Friday, July 13, 2007

Random Movie Report #31: Snowbeast

We continue on with the second feature on this ultra-compressed disc, and sadly it’s a step down. It didn’t take long to work out that SNOWBEAST was a made-for-TV movie, and sadly not long after to work out that it was JAWS on a mountain. Now, I love JAWS, and I was still willing to give the film a chance after my initial realization- after all, it was written by Joseph Stefano, a TV veteran who worked on THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK and other series, and it looked to have decent production values, and who doesn’t like giant snow monsters? Somehow, though, this fails as a monster movie, and the attempts at human drama never quite work either, and the whole thing is something of an inert lump. Nice locations, though.

The film is set at a ski resort about to have a big anniversary celebration, presided over by Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney). When her grandson Tony (apparently in charge of the ski patrol) goes looking for a missing skier, he instead catches a glimpse of the thing what et her- a fierce Yeti-type creature who goes on to attack one of the ski patrollers, and stores his kills in an abandoned barn. Obviously Tony is reluctant to tell everybody there’s a giant snow monster on the loose, but fortunately his friend Gar (Bo Svenson), a former champion skier/marksman (whatever that event is called), and his wife Ellen (Yvette Mimieux) are in town. Gar’s kind of desperate for work, and there’s some residual tension over a love triangle that once existed between the three of them, but anyway, Gil trusts Gar to help him hunt for the snowman, and so they do. The creature, shown only in brief glimpses for the most part, roams around and disrupts the anniversary festivities in what’s really almost a half-hearted way, but that’s enough to ultimately get Gil and Gar and Ellen and Sheriff Paraday (Clint Walker) out on the mountainside in an extended hunt.

Really, there’s a certain problem here that can’t be avoided, and that is that the monster, despite racking up an acceptable body count, is not really very frightening. Part of it is that the thing’s motivations are unclear. He leaves mostly intact corpses (I’ll grant you that network television didn’t allow for much worse), so it doesn’t seem like he’s killing for food, so is he angry that people are intruding on his territory? They’ve been there a while. Why the sudden step up in activity? The film doesn’t even begin to answer any of these questions, and unlike JAWS the picture doesn’t do much to show the monster as some kind of primal death machine. Not to mention it moves slowly and does a lot of unnecessary lurking (a good 25% of this film may well be shots from the monster’s POV)- you really just need good walking speed to get away from the thing, it seems, and the life of the first victim could have been spared if she hadn’t randomly stopped halfway down the trail. The snowbeast is a bit of an underachiever in the monster department, really.

The film itself suffers from the curse of TV movies- come Hell or high water, the thing has to run ninety-six minutes. The story here just plain isn’t enough- as I said before, the monster’s a lightweight, and the human drama is ultimately rather pointless too. I think it’s sort of about Gar trying to come to grips with his new life outside the limelight or get his skiing mojo back or some similar existential crisis thing- apparently he didn’t strap on his skis since the Olympics because he wanted to go out on top and not fall but it feels like he’s falling anyway and there is no way I could conceivably care any less. So we get monologues and the occasional flashback and nothing that actually progresses anywhere interesting, and basically I think you could have this story done at about 78 minutes tops. Cut to 50 and it would be a decent OUTER LIMITS episode. At over an hour and a half, it’s bloated, slow, and tepid. We get lots of establishing shot montages, shots of characters skiing and riding snowmobiles, POV from the monster lurking in the trees, etc.- in other words, padding.

The actors are actually not bad. Svenson in particular has a nice presence and is convincing in the role. There are a few good moments between them, and I have to give Stefano credit; the “old flame” subplot is not dragged out like you think it would be, there are no painful melodramatics, everyone’s very mature and it’s a nice touch. He doesn’t even overplay the “we can’t warn people about the monster because it would disrupt the festival!” angle; it’s there, but muted after a while. Unfortunately I can’t help but sit here and think that as moldy and painful as those elements would have been if drawn attention to, they would have been something. It’s the old dilemma: the food’s bad, and in such small portions too.

SNOWBEAST could have been engaging schlock, but without any real energy or momentum, it’s actually a bit of a chore to watch. It has the distinct feeling of a project that was ordered in a hurry, given to a bunch of people who happened to be available at the time, and approached by nearly everyone with the enthusiasm of doing monthly inventory at an office supply store. I’m not asking that filmmakers and actors be thrilled at the prospect of making a killer Yeti movie, but they need to at least pretend.

Written by Joseph Stefano
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
Grade: D+

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