Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mountains of madness: THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN(1957)

The "yeti", also known as the "abominable snowman", a large and hairy humanoid creature alleged to exist in the Himalayas, has been the subject of countless horror movies and documentaries over the years. I can honestly say that I haven't come across a yeti documentary thus far that I didn't like. Sadly I can't say that for horror movies featuring this mysterious beast: most of the ones I've seen are total stinkers include one I recently watched on SyFy called "Abominable Snowman". Apparently the company that produced this film(a word I use loosely here) decided that poor acting, a largely uninteresting human cast of characters and CGI renderings of the malevolent creatures that resembled something out of a video game is a formula for success for SyFy. They're right about that, if nothing else but their completed work is still something I regret watching and also a movie which is in my estimation absolutely atrocious, even by SyFy standards.

To date there are only a handful of films featuring "yeti" or yeti like creatures that I find watchable, even entertaining: 2006's Abominable, a 1977 made for television movie called Snowbeast, the 1955 Toho produced Half Human(Ive only seen the Americanized version) and last but definitely not least, 1957's The Abominable Snowman, an early Hammer films movie that has stood the test of time and remains IMO the best movie presentation of the yeti.

The yeti phenomenom came to the forefront of media headlines in national newspapers in the 1950's in concert with the publicity surrounding the first successful ascent of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth(at over 29,000 feet in height) by Sir Edmund Hillary and his expedition in 1953. Members of the expedition, including Hillary himself, have been quoted as saying they heard strange noises that sounded semi-human.

Hammer Studios decided to make a film about the mysterious creature, based on the 1955 BBC teleplay The Creature. The result: The Abominable Snowman, directed by Val Guest and released theatrically two years later in 1957.

The film's story: world renowned botanist Dr. John Rolason(played by Peter Cushing), despite an ominous warning from the local Buddhist temple priest, reluctantly decides to join an expedition to search for the yeti, aka "the abominable snowman". The expedition, led by Tom Friend(played by Forrest Tucker of F-Troop fame), begins it's ascent into the steep, rugged higher elevations of the Himalayas. After establishing a small base camp the group is indeed visited by the mysterious creatures. One is shot and killed by expedition member and trapper Ed Shelley(played by Robert Brown). The dead creature is ignominiously used as bait, to lure other members of it's kind to the expedition members. This action proves disastrous, the team discovering that the yeti have a mysterious "telepathic" ability, it's effects on the surviving team members unpredictable and dangerous. (no spoilers).

Observations: this film is easily one of my top five favorite Hammer horror films. It's a grim and moody feature with some marvelous visuals of the rugged and awesome mountains of Nepal and a somber, at other times urgent score that nicely compliments the action in the film itself.

Like every Hammer horror film the story is actor driven and Hammer horror film veteran Peter Cushing doesn't disappoint as botanist "John Rolason" whose curiosity about the existence of the yeti is a proverbial itch he finds himself compelled to scratch despite his wife's concern for his safety and Rolason's own disdain at adventurer "Tom Friend"(played by Forrest Tucker). Tucker's character "Friend" contrasts to botanist Rolason in that the adventurer wants to capture a yeti to make a profit with no interest in studying the creature at all. The clash of wills between the characters "Rolason" and "Friend" is an interesting dynamic in this clasic black and white horror film, the two characters maintaining an uneasy tolerance of each other during their hike into the mountains and nearly coming to blows during a lively debate about the merits of their expedition.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this movie, for me anyway, is the ending. I won't reveal what happens but for me the films' conclusion is thought provoking and not what I expected at all.

The movie itself is available on Region 1 DVD as either a stand alone film, or as part of a double-feature, paired with the 1970's martial arts crime drama Shatter!

The trailer:

Click the link to see the stand alone R1 DVD for sale at Amazon: THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN DVD