Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

1. The Abominable Snowman (1957), dir. Val Guest

I recorded this off the Horror Channel relatively recently, and watched it last weekend. The story is more or less what you would assume from the title and the time, involving a group of white western explorers who go searching after the 'Yeti' in the Himalayas, and the local monastery community and guides with whom they interact. The Hammer film is based on an earlier now-lost teleplay by Nigel Kneale, and having built up a picture of his style from various iterations of the Quatermass stories and The Stone Tape, I certainly recognised various signature characteristics here. There is a sensitive soul who is particularly susceptible to the calls of the Yeti up in the mountains, who isn't a woman because no women go on the expedition in the first place but is rather a Scotsman, perhaps telling us something about how Kneale perceived them. Later on, the one woman in the film also demonstrates her great sensitivity by doing a mad dash up the mountain to rescue her husband because she can tell from the monastery that he's in danger. There is also the idea that the Yeti are primeval beings who are / were perhaps superior in wisdom and intelligence to homo sapiens, though for once they don't also turn out to have been aliens all along. The story ends with the main identification-character and only survivor of the expedition (John Rollason, a scientist played by Peter Cushing) insisting that he never saw any Yeti up in the mountains in order to cover up their existence and protect them from further human interference.

The whole set-up of the story is colonialistic. Quite apart from the pursuit of the Yeti, the western characters treat the locals as mere servants (at best) or superstitious savages (at worst). But there is some effort at least to portray the people at the monastery (who I assume are meant to be Tibetan, as they are headed by a Lama, though it's never specified) as having a real and valuable culture of their own, e.g. via early establishing scenes in which their Lama shows a local knowledge of plants unknown to John Rollason's science. There is also certainly a fully developed critical contrast between Rollason's scientific curiosity, driven by the desire to achieve a greater understanding of humanity, and capitalistic greed encapsulated by an American member of the expedition, Tom Friend. Friend in some ways appears ahead of Rollason in recognising the capacity of media like television for opening up mass access to knowledge. But ultimately he just wants to show the Yeti on TV for his own benefit, as we realise when he turns out to be happy to claim that a monkey they've trapped is the real Yeti, and then also causes death of another expedition member by giving him blank ammunition so he can't harm a real Yeti in the process of trapping it.

Cushing is of course everything you'd hope for as Rollason. There is a lovely example of his famous facility with props early on, when he is presented with a purported Yeti tooth while still in the monastery, and rather than just turning it over in his hand while delivering his dialogue, he immediately whips a tape measure out of his pocket and takes its dimensions. This is followed by a very interesting editorial cut directly from a close-up of the tooth to the mask of some kind of mythical being with one tooth missing being shaken in the air during a religious ceremony in the monastery courtyard, perhaps designed to suggest that the circumspect locals know of and venerate the Yeti. Though Cushing had already done The Curse of Frankenstein by this time, Hammer were still using colour only for their horror pictures. This one is more in the line of fantasy / action, so it remains in black and white, but conveys its Himalayan setting via some very impressive location footage filmed with stunt doubles at La Mongie, a ski resort in the French Pyrenees. Combined with sets at Bray (the monastery) and Pinewood (the mountain top locations) for the actors and a matte painting for long shots of the monastery by Les Bowie, it does a pretty decent visual job by the standards of its time.

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Tags: fantasy, films, films watched 2021, hammer films, peter cushing, reviews, sci-fi

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