The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas

Growing up, I was a huge Looney Tunes fan. I still am to be fair. One cartoon short that always cracked me up was The Abominable Snow Rabbit where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck -- on vacation -- actually run into the abominable snowman (appropriately named Hugo). Then there's the lovable bad guy the abominable snowman from the Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. How about a slightly darker version? Let's go with 1957's The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.

Working with his wife and his assistant, Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) is high up in the Himalayas at a remote monastery on a botanical/nature expedition. He's making all sorts of discoveries when news reaches the monastery that a second expedition is on the way to their location. It is a small group headed by Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker), and their intentions are completely different from those of Rollason. Their goal is to track down and hopefully find evidence of the existence of the legendary Yeti. Both his wife and his assistant don't want to him be a part of the search high up in the mountains, but with Friend boasting evidence and sightings on his side, Rollason is hard-pressed to pass up the opportunity to be a part of something so big. He agrees to join the expedition, joining with Friend and three other men as they head up into the Himalayas. What awaits them?

I don't always like horror films, but when I do, they're often from Hammer Films Productions. A British production company, 'Hammer' turned into one of the best backers of generally low-budget but well-done horror flicks in the 1950s and into the 1960s and 1970s. This 1957 entry from director Val Guest has popped up recently on TV a lot recently so I thought I'd check it out. It's actually based off a stage play, a setting that ends up working quite well in the film. Though mountain footage was actually shot, the scenes with the cast actually on-screen was shot on claustrophobic, rocky, snow-covered sets. It is small scale, small cast and never seems affected in the least by any budget limitations.

Working off a script by Nigel Kneale and an uncredited Guest, 'Snowman' borrows from the Jaws school of how to show or not show your movie monster. Translation? The appearance of the Abominable Snowman is kept hidden for the most part as we see an immense footprint, a shadow, a distant roar, and in his first appearance, his giant hand. That certainly helps build the tension and mystery as we start to see the creature as some sort of ethereal being hovering over the action. Unfortunately, we never actually see the creature fully in frame. The closest we get is a close-up on the creature's eyes late in the movie in a key scene that does deliver quite a twist in the final act. It's good and bad in that sense. There's some great tension but if it never gets a payoff then is it worth it? The beauty of Jaws is that we don't see the great white shark a lot...and then WE DO! That's probably the biggest indictment of the smaller budget, a lack of a payoff with the Yeti.

Who else to look for? Cushing and Tucker were the names that caught my eye originally. An instantly recognizable face in the horror and sci-fi genre (and frequent Hammer star), Cushing is the intellectual, the driven scientist trying to find something previously believed to be a myth, a legend. The possibilities are just too much for him to pass up. Tucker is his opposite, a showman, a businessman looking to make some serious cash by capturing the Yeti and bringing him back to civilization in a nod to King Kong. The other members of the Yeti expedition include Shelley (Robert Brown), the greedy trapper, McNee (Michael Brill), a photographer who's seen the Yeti before, and Kusang (Wolfe Morris), the superstitious local guide. Maureen Connell plays Rollason's worrying wife, Helen, while Richard Wattis plays Fox, Rollason's bookish assistant.

If there's an accurate description of this Hammer horror flick, it's moody, subtle and unsettling...but it's not always in a good way. I think it is a little too subtle. It never quite builds to anything too satisfying. The story becomes less about the Yeti, the abominable snowman, and more about how the expedition begins to fall apart and disintegrate. The Yeti is just what sets the match off to the explosion amongst the men traveling up through the mountains to find something dark and mysterious. It's good and potentially very good but never quite jells how you want it to. For me at least.

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957): ** 1/2 /****

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