Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Horror of...The Abominable Snowman

Welcome to you, from here in the blaring cold. And as I make my way through it all I can think about freaking cold it is. Damn! It's cold. Horrifically cold.

So let's pull something from the annals of chilly horror. Figures in the dark and cold world, isolated and alone. Forces around them that could spell their doom. No, it's not something from the more recent reign of horror. So no Steve Niles tonight. (That's for another night.) Rather, we will go back fifty some years.

It's off to the Himalayas. Cold peaks, and myths of towering beast that can't be believed to be real. No, you mustn't believe. And it's also a brush with horror royalty. Peter Cushing. It's taken too long to get to him, but know we can enjoy the man.

So hire a sherpa. Get your toque on. and grab your pack. We're heading out in search of

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman is the result of the work of Nigel Kneale. You can see more of his writing in the various movie and TV appearance of Dr. Quatermass, from The Quatermass Experiment (1953) to Quatermass and the Pit to The Quatermass Experiment (2005). He also had a part in writing Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. As well, 5 Million Years to Earth, The Witches, and The Woman in Black (1989). Among his TV movie work was an adaptation of 1984 (Which starred Peter Cushing) and The Creature (Which is the basis for this movie, that also starred Peter Cushing.).

So Hammer (of Hammer Horror fame) came to Kneale back in 1957 and asked him to take his TV movie and rework for the big screen. This required some modifications. This was also necessary to do to meet the interests of the film's producer. During Hammer's early years, a deal was secured to get Hammer films into American theaters (You'll notice in American versions of the film, it says it's being released by Warner Bros.). Among the things they needed to do was add an American. And to do this they made one of the leads a brash American. Kneale also beefed up the cast by adding an additional researcher aide for Peter Cushing's character, and also a wife for him. (She was named after real life Cushing's wife.)

The director on the movie, Val Guest, also took a hand in crafting the final script. In his directorial work he also worked on directing a number of the Keale's Quatermass movies. Other movies he'd directed were The Day the Earth Caught Fire, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, and sequences of Casino Royale (1967).

For filming the mountains, they used the French Pyrenees. A crew was sent out, and doubles were used in place of the actors (None of the cast left England, and they shot the outside scenes from a reasonable distance.). Then the rest of the film was shot in British studios.

Now, on to the cast of characters.

Let's start with the main plot, and expedition.

Fist we have Dr. John Rollason. He's a botanist who at the start of the story is studying rare plants in the Himalayan region. But he has a secret. He plans to join an expedition tracking yeti.

He's played by ever lovable Peter Cushing. Cushing had a long and fun career. Much of it was spent working for Hammer Films. In the Dracula series of movies he was the implacable Van Helsing. In many Frankenstein movies he'd play Dr. Frankenstein, or a variation. In Hound of the Baskervilles he's Sherlock Holmes. (He'd follow this up with a series of Sherlock Holmes on the BBC a decade later.) He was even Dr. Who twice.

He made many appearances in various horror films. And his presence brought them up at least a notch. Horror Express. Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. The House That Dripped Blood. Tales from the Crypt. Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Shock Waves.

...And he did play that one character in the first of the Star Wars movies, didn't he?

Playing against Cushing, we have the character of Tom Friend. He's being played by Forrest Tucker. He's another actor that got around quite a bit. He was excellent at playing loud and brash. From F Troop to Gunsmoke to Hondo to Matt Houston. He was an excellent character actor. And he found himself on many shows. And in this movie he gets to play a larger than life type. A man full of promises, hidden truths, and lies. This expedition is his dream child, and last hope.

Along with them is Andrew McNee, the team photographer. He's played by Michael Brill.

The other part of the expedition is Ed Shelley. He's a hunter. He traps, he shoots, he's eager for a challenge. He's up in these high mountains seeking danger, risk, and to face down something no one else ever has. He's bringing the firepower.

He's being played by Robert Brown. He should be familiar to you if you were a fan of James Bond in the 80's  Throughout the 80's he was M.

Along with the expedition, we have their guide/sherpa, Kusang.

Okay. Sherpa are actually a people of Nepal. The phrase gets tossed around in stories and conversation particularly as you go back in the 20th century. It is still in common enough use today, and is used in many areas....But I am unsure how correct, acceptable, or problematic it is to use the term. It's become a term for guides in the Himalayas. It to my mind is someone who's knowledgable and experienced in moutaineering and survival. ...But some likely use it dismissively. (Also it is use a bit in diplomatic circles, among other areas.) So, I am going to use it the term, but if you do know of it actually becoming more like the slurs used the Romani or others, I'd like to know.

Kusang is played by Wolfe Morris. ...Yeah, not Asian at all. He's Ukranian...Welcome to 50's film making!!! This is not to say their are no Asian actors in the movie. All the extras in the movie are played by waiters from Chinese restaurants in the area...So I've seen written.

This should take us to the Lhama. He runs the monastery that Dr. Rollason is living at. He's the basic kind, soft voiced, wise, and cryptic character you'd expect.

He's played by Arnold Marle. He's German! But if you watch the movie you won't be surprised. You'll be watching him and wondering why this Himalayan Buddhist priest is speaking with a thick German accent. He seems nice enough in the role, but...Man.

The rest of the cast consists of Hellen Rollason, John Rollason's wife. She's a fellow researcher, who travels and works with him. (Though she seems to spend a lot of time cooking...the 50's!) She loves her husband, but is worried. He has an obsession with the yeti, and nearly died the last time he went on a climbing expedition. She fears he won't come back if he tries again.

She's played by Maureen Connell.

The other role is that of Peter Fox, a fellow scientist and aide to Dr, Rollason. He's there to help with the botany, and is unaware of Rollason's interest in heading off on a separate excursion.

He's played by Richard Watts. He's a comedic actor. And through his delivery and attitude adds a little levity. He's also been in films like Carry on Spying, The Belles of St. Trinian, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Danger Man, The Longest Day, and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

Now, on to the story.

As the film opens we are shown the Himalayas, and a monastery sitting amongst them. Inside monks do...monk things. Honestly, no matter the religion, I have no idea what monks do other than pray and chant (and brew beer). But they got together plenty of extras together to do it.

"So you say if we dry and smoke it..."
Dr. Rollason and Fox are talking with the Lhama about some of the local plants that they are being offered. And they are fascinated by the specimen. But once the Lhama is alone with Rollason he starts probing his intentions in coming to the monastery. Rollason is shy about any ulterior intentions.

That's when the Lhama informs him that a group is travelling to the monastery, and is only a short distance away. (Though how he knows is unclear. No word was sent. But he knew, and sent someone to help them.)

This is when the Lhama is reintroduced to Rollason's wife, Helen. She has been worried about her husband since his last mountain climbing effort, when an accident occurred, and he was seriously injured. Since then he's avoided climbs. But now the Lhama informs her that Rollason is about to leave for a climbing expedition.

She's ticked. He's going out, and hidden it from her. And that time of year is one that is ill advised for climbing to mountain peaks (the snow is too loose). It smells of a doomed plan. (Rollason is also ticked at being outed. But he was the one hiding things.)

But he's determined to go. And later that day the rest of the expedition arrives. Tom Friend. Ed Shelley. Andre McNee. And, their guide Kusang.

Friend comes in as the classic loud American. He's at full volume all the time. He's dismissive. He's pushy. You wonder what this scene was like in the original TV version, with a more British take instead. Then again, he almost feels like a Jeremy Clarkson prototype.

"What do you mean, 'Sorry, no wifi'?"

"Are yeti real? What do you think you're eating?"
The newcomers join the scientist for a meal.

They begin to explain their effort. They want to track down a yeti. After all the stories, the footprints, etc., they have to be up in the mountains. (Oh, we could talk about evidence like that...Ever been to Mt Ararat? All sorts of "evidence" around the place.)

Then Friend pulls out his best bit of evidence. It's an ancient Buddhist reliquary. In it seems to be a massive tooth. Rollason and Helen agree that it looks impressive.

So Rollason suggest that they talk to the Lhama about it, as it came from this monastery. He may know it's history.

The Lhama is pleased to see it back. But he tells them that the tooth was made long ago. It isn't real.

"Oh...uh, yeah...the old Lhama used to have a backscratcher like this..."
But Friend doesn't trust the answer, and intends to head out. Nothing is going to stop him.

But the Lhama again gets Rollason alone. He warns him about going. Why does he want to find the yeti? To was end is he seeking? What result does he want for it all?

He implies, vaguely, that he's in danger. Rollason is meddling with matters he isn't meant to touch on, or wanted involved in. They are matters that man is not intended for.

Rollason doesn't understand, and leaves.

Pinewood Studios
And soon, the expedition is off. A small team. No extra people. Little fuss. Maybe then they can get close to a yeti without scaring it away.

Also, a mountain travel montage? Cue your internal Lord of the Rings music.

The Pyrenees

My Vacation Photos
The team make their way deeper into the Himalaya's range. And soon they reach a shack that they earlier set up with food and other supplies. (These things exist to give mountaineers sheltering points on the lower parts of the mountain.)

Relaxing and recuperating, they begin discussing matters. Rollason discusses his theories about the yeti. How they could be an early divergence from an ancient human ancestral species. Man, Ape, and Yeti, all emerged.

Still the tamest Top Gear road trip yet.

Then Friend explains that Shelley is along for his trapping skills. They have brought some metal netting to catch a yeti, along with rifles, and various traps. Rollason is pissed off. He thinks this makes their efforts decidedly unscientific.

Friend chides him and says they need to catch a yeti to return with, for the sake of science.

(And that is how research often goes.)

But Rollason seems to not want to touch them, just study them in nature.

"But I want to name the yeti, The Stig."
They then talk some more. Friend explains that he wants to act for the sake of science education. He wants to catch a yeti so he can show kids and other people what is out in nature. He wants to be respectful.

Rollason accepts this.

The next day, Rollason and McNee stay behind. Rollason wants to do some research. He wants to find plant samples, plants that could be part of a yeti's diet, hidden under the snow.

They take some time to do this. And then, they move on up the path to find Friend and Shelley.

And as they reach the next area that was to act as a camp, McNee missteps, and finds one of Shelley's traps. And it clamps on his foot.

It is a modified bear trap. It doesn't cut up a leg. But it does crush it.

Soon Shelley appears and helps get it off. But Rollason is pissed again about the traps being lain around.

But Shelley helps carry McNee and tels them of the news from the recently set up camp.

They have a yeti.

"Hey! Look at that, Doc. You caught something to."
When Rollason sees what they have cage, he says it's just a monkey. Friend dismisses this. Kusang says it's like the yeti he saw. And it's a success for him. He can go home a victor.

But Rollason thinks that Kusang has never seen a yeti. The yeti should be a massive being.

Friend and Shelley just focus on securing the cage.

Then everyone settles in for the night. They listen to weather reports and then Shelley comments on another expedition that he and Friend were on.

If I was stuck hanging around someone that reminded me of
Jeremy Clarkson, I might do the same thing.
Rollason recognizes the results of that adventure. It led to claims of finding wild children in the jungles of India, kids that had been raised by wolves. But it was later learned that the kids weren't raised in the wild. They were all kids that were suffering from mental illness, and then locked in cages for gawkers to see.

Rollason is disgusted. Friend is just an assumed name. He grows more suspicious of the expedition. He argues more with Friend, and then they jump at each other. In the melee the radio is smashed.

Then theycool off. Friend says that he wants to prove to everyone that he's legit. He wants proof that shows his true mettle.

Then they all hear a commotion outside. Running out of their tent, they see that the cage has been torn apart. The "yeti" is gone.

It's clear great strength was needed. The door of the cage was torn off like it wasn't metal. Looking around for tracks, they soon find them. They see small footprints in the snow from their "yeti". But beside those tracks, there are far larger prints in the snow. Something with massive feet has passed through. They have company.

"A Hobbit laid here..."

I see NRA PR has reached the yeti community.
While they look around for the creature, McNee has been in the tent. His injured foot has left him idle. And as he lays back, a hand reaches into the tent. It's a large hand, a claw. And it paws at where the guns are lain.

Kusang comes to check on McNee, and sees the yeti. He freezes and then screams. And the rest of the expedition races to check.

Reaching Kusang he is a state of utter terror and dread. He screams about how he's now seen the true face of the yeti. He is horrified that he's been put in the position to see it.

And Kusang panics. He can't stay there any longer. He bolts, running back down their trail. And he races down the mountain. No tools. No pack. No cares.

Just heard a new iPhone is coming out.

Back at the monastery, Helen is concerned about what's happening with Rollason. She sees that the porters that Friend left behind are agitated. They act like the expedition won't come back.

Fox tries to assure her that they are just superstitious. But offers to talk to the Lhama.

When Fox checks on the Lhama, he's checked out. His eyes are clear, and he seems far off. His mind elsewhere?

"...I'll just come back...when you're not baked..."

Later, at the front gates of the monastery, Kusang appears. He's made it down the mountain alive and is beside himself. The monks take him away.

Helen sees that he has returned alone and decides to get some answers. She sneaks into private area of the temple and seeks out of the Lhama, she gets lost in a restricted area and then faints when she's startled by a monk.

"Oh my god! Another culture!"

"Why I've always relied on the kindness of Bodhisattvas."
Later she awakens in the rooms of the Lhama. He tries to reassure her. But he also denies that Kusang has returned to the monastery.

Helen thanks him for his kindness and leaves. SHe is now resolute about finding her husband. So she goes to Fox for help. She pushes him to hire up all of the porters that Friend left behind to help them mount an attempt to reach the expedition.

Helen will get her answers.

"Are we sure this is a yeti? It looks more like that thing in
The Empire Strikes Back."
Up in the mountains, the expedition chases after the footprints. Shelley and Friend see movement ahead and open fire.

They then see a trail of blood. And they eventually find themselves with one dead yeti.

Then they hear calls out in the distance. There are more yeti about, and they don't sound happy.

Meanwhile, McNee is only growing more troubled. He's been obsessed with the yeti for years, so much so that he paid Friend to be able to join the expedition.

Since he's come up into the mountains, he keeps thinking he hear calls out in the cold. He thinks he can hear them beckoning him.

When Rollason returns, he's asked by McNee what the creature's face was like. Rollason is staggered. It isn't human, it isn't ape. It's different. But it conveys something he can't describe. (Maybe it's a sadness.)

Ir's interesting to note that they are avoiding to actually show the yeti so far. They are leaving it mostly to our imaginations. Our initial reaction may be more a scary one. But as Rollason ruminates on the yeti we are offered a chance to adjust what we're imagining. It is often a good idea in a claustrophobic movie like this to let the audience do some of the heavy lifting. We tap into our fears and our into dreams.

Later, while Rollason is out, McNee pulls himself from his bed and sneaks out. He proceeds to climb. Something draws him to go higher and higher.

When they realize he's gone, they try to call him back, but he just runs. And he's getting higher and higher. Then...He falls. They find his body, and he is dead.

Friend thinks the yeti pushed him. Rollason doubts this, seeing as McNee was climbing unequipped and with a broken foot. He was a hazard to himself.

Then the two hear Shelley shooting again.

Racing to him, they see him distraught and keyed up. He says that two yeti tried to approach him. He froze at first, then started shooting.

He thinks they are seeking him for revenge.

Friend has a plan for this. They have a cave nearby, and he thinks it's perfect for a trap. Shelley will act as bait, along with the dead yeti. Then when the yeti return, they'll drop the metallic net on any that enter. Then Friend will have a live specimen to take.

Shelley is eager. His adrenaline is pumping.

And when the yeti come, they tear through the netting. And Shelley starts shooting,

But it is no good.

When Rollason and Friend get to him, he's dead.

He looks to have had a heart attack.

Rollason checks his gun and ammo and realizes that the bullets are all blanks.

Friend says he didn't want to leave him with live ammo, as he knew that Shelley would just shoot the creature when he say it.

But they also note that the yeti body is still there. They left when they knew the two of them were approaching.

Rollason surmises that they could sense that Shelley was left unarmed. And also could sense that the two of them were armed.

The yeti have the ability to sense their thoughts.

Always a sign of a great vacation.

Rollason thinks more on what they are facing. He started thinking that they are the last of their kind, an offshoot of early ancestors. Creatures who retreated to isolated spots to die out.

He's reevaluated. Maybe they haven't gone off to die. Maybe they are just waiting for humanity to die out. Just let humanity destroy itself, then they can move freely in the world again.

And the discovery of the yeti being real is the last thing the yeti want. If humans knew about them, the yeti realize that they'd be hunted, caged, and/or killed. Humanity as a whole must terrify them. (And if they can read the mind of the average person, it's not hard to appreciate.)

Then Rollason hears a warning on their radio. The weather is worsening, and they are being called to abandon their camp and leave.

"How is Limbaugh on every freakin' channel?!"
But Rollason remembers that the radio is smashed. He checks it, and sees it is still destroyed. But he's worried.

Then Friend starts hearing Shelley calling for help. He begins becoming frantic. Despite recently burying him, he wants to go out and look.

Rollason explains that he thinks that the yeti are messing with their heads. But Friend isn't listening. It may be his guilt over Shelley's death, but he has to find out what is happening.

Heading out he looks around, and calls for Shelley. Then he starts shooting randomly around himself. All this accomplishes is a loosening of snow up the mountain. And a small avalanche starts.

He can see the snow coming overhead, but he's frozen to the spot. Rollason calls him to return, but he just stands and stares.

"...Back to the studio..."

And then the snow comes rushing down and washes him away.

Now Rollason is alone. He's cold. He's shaken. And, actually, he's not really alone.

Shadows emerge from deeper in the cave. Large shadows.

And then they move closer.

The yeti has come again.

They slowly move in the shadows. Rollason stares at them, frozen and stunned to be in their presence.

They are silent.

And then we see their eyes. And I'm going to go ahead and be of the opinion that they should not have even shown this much of the yeti. I like the idea of just having to imagine what they look like.

Let the imagination do the hard work.

But we get a look. And they stare thoughtfully at Rollason.

With Helen's group, everyone is sleeping at housing further down the mountain.

But Helen finds herself awakened by some call. It compels her to slip out of the cabin. But Fox notices her leave, and rouses the porters.

I know you want to pee i private, but
Helen begins working her way up the mountain on her own. As she goes, she struggles some, but keeps moving.

Finally she comes upon a sight.

Her husband, frozen some, against the rock face. She approaches him, and he collapses. Fox catches up and the look over him with her.

Then the movie jerks us around a bit, and takes us back to the monastery. We get some somber monk chanting. (Of note, they did actually go to a Buddhist temple in England to get help with having some proper chants for this movie.)

Then we cut to a shot of the Lhama talking to someone about the loss they've faced...

...And then they pan out to show Rollason, Helen, and Fox.

So, yes, he survived. Either he was allowed to wander down on his own or the yeti he left him there, and then mentally pushed his wife to find him.

Which is it? We will never know. Because Rollason confirms what the Lhama has already said.

There is no yeti. They don't exist.

And Rollason has learned the lesson, don't mettle where you aren't wanted...Or something.

Overall, it's an under appreciated gem of Hammer's retinue. It isn't as big, terrifying, intense, or bloody as many of the other movies that Hammer is famous for. But it's among the "lesser" films they made that just don't get the love and attention they deserve.

This movie ended up getting overshadowed in 1957 by The Curse of Frankenstein (Which also starred Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee.). But it offered what I think is a compelling story.

Man faces nature and his own demons. The Americans driven by glory. (And Forrest Tucker plays his part well.) The scientist saved by his humanity and propriety (He respected the yeti, and would keep their secret. It just took him some time to see the the bigger picture passed his own curiosity.). An intelligent yet inhuman being, who just want their privacy. Also they actually added a female voice who had a little agency.

Ideally, I could have done without a shot of the top half of the yeti's face. For me, it would have been better to cut away just before they entered the light. Then play the rest of the scene on Rollason's face. But that doesn't ruin the movie.

Sadly, this movie is a pain to find to watch. But, if you can find it, this is certainly a piece of horror history that is a worthwhile way to wile a way a cold winter night.

I am tempted to move on to another Peter Cushing movie next. It's hard to do just one. But, let's pace ourselves. So, next time, let's veer more into the noir, both fist ready.

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