Yeti Day, All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away...
The Abominable Snowman
(aka The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas)
Directed by Val Guest
Hammer Region 2
I’ve always been a big fan of productions boasting stories and screenplays by Nigel Kneale. I absolutely adored all four of the original Quatermass serials... and the Hammer remakes of the first three... and the Radio show set between the third and fourth serial... although I was left unimpressed with the condensed down “movie-spliced-together-from-TV-episodes” adaptation of the fourth serial and similarly unimpressed by the still fairly recent TV remake of The Quatermass Experiment, despite featuring the excellent acting talents of Jason Flemyng and David Tennant.
This is the first time I’ve seen The Abominable Snowman and, I have to say that, while it’s not as absolutely terrifying as the Quatermass serials... it does still have that sense of nagging, lurking, building terror coupled with a keen intelligence which seems to be a signature of Kneale’s work. Of course, it helps that we have an experienced director working with Kneale’s material and director Val Guest had already made the Hammer Horror remakes of Kneale’s first two Quatermass serials The Quatermass Xperiment (based on The Quatermass Experiment) and the appropriately named Quatermass 2.
In The Abominable Snowman, Hammer veteran Peter Cushing stars as Dr. John Rollason, a researcher in the Himalayas who teams up with an American “hunter”, Tom Friend, played by the token lets-put-an-American-in-it-so-we-can-sell-it-overseas actor Forrest Tucker... who did the same kind of token American duties that Brian Donleavy was doing in the Quatermass remakes but in films like this one and such genre classics as X-The Unknown and The Crawling Eye (based on the TV serial The Trollenberg Terror). Like Val Guest, Cushing was also no stranger to working on Nigel Kneale’s material since he’d starred in both Kneale’s much lionised, infinitely superior TV adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 and also the original TV play The Creature, which is what The Abominable Snowman is a remake of... Cushing plays the same role in this movie that he played on TV but I believe Stanley Baker played the part which Forrest Tucker has inherited here... it’s a shame that The Creature is a lost “classic” as I would dearly love to see that one.
The film starts with Dr. Rollason, his wife and his fellow researcher studying artefacts in a Tibetan monastery. Rollason breaks it to his wife, much to her alarm, that he is going with Tom Friend and his crew on a fairly dangerous expedition up a mountain to research evidence of recently sighted Yetis. He leaves his wife and colleague behind the next day and goes off with Friend and his small band, who have pre-loaded the trail with buried food while passing through with a larger expedition previously.
As the crew bed down for the first night, it becomes clear to Rollason that his ideas of locating The Abominable Snowman for scientific study are at odds with Friend’s “commercial showman” mentality, who is definitely there to capture said Yeti and bring it back, King Kong-like, to civilisation and make large amounts of "Yeti cash" from the proceeds. However, what Friend and the gang don’t realise (although Rollason twigs it a lot quicker), is that one of the expedition has payed Friend to be there after seeing one of the beasts (and it is definitely Abominable Snowmen in the plural that our decidedly unheroic heroes eventually find) which has established a psychic link with him and is susceptible to what I can only describe as... “the will of the Yeti!”
And of course, once it’s been established that the Yeti can get inside the minds of humans, it’s not long before members of the expedition start dying by their own hand... at the instigation of the abominable snowmen who, in all fairness, just want to be left alone.
I don’t want to spoil this movie for any enthusiastic Hammer or Kneale fans among you so I won’t tell you who, if any, survives to the end of the movie. What I will say is that director Val Guest has kept the Yeti mostly unseen until an up-close-and-personal encounter near the end... relying instead on just glimpses of the odd Yeti arm or the reactions of the actors to what is left slightly off screen for the most part. A shrewd move by a director who, I suspect, had less faith in the design and execution of the creatures themselves... although I personally thought they were pretty good Yeti suits (and none of them were wearing a watch like their real life counterparts). Although, with people like Richard Wattis turning up in the cast... I was half expecting to see Yeti Jacques walk on!
Definitely not the best of either Kneale or Guest's works but certainly well worth a watch, especially for the seasoned veteran who like’s nothing better than to watch a solid British horror production and have fun playing spot the actor. It also boasts a score by the composer Humphrey Searle, who horror music fans may remember was the composer for the score of Robert Wise’s 1963 horror masterpiece The Haunting. There’s a recent new release of The Abominable Snowman from Hammer on Region 2 and it’s also quite inexpensive to boot. Pick it up if you’ve got nothing better to spend your hard earned cash on. Rawwwwr!