Written by: Nigel Kneale
Directed by: Val Guest
Starring: Forrest Tucker, Peter Cushing, and Maureen Connell
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“There is no Yeti.”
During the holiday season, any mention of “The Abominable Snowman” usually conjures up images of the cuddly, toothless “bumble” from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated special. In reality though, this mythical creature has some frightening roots in Himalayan folklore. For centuries, inhabitants of this region have whispered tales of the “Yeti,” a Bigfoot-like snow creature hidden away in mountainous regions. Hammer Films took this as a subject for The Abominable Snowman, a late 50s offering from the studio that arrived just on the cusp of their “Hammer Horror” boom that would stretch into the next two decades.
Dr. John Rallason is an anthropologist studying in the Himalayas; a former mountain climber, he’s been grounded in recent years due to an accident on a previous expedition. When an American team of explorers arrive and want him to join their trek deep into the mountains, he can’t resist, and even ignores the pleas from his wife to stay behind. The group of men head off into the wilderness in search of the legendary Yeti, and tensions begin to mount when the disparate motivations of the party are revealed.
Best described as The Thing from Another World with a dash of King Kong, The Abominable Snowman isn’t quite the monster B-movie you expect it to be. Instead, it’s a more reserved tale of paranoia and greed much of the time; as Yukon Cornelius might say, our characters soon find that it isn’t a “fit night out for man nor beast,” and things devolve rather quickly for the group. Before they ever battle the titular beast, they have to not only brave each other, but also some local bandits and the elements themselves. In this respect, it feels more like a fantastic adventure film, as we’re treated to exotic locales and some sweeping action sequences.
Thus, it’s up to the film’s cast to carry the day, and they do so well. Peter Cushing, in the same year that he made his debut as the diabolical Baron Frankenstein, plays the straight-laced and heroic Rollason. He clashes with Forrest Tucker, here channeling a bit of Robert Armstrong’s performance from the aforementioned Kong--he’s a no-nonsense, gruff character who will stop at nothing to capture the mythical beast alive or dead. The supporting cast is adequate, and the film’s script allows for some nice, snappy exchanges in dialogue; it gets a bit heavy-handed with its later philosophical musings, but it serves the film well enough by taking it to a more cerebral level.
The film, of course, isn’t without its monstrous elements. Director Guest wisely uses suspense to keep the audience wondering about the nature of the beast here. Even if the inter-personal conflicts weren’t compelling (and they are), the lure and intrigue of the monster itself lingers around every corner. We hear its inhuman roars long before we catch a glimpse of it; when it finally does show up, we only manage to see its animal-like paw before its eventual, full-reveal towards the end. This is a surprising moment too, but it falls right in line with the aforementioned philosophical aspects by making us consider just how monstrous the creature is.
Aesthetically speaking, this one is different by Hammer standards; instead of the glorious, vibrant colors the studio would become famous for, the film features some nice black and white photography that gives the film a gothic flavoring. Guest’s scope camera work is inventive well, especially when he captures the expansive landscapes; though much of the film was obviously shot at the famous Bray Studios, it still manages to feel exotic and isolated. A sense of intimacy and paranoia is also captured by the quaint set-pieces that trap our characters.
Though Hammer later became most famous for their horror franchise films, The Abominable Snowman is a nice one-off effort that often gets overlooked. The quick pacing and inspired performances make this a worthwhile jaunt into the mountains. This was released as part of Anchor Bay’s Hammer Collection about a decade ago, but the quality is still up to snuff. The transfer is anamorphic and a tad bit soft, but it still gets the job done. The mono soundtrack is likewise clear enough to deliver all the howling winds and monstrous growls your speaker can handle. Special features include the film’s theatrical trailer, an exclusive World of Hammer episode, and a commentary with Guest and writer Nigel Keale. Both the standalone and double bill DVD (which also features Shatter) are out of print, and quantities are expectedly scarce, as both command a fairly high price on the secondary market. Luckily, Amazon does offer a DVD-R copy of the standalone release, which still comes with the official packaging. That’s good enough for this one, as this is one bumble that definitely shouldn’t be bounced. Buy it!
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