Of all the creatures of myth, the Abominable Snowman has never quite received the respect it deserves, it certainly hasn’t had the same amount of big-screen appearances as other monsters have had, often stuck in lesser offerings such as 1977’s made-for-television horror film Snowbeast or in more family-friendly versions such as the Bumble in Rankin and Bass’s animated holiday special, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, but in 1947 director Val Guest and Hammer Films brought us what can best be described as a forgotten classic.
If you ever wondered what an intellectual film about the Abominable Snowman would be like look no further than Val Guest’s 1947 Hammer production of The Abominable Snowman, a film that focused more on philosophical debate rather than that of your standard monster movie. Written and based on Nigel Kneale’s BBC television play “The Creature” the plot of the film surrounds an expedition up into the Himalayas to find proof of the existence of the creature known as the Yeti, first, we have British scientist Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing), who is supposedly on an expedition for the British Botanical Society along with his wife and partner Helen (Maureen Connell) and assistant Peter Fox (Richard Wattis), but we soon learn that this element of the expedition is secondary to Rollason’s true goal of proving that the mythical Abominable Snowman actually exists, despite warnings by the Lama (Arnold Marlé) of the monastery of Rong-buk, that a person must be sure of one’s motivations before taking on such a journey, none the less, he pushes forward.
When a second group arrives, led by obvious glory-seeker Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker), things get a little tense, especially considering he is accompanied by the crass and boorish trapper Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), an unqualified photographer named Andrew McNee (Michael Brill) and Sherpa guide Kusang (Wolfe Morris), who may have questionable motives of his own. Helen is rightfully upset when her husband decides to risk his life on such a dangerous excursion with these less than noteworthy companions, and in a surprise to no one, Helen was absolutely right to be concerned as Friend isn’t on some fact-finding mission but is on more of a “Bring It Back Alive” mission, with the revelation that Tom Friend is just an alias and that he’s actually a notorious carnival showman known for faking exhibits to amuse the gullible public. The film provides several moments of philosophical debates between Rollason and Friend, each arguing over what constitutes science and whether or not exhibiting such a find would advance mankind’s view of the world.
The film did not meet with much financial success and director Val Guest attributed this to the intelligence of the script, saying, “It was too subtle, and I also think it had too much to say” but when you release a movie titled The Abominable Snowman, with the tag line “See it with someone brave! A timeless to terror to freeze you to your seat!” and then you spend most of the screen time with people arguing over what to do if they actually do find the creature, while not really delivering much in the way of actual creature action, one can understand the public finding such an effort lacking and walking away feeling a little underwhelmed. This is not to say Val Guest produced a bad film, far from it, not only does the film explore some genuinely interesting areas for debate but the cinematography on display is quite remarkable and the second unit location photography in the French Pyrenees provided some truly spectacular visuals, but when the overall end result on the “monster” side of things is nothing but a few large footprints in the snow and a quick glimpse of large clawed hands you’re going to disappoint your target audience. When Shelley eventually kills one of the creatures, director Val Guests relies on Peter Cushing to describe what the thing looks like rather than showing the audience and it’s this disconnect between the audience’s expectations and what was actually delivered that has doomed many a production over the years.
The reveal that the Yeti are gentle and intelligent creatures, who have psychic powers and are hiding up in the Himalayas simply to wait for mankind to kill itself off, is certainly an interesting concept and Val Guest takes Nigel Kneale’s screenplay seriously and avoids most of the tropes found in contemporary horror films, but he did error a tad with the addition of the subplot concerning Rollason’s wife Helen, who was left behind at the monastery and while the film occasionally cuts back to her and her own concerns about the expedition, the safety of her husband and what secrets the Llama may be hiding, unfortunately, this tangent doesn’t really go anywhere and when the film comes to its “startling conclusion” this subplot really didn’t add much of anything to the plot and it took up time that should have been spent with expedition being mentally harassed by a group of near-invisible Yeti and learning just “Who are the real monsters here?” than on whatever Cushing’s wife was up to.
While this wasn’t quite Hammer Film’s first foray into the horror genre, check out The Quatermass Experiment, and as a horror film most viewers will have to admit to it being well written and professionally produced if overshadowed by the release of their own Curse of Frankenstein that came out the very same year, but without any rampaging monster to excite audiences of the late 40s even Peter Cushing’s great screen charisma wasn’t going to prevent this film from falling into the category of “minor classics” and is now mostly unknown to the average horror fan because, in fact, it’s not a horror film it’s more of a philosophical deconstruction of man’s place in the world while also debating the intrinsic dangers of scientific exploration, so yeah, this is definitely not your typical horror movie, basically, if you want to watch a psychological drama about a group of snowbound explorers then this is the film for you, if it’s monster carnage you’re in the mood for you then this may not be your cup of tea.
The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Movie Rank - 7/10
Peter Cushing and Forest Tucker lead an interesting cast of characters in what is best described as a “psychological horror film” and while there isn’t much in the way of monster action, with the Yeti’s barely making a screen appearance, this is still worth checking out if you like a little more thought in your monster movie