Friday, December 21, 2012

Snowbeast (1977) (TV)

Directed by:
Herb Wallerstein

Rill Lodge and Ski Resort is celebrating their 50th Anniversay with a Winter Carnival bash. Owner Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney) has many festivities planned for her guests; guaranteed to be "A day and night weeks orgy of fun and games!" Visitors can compete in cross country, alpine and freestyle skiing, snow mobile and dog sled racing and hot dogging. There are even special appearances by this year's Snow Queen Betty Jo (Jacquie Botts) as well as a washed-up, out-of-work former Olympic skiing star and gold medalist. Just leave it to a snowbeast to show up and ruin everybody's fun! While out on the slopes, Jennifer (Kathy Christopher) and her whiny friend Heidi (Annie McEnroe) find a large footprint in the snow, then hear a loud, animalistic growling noise. Heidi immediately takes off, leaving poor Jennifer behind to get killed. Carrie's grandson Tony (Robert Logan) and his buddies on the ski patrol head out looking for her but only find Jennifer's tattered and bloody clothing. When Tony goes back to report the incident to Grandma, she takes a page from every other greedy business owner character in an animal-attack movie and convinces him not to say anything until after the carnival is over.

Carrie blames Jennifer's disappearance on an unfortunate avalanche and goes about her business. Meanwhile, down-on-his-luck Gar Seberg (Bo Svenson), that former Olympian, shows up with his unsupportive and fed up TV reporter wife Ellen (Yvette Mimieux). Gar's looking for a job and Tony instantly hires him as a ski school director. After all, having a living legend on staff probably would be good for business. Better for business than, say, a snowbeast occasionally mauling and eating your clientele. As with most made-for-TV movies, regardless of premise, this gives us a little non-beast melodrama to sink our bloody fangs into. Ellen is falling out of love with Gar, who she thinks has been paralyzed by his past glories and unable to be a productive member of society. Since Ellen and Tony used to be an item, she finds herself being drawn to him all over again, and vice versa.

Ellen, who'd previously done an entire television special about "The Big Foot Controversy" (whatta coincidence!) goes out on her own looking for the beast and gets lost. Meanwhile, a Ski Patrolman (Thomas Babson) gets killed, Jennifer's body turns up at a farm and Sheriff Cole Paraday (Clint Walker) shows up to investigate. Paraday enlists Tony and Gar's aid in hunting down and killing the creature. Before they can get started on that, the creature goes to a high school gymnasium and disrupts the crowning on the Snow Queen by killing her mother. Gar manages to locate Ellen hiding out in a barn (Hey, there's nothing like a Yeti on the loose to help rekindle one's marriage, eh?) and then they, along with the Sheriff and Tony, camp out in the general vicinity the snowbeast has been lurking to hunt it down.

Big Foot and JAWS-style movies were both hugely popular in the late 70s, so this production is really a no-brainer. Instant success! The story's predictable as can be, the ending isn't all that exciting, they really overdo the skiing footage and POV camerawork, the monster costume (which is barely even seen) is average and there are frequent freeze frame fades to red (commercial time!), but this is passable brainless entertainment, the location filming is good and most of the acting is decent, with Svenson especially likable in the lead. There are also a few amusing moments in here, such as when the monster kicks a pile of logs and sends them rolling down the hill to overturn our heroes' truck and camper! It was film at the Crested Butte Ski Resort in Colorado.

There were multiple VHS releases (from Goodtimes, WorldVision Home Video and others) and now - as a public domain title - this is even easier (and cheaper) to find than ever before.


Thirteenth Day of Christmas, The (1985) (TV)

... aka: 13th Day of Christmas, The
... aka: Thirteenth Day of Christmas by Gordon Honeycombe, The
... aka: Time for Murder: The Thirteenth Day of Christmas

Directed by:
Patrick Lau

When it comes to bringing fear instead of cheer to the holiday season, the British deserve to pull up a chair and sit next to Scrooge and the Grinch. The Amicus anthology TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1971) was, I believe, the first film to have a homicidal maniac dressed up as that sacred icon of Christmas himself; Santa Claus. That same concept would be recycled for a handful of American hack-em-up like TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT (1980) and the controversial SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). The same year, the country's popular and long-running TV series Ghost Story for Christmas began and scared legions of children over the next decade with such spooky offerings as A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972) and THE SIGNALMAN (1976). The show has come and gone as a perennial in the country ever since. Another short-lived series, Dead of Night, spawned the excellent X-mas chiller THE EXORCISM (1972) and they even made their own sleazy and mean-spirited contribution to the early 80s slasher cycle with DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984).

Like many other families, the Smith's have opted to keep their decorations up well after Christmas. It's a pretty common practice and an easy one to understand. Of all the times of year, Christmas is the one day that brings so many positive feelings out in people that many want to cling on to those feelings - and the ambiance they associate with it - for as long as possible. The Smith family can use all the help they can get. As this opens, Gilbert (Patrick Allen) and his wife Evie (Elizabeth Spriggs) have a few dear friends; Gilbert's WWII army buddy Bill (James Bree) and his wife Meg (Rhoda Lewis) over for snacks, wine and a game of Spades. The topic of conversation steers to the Smith's son: Richard (John Wheatley). Richard has suffered from mental problems on and off since he was a young boy. He's been institutionalized numerous times over the years, but to no avail. He only seems to be getting worse. Richard spends most of his time closed up in his bedroom with a pet python and his crazy thoughts. He hears voices in his head (which we also get to hear) and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Gilbert's patience has worn thin and he's become frustrated and embarrassed by Richard's behavior; even shooing him out of the room when he attempts to be social and telling his guests "It's better if you ignore him." Being a doctor himself, Gilbert believes his son suffers from a chemical imbalance and has too much dopamine in his system. He doesn't hide the fact that he wants Richard locked up permanently in a madhouse. His clinical handling of the situation and lack of compassion certainly isn't helping matters, but neither is the mother's complacency. She thinks all Richard really needs is love, compassion and patience. Sure it helps, but she has no clue the dark places her son's mind has been wandering to. By this stage in the game, Richard is completely consumed with delusional conspiracies and even believes that Gilbert isn't actually his father; but an evil duplicate.

After the guests leave for the evening, things turn ugly and violent and several end up dead. Richard's sister Juliet (Joan Moon), whom Richard has incestuous desires for, eventually returns from a night out with her boyfriend and ends up in the thick of it.

This 50-minute film - made for the series Time for Murder - is typical of British TV movie productions of the time. It's small scale, has a small cast, is set entirely at one indoor location, was shot on videotape and is dialogue-heavy. All of the performances are good and the depiction of schizophrenia is pretty accurate and intelligent. The film interestingly tries to straddle the fence when it comes to how families should deal with a loved one suffering from a mental disorder, as if it really doesn't have an answer. Sure, the tragic outcome could have been averted if the son had been institutionalized, but we're also given the distinct impression that his condition has been worsened and exacerbated from lack of understanding and support. I couldn't quite figure out if there was purpose to the son character being colorblind or if this was just a stylistic choice; shots from his point-of-view are done in black-and-white.

If this blog were a newspaper and I was trying to sell you a copy, my headline would be "Snake-Loving Colorblind, David-Bowie-Loving Schizo Slaughters Family on Christmas!!" Then again, you probably wouldn't realize what a downer this is. You may want to wait until after you're done opening your presents to give this a watch.

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