Friday, October 13, 2017

Hammer Time: The Abominable Snowman (of the Himalayas) (1957)

Aside from film, television, and video games, one of my other major interests has always been the study of the unknown, particularly cryptozoology. Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with stories and accounts of unknown creatures in the world, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Yeti or Abominable Snowman. The idea of real "monsters" existing in the world, having never been officially discovered but sighted by many, many people, was such a cool idea to me and, in fact, for a while, I decided that I wanted to be someone who studied that type of stuff for a living, as I'd also always been interested in science, particularly biology. I've since given up on that idea, for a number of reasons (no way to make a living from it, childhood wonder giving way to adult skepticism, etc.), but it's never lost its power to fascinate me and this is a movie that's always stuck with me for that very reason. I saw this movie for the first time when I was around eight years old, on a suitably cold, snowy day. My parents, particularly my mother, called me into the living room to watch it on whatever channel it was on, knowing how much this stuff interested me, and when I did, I was utterly taken by it. There were so many aspects of it that captivated me: the stark black-and-white, the frozen, snowy landscapes that characters tromped around in, the way the snowmen were kept almost entirely offscreen, with only brief glimpses here and there, and, most of all, the ending where you get a look at only the upper part of one's face, which stayed with me for years and years. I never saw it again for the rest of my childhood but, over the years, as I became more and more of a cinephile, I learned that it was a movie produced by Hammer Studios, which I and most people remember for their color, bloody remakes of classics horror stories like Dracula and Frankenstein, and that the star was Peter Cushing, whom I'd grown to really like and enjoy by that point. I eventually became eager to see the movie again, but at that point, the DVD was out of print and very hard to find (I think it's back in print now, though), although I did manage to catch a showing of it early one morning in June of 2009 (in fact, it was my birthday). Although I was no longer as easily captivated as when I was a child, I was still really intrigued by the movie and its subtlety, and was also able to now grasp the deeper meanings of the story. It was only a year or so after that when I finally got my own personal copy of the movie, when I bought a high-quality DVD-R at a convention, and was able to see the movie for the first time from beginning to end. Long story short, I think it's a pretty good little flick. It's no major classic and it does have some flaws here and there but, overall, I don't think it deserves its status as one of Hammer's more overlooked films, as I feel it has a lot to offer.

English botanist Dr. John Rollason is on an expedition in the Himalayas, staying at the monastery of Rong-buk with his wife, Helen, and assistant, Peter "Foxy" Fox. While he's studying an unknown type of plant provided to him by the Lama, he's asked of another expedition party that's six days overdue and of their intentions, which the Lama feels aren't entirely scientific. Helen then learns of her husband's intention to join these other men on a trek up the mountains, in spite of having had an accident while on a climb years ago, and realizes that it has to do with his interest in the legendary "Yeti" or "Abominable Snowman." The other party, led by American Tom Friend, arrives, and Rollason is introduced to the members: Ed Shelley, Andrew "Jacques" McNee, and their Sherpa guide, Kusang. Friend makes no secret of his intent to track down and find the Yeti, offering up a cylinder containing a large tooth as proof of its existence. When the tooth, which had been stolen from the monastery, is presented to the Lama, he claims that it's carved and that the Yeti doesn't exist, but the team, including Rollason, are determined to go along with the expedition; Rollason is given a cryptic warning from the Lama before they leave the next morning. After an exhausting, day-long climb to a hut full of supplies high up in the mountains, Friend reveals that the Lama was right about their intentions not being scientific: Shelley is a trapper and they plan to capture one of the creatures, alive if possible, and bring it back to the civilized world. Rollason is not at all happy about this but continues to go along with the expedition, determined to be as scientific as he can be about it. The next day, the party arrives at a glacier where a campsite has been set up and McNee accidentally steps into a spring trap set by Shelley, severely injuring his foot. After they free him, Rollason is told that they've caught a small Yeti... but, despite Kusang's insistence, it turns out to be a species of Himalayan monkey. Upon hearing on the radio that a blizzard will be hitting their area in 24 hours, Friend decides to head back down and tout the monkey as a Yeti regardless. Soon, however, he doesn't have to, as Shelley manages to shoot and kill a real one that wandered into their campground. The expedition may have proven the creatures' existence, but they soon realize that the others plan to reclaim the body and seem to have supernatural powers with which to do so. But, are the men are in danger from the creatures or themselves? And how much does the mysterious Lama know of what's happening?

Two prominent figures were behind this film's creation and conception: writer Nigel Kneale and director Val Guest. Kneale was a British writer of science fiction and horror thrillers who mainly worked for television and is best known for having created the BBC mini-series, The Quatermass Experiment, which was the basis for Hammer's first foray into horror with the 1955 film adaptation (he's also notable for later coming up with the initial screenplay for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, although he ultimately had his name removed from the final film when John Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace rewrote it). Similarly, The Abominable Snowman is based on another television play of Kneale's, The Creature (which was broadcast live but not recorded, so it no longer exists save for some stills), which he wrote after hearing of numerous Yeti reports and sightings in the news around the time, deciding to make it a morality tale of how the creature is not only not a monster but is actually of a more benign race than mankind. By all accounts, it's a pretty faithful adaptation of the show, albeit with a few additions and modifications here and there, and Guest, who also a writer, did his own uncredited rewrite of the screenplay, eliminating dialogue that he felt was unnecessary.

Val Guest was no stranger to Kneale's work, as he'd directed and contributed to the screenplay of The Quatermass Experiment movie and had worked with Kneale directly on the sequel, Quatermass 2, which they'd done right before The Abominable Snowman. From what I've read, it seems like Guest wasn't entirely satisfied with the film, as he didn't like the widescreen format he was forced to shoot it in, finding it hard to get close-ups on the actors' faces and the like with it, he also reportedly didn't like the casting of Forrest Tucker, whom he had worked with before, in one of the two main roles, and when the movie didn't do that well when it was released, overshadowed by The Curse of Frankenstein, which came out around the same time, he felt it had to do with Kneale's script. In Bill Warren's book, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Volume I: 1950-1957, Guest said, "It was too subtle and I also think it had too much to say. No one was expecting films from Hammer that said anything but this one did… audiences didn't want that sort of thing from Hammer." In any case, the movie was one of many Guest directed in a long career that began in the early 40's, although he started out as an actor and then a writer of comedies, which would be among the first films he directed before he made the leap to science fiction with The Quatermass Xperiment. Even though he wasn't a fan of the genre, he worked extensively in it throughout his career, with other notable examples being The Day the Earth Caught Fire and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, a film akin to Hammer's earlier One Million Years B.C. in that it featured really well-done stop-motion effects. He's also notable for being one of five directors who were involved with the notoriously chaotic and troubled production of the James Bond spoof, Casino Royale. He continued working into the early 80's, his last film being The Boys in Blue, a remake of a 1930's film that he'd written way back when, and after directing for the TV show, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (known in America as Fox Mystery Theater), he retired in 1984. He died in 2006 at the age of 94.

The character of Dr. John Rollason is a pretty archetypal role: the scientist whose interest is motivated purely by the advancement of human knowledge and doesn't like that the others around in him are in it mainly for profit. What makes him work is that he's played by Peter Cushing, who was one of several actors from The Creature who reprised their roles in the film. Cushing was one of those actors whose honesty, class, intelligence, and overall likability made it impossible to never believe him. Whenever he played a scientist or a doctor, he was able to come across like he understood everything he was talking about, even if it was a severe case of technobabble. When he's talking about his interest in the rare plants of the Himalayas, his curiosity about the Yeti, and his initial theory of its origin, you believe everything he says because he believes in it and appears to know what he's talking about. But, more significantly, he makes a Rollason a very honest and respectable person. Like I said, he's very interested in finding the Yeti, willing to go mountain climbing again, in spite of an accident he had some time before, to find it, but his interests are purely scientific and he's far from thrilled when Tom Friend eventually tells him that he plans to trap one of the creatures and bring it back. In spite of this, though, he goes along with the expedition, intending to carry out his own work and research regardless, and remains the voice of reason in the party, while everyone else is either acting gun-ho and overzealous or very frightened by what's going on. But, as time wears on and Friend and Shelley become more and more unreasonable and erratic in their actions, especially the former, Rollason finds what he's saying falling more and more on deaf ears, particularly when he tries to make Friend understand that the Yetis are not what's dangerous and that they're getting themselves killed. He develops an affinity for the creatures after Shelley kills one of them, seeing on it a face that's neither ape nor man, and one of sadness and wisdom, and later deduces that, rather than waiting out in the Himalayas to die, as he originally thought, they may be waiting for mankind to go extinct so they can inherit the world. It even makes him question whether mankind as we know it is not actually "thinking man" but rather "man the destroyer." By the end of the film, Rollason finds himself completely alone after Friend gets himself killed in an avalanche and comes face-to-face with a couple of Yetis, who have a hand in getting him back to his wife and assistant. At the end of the movie, he declares that they didn't find anything and that the Yetis don't exist, likely to protect the species. I said "likely" because it's possible that there's something else going on, as we'll talk about later.

While Rollason is a very respectable, classy person from beginning to end, Tom Friend is someone who comes across as untrustworthy from the start and becomes more and more shady as the film goes on. As I mentioned earlier, opinion on Forrest Tucker's performance here wasn't exactly favorable, with makeup artist Phil Leakey having been quoted as saying, "Forrest Tucker might have been very good at some things but, to many people's minds, acting wasn't one of them and I think he rather spoilt the picture," but I feel that Tucker is, if nothing else, decent and suitable in the role (Nigel Kneale liked him). When he arrives at the monastery, Friend comes across as a loud, arrogant man who doesn't seem to have much respect for the culture and is very sure of his ability to track down and find a Yeti. He's also convinced of its existence, despite the meager evidence, and refuses to believe the Lama when he says that the tooth he brought is carved. He doesn't force Rollason to go with them, although he does admit that they could use him, and when he does come along with him, Friend waits until they've reached a hut high up in the mountains to tell him that they intend to catch a Yeti since he knew that if they told him before, he wouldn't have gone with them. While they quarrel about it at first, Friend later admits to Rollason in a much calmer tone that he's never exactly been a saint, that he did some smuggling after the war, making money off of fear and hunger, and now he makes it off of people's curiosity. However, he also claims that he feels that writing up a report about the creature isn't enough in this day and age and that he wants to use modern means, such as television, to show it to the world so it can be both profited and learned from, allowing people to gain a new perspective on humanity. When they reach the glacier where they pitch camp, Friend, after hearing that a blizzard will be hitting them in 24 hours, shows how little of a "golden character" he really is, though, when he decides to pass off a small monkey that they caught as a Yeti. Adding fuel to the fire, Shelley lets it slip that Friend, under a different name, was part of a fraud that passed off mentally incompetent kids as "Indian wolf children," which makes Rollason understood how untrustworthy he really is. They do manage to kill a real Yeti and are equipped to bring it back to civilization but, after he learns that Shelley thinks that the others are after him for killing their comrade, Friend takes the opportunity to try to capture a live one by using him as bait and even gives him a rifle with dummy rounds to ensure that they do take it alive. Shelley ends up dying of fright as a result, something which Friend refuses to take responsibility for, all the while claiming that the Yetis are savage animals and they're behind all the deaths, writing off Rollason's beliefs that they're the savages. In the end, either through hallucinations caused by the conditions or possibly something else, Friend believes he hears Shelley calls for him and goes out to look for him, causing an avalanche with his gunshots that buries him alive.

Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), the expedition's trigger-happy trapper, is just as disreputable as Tom Friend in that he's loud, disrespectful towards the locals and their country (one of his first lines upon arriving at the monastery is, "I don't know what's worse about it: the stink of everything or the ignorant natives or the filthy food they eat or what. You tell me," and attempts to take a picture of a sacred ceremony), and his morals and priorities are a little skewered. He ends up causing a lot more damage than Friend does, in that Jacque McNee is injured by one of his spring-loaded traps, kills one of the Yetis, which seriously upsets the others, and fires at them when they attempt to retrieve the body of the dead one. He becomes manic and unhinged when this happens, feeling that they're after him for what he did, and is desperate for a chance to get at them, which is why he goes along with Friend's plan to use him as bait in order to trap a live Yeti. So crazed is he that he momentarily forgets that McNee just fell to his death off a ridge and when Rollason asks for a spade, he says, "What do you want a spade for?... Oh, yeah, Jacques." Shelley's fright and paranoia of waiting in the cave for the Yetis to appear by himself, combined with Friend giving him a rifle loaded with dummy bullets, since he knows how trigger-happy he is, appears to be what does him in, as he seemingly dies of pure fright when the Yetis do get snagged in the net trap that was set for them.

One of the more interesting members of the expedition is Andrew "Jacques" McNee (Michael Brill), a photographer who discovered some Yeti footprints a couple of years before and since then, has become obsessed with finding the creature. However, he's not much of a climber, which is why he's been unsuccessful in joining any expeditions before, whereas Tom Friend, whom he admits he doesn't trust, wasn't exactly picky about who goes with him and McNee even paid him off to let him come; Rollason realizes that someone like him could prove to be a danger to everyone else. McNee gets his foot caught in a trap set by Ed Shelley when they reach the glacier, forcing him to stay in the tent they've set up, and it's not long after that they discover that he has a strange reaction to the Yetis' presence, going into a trance-like state whenever they're nearby (one such "attack" precedes Shelley's killing one of the creatures). Like Rollason, McNee is very curious about the Yetis, asking him what the dead one's face is like and learns of its undefinable features and the look of sadness and wisdom to it. Immediately after that conversation between them, though, McNee is again affected by the Yetis and follows the sound of their echoing calls, climbing up a cliff and falling to his death, an event which Friend blames on the Yetis, while Rollason feels it was a simple accident.

Kusang (Wolfe Morris), Tom Friend's Sherpa porter, also claims to have seen a Yeti and goes along on the expedition, although he ultimately doesn't contribute much to it and turns out to be something of a fraud when he claims that the small monkey that they catch is one of the snowmen. However, he does know a real Yeti when he sees it, and when he gets a glimpse of one's hand fiddling around the rim of the tent from outside, he becomes extremely frightened. After saying that he saw "what man must not see" and blames Friend for it, he takes off down the mountain in the panic and manages to make it all the way back to the monastery by the next morning. Kusang's ultimate fate remains a mystery, as the monks take him away after he shows back up and he's never seen again, with the Lama denying that he ever came back to begin with.

Two characters who were created specifically for the movie are Rollason's wife, Helen (Maureen Connell), and his friend and assistant, Peter "Foxy" Fox (Richard Wattis). Helen, who was named after Peter Cushing's real-life wife, helps her husband in his research but is dead-set against him going looking for the Yeti, one because she admits that she doesn't trust or, for that matter, like Tom Friend (and for good reason, too) and two, because of the accident that Rollason had several years before. She feels a little betrayed when she learns of his true intentions in coming to the Himalayas and is very worried about what his obsession with the creature, which she doesn't believe in, could lead him into, trying desperately to dissuade him from going. After he, Friend, and the others do depart, Helen begins to get an uneasy feeling that Rollason is in danger, which is reinforced when Kusang shows up back at the monastery, only to disappear, and the Lama merely says that they are in danger but from themselves. This is enough to get Helen to decide to go looking for Rollason, paying off Friend's Sherpa porters to help, and when they reach the hut up in the mountains that the party stopped at, they find Rollason and take him back to the monastery. As for Foxy, he's like Ed Shelley in that he admits he doesn't care for the country of Nepal or its conditions, saying he'll be glad when they leave, but isn't as abrasive about it and, while he doesn't believe in the Yeti either, he's not as against his going searching for it. He soon learns and agrees with Helen that there's something strange going on in the monastery, and after he witnesses the Lama's suspicious actions, he decides to help Helen search for her husband, paying off the Sherpa porters for their assistance.

The most mysterious character in the film is the Lama (Arnold Marle, who's also reprising his role from The Creature along with Cushing and Wolfe Morris). He comes across as a rather benevolent and soft-spoken person but, at the same time, there's something kind of otherworldly about him, as he seems to have psychic powers, able to sense when Tom Friend and his men are approaching and when they'll arrive, even though they haven't been spotted, and who is coming down the hall towards his chamber at one point. He also knows more about what's going on than he's letting on, as he denies that Kusang ever returned to the monastery when we know he did and he confirms Helen's suspicions that her husband and everyone else is in danger, "From their own actions." Most significantly, in spite of his denial of their existence, the Lama appears to have some connection to the Yetis, given his questions about the exact nature of Friend's expedition, his apparent mental powers, which the creatures themselves appear to have (there's a really unsettling moment where Foxy goes to see the Lama, only to find him in a trance-like state with a weird expression on his face, and the camera tilts up to the window and transitions back to the expedition, implying that he's linking himself to it in some way), and a cryptic message he gives Rollason before he leaves. He tells him, "Remember that you act in the name of mankind and act humbly, for man is near to forfeiting his right to lead the world, in face of destruction by his own hand. Now, when a ruler, king, is near death, he should not be seeking to extend his realm, but take thought who might, with honor, succeed him." Rollason doesn't understand what he means at first but, near the end of the movie, when everything's falling apart and he and Friend are the only ones left, he comes to understand it when he hits upon the notion that the snowmen are the successors to mankind, waiting for them to die out so they can take their place in the world. When he's brought to the monastery, there's an unspoken but clear understanding between him and the Lama when he says that he now believes the Yeti doesn't exist and the Lama closes the film with the line, "There is no Yeti."

For me, an icy and snow environment is the perfect setting for any type of suspenseful movie, be it horror, science fiction, or just a straight-up thriller, because of the inherent sense of isolation and claustrophobia it creates and this film uses it very well. While it doesn't negate the beauty of the Himalayas, as there are plenty of lovely, panning shots of the snow-covered mountains (in actuality, they're the French Pyrenees), and the film as a whole does look nice in the combination of the black-and-white and the widescreen format it was filmed in, once the expedition party makes it very high up to the hut and the glacier where the bulk of the story is set, you get a sense of how they're out in the middle of nowhere and are pretty much stuck there due to the conditions. Props have to be given to the production design, as these sets really do look like snowy, barren plateaus that are miles and miles away from any civilization, and in the scenes where they call for each other and the only thing hear are their voices echoing, it feels like they are completely alone. In addition, a lot of the dialogue scenes take place in the cramped interiors of the aforementioned hut, their tent, and the cave where they store the body of the dead Yeti, and the feeling of claustrophobia is apparent even before things start going very wrong. The nighttime scenes are particularly eerie, such as when they wander outside the hut into the dark and quiet, searching for the source of a sound McNee claims to have heard, or later when the only sounds are the cries of the other Yetis after they've killed the one. Of course, matters become much more dire when McNee's leg is injured by the trap Shelley set and Rollason can't be sure if the treatment he gave it is enough, saying that he should be in a hospital, and then the blizzard comes through and strands them there. Even though Rollason feels otherwise about them, they now have to deal with the Yetis with a raging snowstorm outside that obscures their vision and makes the situation even more frightening, especially for Shelley when he's waiting for them in the cave. And top of that, the poor quality of the air in those high elevations makes them ill-tempered and irritable, as quarrels break out very easily, and they have to be careful about avalanches, which is what kills Friend.

Besides the setting and the isolation, this film is similar to the 1951 classic, The Thing from Another World, in that the dialogue is delivered in a very naturalistic manner, with people often interrupting or talking over each other. This was Val Guest's idea, as he wanted to keep the film as realistic and grounded as possible and make it feel like a documentary shot by someone on such an expedition. It definitely helps to give it a feel that's very unlike other such movies of the time, especially those made by Hammer, and makes it a bit more believable too.

The monastery, which itself is quite isolated being high up in the mountains, is also portrayed as being alien and unsettling, mostly because of the notion of being strangers in a strange land. You have the situation of being unable to speak much of the native language, combined with how unusual and eerie the customs and, again giving credit to the art department, the architecture can be (a prime example being when Helen goes looking for what happened to Kusang and wanders around a creepy, dimly-lit hallway until someone jumps her), along with the isolation and claustrophobia and it can make for an uncomfortable experience. As if that weren't enough, there's the added notion of the Lama being a very mysterious person, with powers of perception that seem quite supernatural, and his clearly knowing more than what he's letting on, such as what did happen to Kusang and what's happening to the party up in the mountains. Like I said earlier, that scene of him in deep meditation or whatever it is he's doing, with that bizarre, zoned out expression on his face and the camerawork that suggests he's connected to the events occurring up in the mountains, is enough to let you know that there is something very strange and potentially otherworldly going on. It's small wonder why Helen decided to mountain a party to go searching for the others; above her worrying about Rollason, I think she also wanted to get away from that creepy place.

In depicting the Abominable Snowmen themselves, Val Guest decided to go with the "less is more" approach and keep them almost entirely offscreen until the very end, save for a few glimpses here and there and signs of their presence (which is another thing this movie has in common with The Thing from Another World). That was a good move, not only for how effective that technique is but also because, when you finally do get a dimly lit, full-body shot of a couple of them near the end (the image in the paragraph below), you can tell that they're just men wearing fur parkas and showing them out in the open could've turned this into the lowest rent type of monster movie. Their presence is already in the air when the expedition reaches the hut about halfway up the mountain and McNee claims to have heard some type of cry outside while Rollason and Friend were arguing. While they don't find anything when they go out to investigate, it succeeds in giving you the feeling that they are out there, one that is confirmed once they reach the glacier higher up and pitch camp. During another argument between Rollason and Friend, one where they end up accidentally damaging the radio, they hear something outside and find the door of the cage where they were keeping the monkey they'd caught ripped off, with enormous footprints in the snow next to it. While that's going on, we get out first physical look at a Yeti when one's hand reaches into the tent from underneath it, fumbling around as it grabs at stuff, and it's pretty unsettling-looking: covered in hair and with long, dull fingernails. When Kusang sees it and screams in terror, the others are able to see something by the tent but don't get a glimpse of the creature itself, although they do find that Shelley's traps have been smashed up. That's when you first see the affect that the Yetis' presence has on McNee, as he goes into a trance-like state when they're nearby, which is followed by Shelley shooting and killing one outside. They hear it let out a low, human-like yell and when they follow a trail of blood to its body, they see that it's much bigger than they expected it to be, while Rollason is taken more by the face than anything else (we don't see it). They then realize that the others Yetis know what they've done, as they can be heard mournfully crying in the distance, a sound that continues sporadically throughout the rest of the film. Their continued presence compels McNee to follow the sounds of their cries, which leads to him climbing up a cliff and falling from it to his death, and when they try to retrieve the body of their fallen comrade from the cave and get caught up in the net, you only see their struggling shadows on Shelley as they try to get free and he ultimately dies of fright.

The Snowmen are also mysterious because, when all is said and done, you're still not entirely sure what they are or of their true motives. Originally, Rollason theorizes that they're an undiscovered line of descendants from primitive anthropoids, one that evolved along with apes and humans, and went through a gradual extinction until all that's left of them are remnants living up in the Himalayas. When they end up killing one, while its physiology does match with some of his guesses, the face is what gets to him, as it doesn't look like an ape or a man and, as he describes, has a feeling of sadness and wisdom to it. He later comes up with a theory that the Yetis may have been meant to inherit the Earth but something happened and now, they're simply biding their time, waiting to die out altogether. But, after Shelley's died and he feels that the deaths that have occurred were because of themselves rather than the Yetis, Rollason then decides that the creatures are instead waiting for mankind to die out so they can claim the Earth and man as it stands now are the savages. Whatever the case maybe, the reason I said that you're ultimately unsure of the creatures' motives is because, while Rollason sees gentleness in the dead one's face, the film is so subtle in presenting what happens that you could believe that the Yetis caused the deaths in some ways. It's suggested that they have the same, highly-developed senses and abilities that the Lama appears to have, with Rollason telling Friend that they could possibly read minds and went into the cave to get the body because they knew that Shelley's gun was harmless. If that's true, then they could've possibly used their influence over him to drive McNee to climb up that cliff and fall to his death, rather than it being an accident or, as Friend suggested, his being driven mad by their constant howling, and may have intentionally caused Shelley to have a heart attack rather than it being of pure fright. You could also say that they're behind Rollason and Friend respectively hearing the smashed radio reporting that they must return to base camp and the sound of Shelley crying for help just as much as it could be hallucinations due to the poor air quality. Perhaps they wanted them to run outside and either die of exposure or, in the case of what happens to Friend, get caught up in an avalanche.

Nigel Kneale disagreed with Guest's decision to keep the Yetis hidden in the shadows, as he felt that they should be shown entirely in order to make it clear that they're not evil monsters and that mankind are the savages. As much as I can understand why Guest took the approach that he did, Kneale may have had a point, since the "less is more" approach is often used for creatures in movies that are meant to be sinister and frightening, like the shark in Jaws, Michael Myers in Halloween, and the xenomorph in Alien. Plus, the vagueness behind the deaths and their possibility having a hand in them could be seen as harmful to the point of the story, although I look at it as the Yetis simply defending themselves, as the deaths don't start until one of their own is killed. They may actually be gentle creatures but, when Shelley killed the one, all bets were off and they had to get rid of these men who were threatening. In fact, it's possible that McNee's death was unintentional and a simple result of his being affected by them, while those of Shelley and Friend were because they knew how dangerous they were to them. Or another way to look at it, seeing as how they may have known about Shelley's harmless gun but not the net, is that their powers do have limits and they didn't know which of them were dangerous, so they decided to get rid of them all. That could explain why they menacingly approach Rollason in the cave at first but don't harm him when they get close enough to look at him because they can tell by looking at him that he's different from the others, which is also why they help him make it back down (you see their footprints leading away from him when Helen finds him, so you know they had a hand in it). But, even then, you could say that they took extra steps to ensure no one else would come searching for them and wiped Rollason's memory, meaning that when he's saying at the end that the Yeti doesn't exist, it's because he's forgotten everything that's happened and the Lama is simply reinforcing it. My reason for thinking this is because of how Rollason's POV shot of the one Yeti's face blurs as it stares at him, as if it's taking control of his mind, and the way they just left him standing there, half-frozen, when Helen finds him. Guest said that for the revealing shot of that Yeti's face, he used actor Fred Johnson, whose eyes he described as being of "worldly understanding," to convey that they're benevolent creatures, but, like everything else, I'm not sure what I'm seeing in its expression. Because you only see it from the nose up, you could read almost anything into that stare, be it benevolence, understanding, indifference, whatever. All I know for sure is that it's definitely a memorable image, with how ancient it looks, and, as I said in my introduction, one I never forgot since I was a kid (although, I was very thrown since it looked nothing like the ape-like drawings of the creature that I'd seen depicted in various sources, too young to understand that was the point).

In addition to their clear ties to the Yetis, there's also something suspicious going on at the monastery, something which casts the Lama and the others there in a slightly more sinister light. When Helen is helping Rollason get his backpack on the morning of the departure, she sees a monk speaking with another man and gesturing upwards as if meaning the peaks, and this is enough for her to once again beg him not to go. She has good reason for feeling uneasy, because later on in their climb, the party is fired upon by three men who've been climbing along the mountains across from them and when Rollason looks at them through the binoculars, it's obvious that they're from the monastery rather than being the mountain bandits Kusang claims they are. Rollason, however, doesn't tell them this (you'd think he'd be concerned about Helen and Foxy's safety), and he also says that he thinks they were only trying to frighten them, which appears to be true since the men wait to see what their reaction is after they've fired upon them when they could easily pick them off. So I guess, like the Yetis, the people of the monastery may be peaceful but they'll still use force to ensure that no one solves the mystery if necessary. And remember, whatever happened to Kusang when he showed up back at the monastery is never revealed. They may have just isolated him so Helen couldn't find and talk to him, but it's still a pretty ominous affair regardless, as is when the Lama talks to Helen after she's jumped while looking for Kusang and makes her even more worried than she already was.

It's interesting that this film was released in the year 1957 because, while Nigel Kneale may have been inspired to write the original television program by the first major reports of Yeti footprints from Eric Shipton and Sir Edmund Hillary's explorations of the Himalayas in the early 50's (the former of which is mentioned in the movie), it would end up being a major year in the history of the creature. This was the year when Tom Slick, a Texas oil tycoon, mounted the first of several expeditions to search for the Yeti, the most notable incident of which was the discovery of a supposed mummified hand of one of the creatures at a monastery in the small village of Pangboche (which also had a supposed scalp). What's really interesting is that in 1959, one of the members of Slick's expeditions took bone fragments from the hand, smuggled them to India, and had help smuggling them out of the country and into England from, of all people, Jimmy Stewart, who was a friend of Slick's, where they were examined and said to be a close match to a Neanderthal. Does this scenario not sound like the plotpoint in the film where Tom Friend brings back a supposed Yeti tooth that was stolen from the monastery? Since it happened two years after the film, it's a real case of life imitating art, and would become even more so in the 1990's when the entire Pangboche hand was stolen from the monastery (unlike in the movie, the hand has never been returned).

Whenever I think of this movie's music score by Humphrey Searle (his only work for Hammer and one of a small handful of film scores he did altogether, with the most notable being The Haunting), what immediately comes to mind is a hollow, rhythmic, bell-like donging that you hear prominently during the opening and closing credits. It immediately sets a mood, as it sounds like what you'd expect to hear in a Himalayan monastery such as the one here, and there are many other bits of the score that have that distinctive, ancient Asian flavor to the way they sound, particularly in the shot of the Yeti's face at the end. Plus, during many of the sequences that take place in the monastery, including the first one after the opening credits, you can hear deep chanting from the monks which, like the donging, gets across the idea that you're in a foreign and mysterious place, one where it's not so farfetched for a creature like the Yeti to exist.

It's unfortunate that The Abominable Snowman is one of Hammer's more obscure films in its legendary horror and science fiction run, because it has a lot to offer. It has a great cast, headed by the always awesome Peter Cushing, who deliver their dialogue in a realistic way; a well-executed notion of isolation, claustrophobia, and being stuck in an alien culture and country, with great production design to help get it across; an effectively subtle and suggestive manner in which the title creatures are represented, including their origin and motivations; and a music score that helps sell the idea of this being a setting far outside of one's comfort zone. Other than a few slow spots and how the more sinister way of looking at the Yeti and Lama's motivations can clash with Nigel Kneale's ultimate purpose with the script, it's a film that I can say I don't have many problems with and is, by far, the most well-made and classiest scary movie dealing with a cryptid (the only other one that comes close is Ryan Schifrin's 2006 movie, Abominable, which, despite the title, is actually about a Bigfoot; trust me, it's by far the best Bigfoot movie featuring Lance Henriksen). If you can track it down, I would recommend giving it a watch.

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