The Abominable Snowman is a horror film from Hammer Studios of a different sort, one that still features a monster, in more than one form, and one that tries to look at its subject in a bit of a different light. Written by Nigel Kneale, he and director Val Guest turn the film around on its ear and asks the question of whether man is the monster on this Earth and if it is not indeed man who is the lower form of life. These questions have been asked before in many movies, particularly science-fiction pictures, but not so often in a horror film, and rarely, if ever, in a Hammer production. It is nice to see a script as thoughtful as this one in a picture of this type and it makes the film much more enjoyable because of it. Adapted from Kneale’s own BBC play, The Creature, with Peter Cushing reprising his role, the film is definitely one of the best of Hammer’s earlier outings.
Peter Cushing stars as Dr. John Rollason, a botanist whose life-long goal has been to find the elusive Yeti, a creature native to the Himalayas. Despite warnings from the Lhama in the village and pleading from his wife, Cushing will not be swayed and joins an expedition that has set out to find these abominable snowmen. The journey is dangerous, even without the possible threat of the legendary creatures, with storms and avalanches and everything else that comes with climbing a mountain and soon enough, the members of the expedition start dropping off, one by one.
Directer Val Guest expertly brings together this tale of man, monster and nature, creating a picture both thought-provoking and suspenseful. At times it does feel a little slow, especially at the beginning of the film, but once the expedition is up and running, the pace picks up and the combination of being part adventure film and part horror, really grabs your attention. It also helps that long-time Hammer cinematographer Arthur Grant is on the job, as he helps Guest to make this film as moody and eerie as he can amongst the dangers of the mountain. Filmed in black and white, the movie has a very isolationist feel about it with the vast expanses of snow that are often featured, including the wide-open skies and the absence of anything living. It is a very stark landscape and that in itself is a little scary and yet, it looks utterly beautiful.
It is in this land that our characters find themselves, often wondering if they are only chasing a myth, wondering just what it is they are trying to prove to themselves. Eventually, the expedition finds what they are looking for and their first reaction is to destroy what they do not know, a common foible among humanity. As the film progresses, Dr. Rollason starts to come upon the realization that they have made a big mistake in coming up the mountain in search of these creatures. He theorizes that these beings are here so that they might escape the danger that man represents, to possibly wait out humanity until it is safe to reappear in the world. Kneale provides some great dialogue during this moment of the film and presents his argument of man’s destructive nature through Cushing’s character. One thing about watching or reading material from years past, you note how we as a people have always been aware of our impact upon the Earth, and that this realization has been present long before the current climes we find ourselves in. It is a bit of real-world genius in an otherwise fictional setting that makes this film just a little bit better.
Cushing of course is the star of the film and he does a fantastic job as the botanist turned mountaineer and monster hunter. He is the voice of reason amongst the other men and provides guidance when push comes to shove. It is a little strange almost, to see Cushing in this part as he always seems the proper gentleman, but his professionalism shines through and when all is said and done, it is nice to see the man in different kinds of roles. Forrest Tucker would play Dr. Tom Friend, whose performance was just as good as Cushing’s, albeit quite different as he played the brash American who thinks he knows all there is to know about everything. Maureen Connell would play Cushing’s wife in the film and be the only female presence in the picture, and it would sadly, be a small role at that. The rest of the cast would be made up of Richard Wattis, Robert Brown, Michael Brill and Arnold Marle, though none would stand out as much as Cushing or Tucker.
Some people might not like this film as it is a slow-burner, but it is rewarding if you should stick it out. The creature effects are actually pretty good and it worked to the film’s advantage to hardly ever show the full yeti. The film also featured a decent score and combined with everything else, made for a very enjoyable time. The Abominable Snowman would not be the first movie to be recommended out of the Hammer library, but it would definitely be on the list.