By Orrin Grey
The Abominable Snowman (1957). Director: Val Guest. Cast: Peter Cushing, Forrest Tucker. Country: England.
This month, I was asked to help organize Monster Awareness Month at Beyond Fiction. There are going to be posts about monsters in movies, books, comics, and everywhere else for the entire month of February, and there’s also going to be a monster movie a day. In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d turn this month’s From Strange & Distant Shores over to doing movies from the Monster Awareness list. I had some difficulty choosing a movie. I’ve already covered a plethora of Godzilla flicks on this column, and while I could’ve done Pan’s Labyrinth, I’ll be writing it up for the main Monster Awareness Month site (completing a hat trick wherein I earlier talked about Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, for Vampire Awareness Month and Ghost Appreciation Month, respectively). So, it was decided that I’d cover The Abominable Snowman this time out.
The Abominable Snowman is a bit of a cheat, since it’s in English. It was a relatively early horror outing by Hammer studios, who would become famous for their Gothic horror films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (among others). It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Hammer’s horror output and The Abominable Snowman is a particular treat, though it bears little resemblance to the foreboding castles and heaving bosoms of their better-known fare.
Cushing plays Dr. John Rollason, a botanist on an expedition to the Himalayas, who joins up with an American adventurer played by Forrest Tucker to discover the elusive Abominable Snowman of the title. Together with a small group, and against the objections of Rollason’s wife, they trek up into the high valleys to search for proof.
Of course, once they’re up there, things begin to go wrong, and weather, paranoia, and betrayal take their toll on the party. I’ve seen complaints that The Abominable Snowman is too “talky”, and certainly, it’s something of a slow burn, considering its running time, but it’s also a pretty eerie movie. Exchanging the usual Gothic trappings of a Hammer film (which were really not yet established as “usual”) for the barrenness of the Himalayan mountains, the film does a good job of capturing the isolation and, eventually, desperation of the group. For a movie about hulking man-monsters, The Abominable Snowman is remarkably restrained, subtle and classy, and definitely an often-overlooked star in the Hammer horror constellation. It helps that Cushing and Tucker both do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life.
Also, on a personal note, as a huge fan of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe, I am always on the lookout for places where he may have gotten inspiration in old films. This one is an unexpected font of them. Not only are some of the interior shots of the monastery reminiscent of Mignola’s art style, but the Yetis themselves resemble (both visually, somewhat, and thematically, moreso) those that have recently made their appearance in the B.P.R.D. and Lobster Johnson comics. Plus, what Mignola enthusiast could hear the Lhama’s hints of “a race of super-intelligent beings who will take over the world when humanity has destroyed itself” and not think of Mignola’s comic book universe?
The Abominable Snowman is available from Amazon.com.
Bio: Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters. His stories of cursed books, mad monks and ominous paintings have appeared in Bound for Evil, Delicate Toxins, and, of course, at Innsmouth Free Press, among other places. He can be found online at www.orringrey.com.