Friday, July 20, 2012

LIE #32: There’s No Business Like Snow Business: 1957’s “The Abominable Snowman”

The Abominable Snowman (1957; Val Guest; written by Nigel Kneale) is another of Nigel Kneale’s excellent genre pieces that combines sci-fi, horror and adventure seamlessly into a film that provides much food for thought—bringing in themes of parallel evolution, telepathy, and mankind’s eventual suicide via nuclear annihilation—

While being a fun B-movie that’s perfect for the Summer: During a heatwave, there’s nothing better to watch than suckers either freezing to death or getting chased by Yetis.

Veteran of Hammer horror Peter Cushing stars as a botanist studying in the Himalayas who is semi-unwillingly recruited into an expedition to catch a “Yeti,” the legendary “Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas” (this film’s alternate title).
The actor plays a great combination of urbanity, experience and kindness; he’s got a cool head, and uses the scientific method. He’s also the most empathetic character, trying to ease others’ discomforts, and respectful of nature.

As they climb higher and higher, a series of mysterious mishaps befall the expedition, but they persevere and eventually get their monster: By trapping, then shooting one of the 10-foot-tall creatures and killing it.
Meanwhile below, at the monastery the climbers are using as a base camp, the chief llama seems to be getting signals from the craggy peaks…

With the exception of Cushing, the explorers (led by a low-key but forceful pre-F-Troop Forrest Tucker, in what DVD Savant calls his “finest performance,” and I have to agree) think the Yetis are nothing more than dumb animals, like a type of gorilla or bear.
Boy, are those guys wrong….

The Abominable Snowman is a remarkable and rational adventure/suspense tale that skirts with science fiction in its postulations: The Yeti of the Himalayas are not “the missing link” between man and apes, but are a race perhaps older than mankind, with superior mental abilities, like telepathy.

A bit talky, The Abominable Snowman often feels like an adapted radio play (it was however a BBC TV movie first, titled The Creature)—but it is still engrossing, covering many topics uncommon for “genre” flicks, like evolution, cultural respect, and humanity’s foolish pride in its so-called “exceptionalism.”
Nor does the film make anyone out to be an abject hero or villain—if you’re a fan of Kneale’s writing (like I am—my review of his excellent ghost story The Stone Tape is HERE), you’ll recognize the quality of his work, and its literate background.

Best known as the creator of the acclaimed Quatermass series for UK film and television, Kneale is a very “writerly” storyteller, with much information being given via dialog; but he keeps it snappy, like you’re eavesdropping on very smart people having a serious conversation.

Technically the film is quite good, expertly combining studio and (stock?) footage of mountain climbers, and making good use of its few sets. Wisely, the Yetis are hardly shown—but just enough
Director Val Guest is a sci-fi regular, also helming flicks like the classic The Day the Earth Caught Fire, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and several episodes of Space: 1999—as well as the first two Quatermass films when they were produced by Hammer.
Guest’s movies tend to be very low-budget, but the writer-director knows how to keep things effectively moving and/or tense; he is an unheralded journeyman director who covered all genres.

LERNER INTERNATIONAL originally screened this film on-line, but the movie’s YouTube account has been pulled; it is also available on DVD. Search around, The Abominable Snowman can be found.

Forrest Tucker would return to British sci-fi/horror the next year in The Crawling Eye, where he plays a character similar in temperament to Cushing’s in Abominable Snowman: calm, cool and level-headed, as well as kind to strangers (he risks his life saving a little kid from the giant cosmic eyeballs).
Released in the UK as The Trollenberg Terror (but I prefer the “cheesier” American title), The Crawling Eye is like a pre-X-Files (or, keeping it UK/Kneale-bound, like a Quatermass adventure), where a team forms around a dynamic male-female duo to solve a horrific mystery—which turns out to have a science fictional explanation.

BTW, Kneale’s 1968 TV movie, The Year of the Sex Olympics, is still on my “to write” list, but the film was so mind-blowing to me (it’s already at the top of the list for “Best Old Film Discovered This Year”), that I need to screen it again to assess my thoughts properly. Thanks for your patience!
(RED ALERT: I just found Kneale’s 1976 famed-but-unseen-in-the-US horror mini-series Beasts on YouTube—can’t wait to watch it!)

So much to do, so little time! I must learn to be patient…like the Yetis…waiting on their frozen mountaintops…for mankind to destroy itself

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