Abominable Snowman, The (1957)

The Abominable Snowman (1957)

See It With Someone Brave! — A Timeless Terror to Freeze You to Your Seats!

An English botanist and an American scientist lead an expedition to the Himalayas to search for and prove the existence of the Yeti.

 

One of Hammer’s early sci-fi/horror films is yet another prime example of just how good their output was during their early years before they hit it big with Gothic horror. The Abominable Snowman had a badly timed release shortly after Hammer’s breakthrough film, The Curse of Frankenstein. With that pushing the boundaries of on-screen blood like never before and bringing horror to life in vivid colour, this intelligent, low-key black and white film seemed rather outdated. The Abominable Snowman tends to get overlooked and it’s a shame too because it’s a quite brilliant film.

Like The Quatermass Experiment before it, this owes it’s excellence to yet another amazing script from Nigel Kneale. Not a line of dialogue is wasted as Kneale uses every moment he has to add something to the story or the characters. Kneale loved writing about the unexplained mysteries of this planet and conceives all manner of weird and wonderful explanations for their existence. Here he has given the myth of the Abominable Snowman a whole unique spin – what if they were an undiscovered species waiting patiently in the Himalayas waiting for man to destroy itself?

I loved the characters of Dr Rollason and Tom Friend – the two sides of man that come out in the face of scientific discovery. Rollason is the scholar who wants to learn things for the good of man and to further man’s progression in evolution. Friend is the entrepreneur, taken over by greed and the desire to make a name for himself at the cost of these advances. There’s no middle ground between them. It’s no coincidence that the rest of the cast are expendable enough to leave these two men bickering and squabbling until the very end. Even the whole characterisation of the Yetis are done in way so that we don’t know what to expect from them when they appear – they could be a Rollason and use their hunger for knowledge to further their existence or they could be like Friend, out to destroy all that is alien to them. Not knowing whether the Yetis will be the rampaging monsters they are usually depicted in film or peaceful and enlightened is one of the highlights of the film.

Peter Cushing is excellent once again. I get sick of writing this statement in my reviews but it’s true – the man is arguably the finest actor I’ve had the pleasure of watching in a horror film, in fact any film period. He just brings so much depth to his roles, even the ones which are badly underwritten. Cushing was able to bring to life any dialogue and make it sound like the most brilliant speech you’ve ever heard. Forrest Tucker is also excellent in his role as the American, Friend. He has all of the qualities you would expect from a brash American and plays this to advantage. The two men excel in their roles, providing humanities duelling nature amidst the harsh environment of the Himalayas.

Val Guest’s direction also helps the film. There are some wonderful shots of the Pyrenees (doubling quite nicely for the Himalayas) which create the sense of isolation that is needed and the sets that are used aren’t too bad – black and white certainly helps them look better than they probably should do. Guest manages to build tension up gradually and once the expedition starts, it’s just constant suspense as you know that the group are being watched all of the time. The Yetis’ wails of misery are just some of the most haunting sounds I’ve heard and thankfully the Yetis themselves aren’t shown until the finale. Once more, ‘less is more’ and the less we see of the Yeti, the greater the mystery is. Looking at some of the recent depictions of the Abominable Snowman on film (including Snowbeast and Yeti), it’s clear that the old ways were the best for keeping things hidden for as long as possible to increase the audience’s anticipation of their eventual unveiling. Men-in-suits they may be, but by the time they grace the camera with their presence, you won’t care because the script has done such a good job in building them up as intelligent, living and breathing creatures.

 

Another intelligent, thought-provoking and superbly-made gem from Hammer, The Abominable Snowman is highly recommended to anyone looking for classics from the past.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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