the beast down, but Snowbeast cuts through the red tape by flinging himself through the windows of the local resort owned by Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney). Rill has put her heart and soul into preparing her lodge’s winter festival, worryingly described as an ‘orgy of fun and games’ and she is loathe to shut down and potentially damage the economy just because a snowbeast is coming to town. ‘There seems to be a real hysteria at the lodge,’ notes one anxious voice, but the party line is to calm any concerned revellers by reassuring them that an escaped grizzly bear is on the loose.
Snowbeast was something of a let down after Jaws in the 1970’s, but it’s gained in comic value since then; anyone with an interest in garish knit-wear, voluminous terry-towelling dressing gowns and eye-melting snow-suits will want to thumb through this particular catalogue of bad dreams. The cast can actually ski, and the Colorado Rockies look great, but the absence of any trace of actual Snowbeast is something of a slap-in-the-face to anyone who believes that monsters are more frightening when kept off-screen. When it finally appears, Snowbeast looks about as frightening as Sulley from Monsters Inc and is dispatched in seconds.
With such lame action, thrill-seekers will be disappointed, but those seeking tv movie melodrama, terrible fashion and hideous dialogue will find these slopes are decidedly tempting, particularly via a fresh print on Amazon Prime. And if the lesson that the powers-that-be care more for dollars than human lives wasn’t already clear from Jaws, Snowbeast doubles-down on the civics lesson; for those who seek to make a buck unwisely, the Snowbeast lurks in the shadows, waiting patiently for just the right moment to crash your party…