Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN. Hammer Films, UK, 1957. Released in the United States as The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. Forrest Tucker, Peter Cushing, Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis, Robert Brown, Michael Brill, Wolfe Morris, Arnold Marlé, Anthony Chinn. Screenplay: Nigel Kneale, based on his 1955 BBC teleplay entitled The Creature. Director: Val Guest.

   Running just over 90 minutes, The Abominable Snowman stars Peter Cushing (Dracula, The Mummy) as an English botanist on an ill-fated Himalayan expedition to find the mythical Yeti.

   The film is, in many ways, more of a psychological thriller than a traditional horror film. Both the claustrophobic isolation of the Himalayas and the tension between members of the expedition party play far more prominent roles in the narrative than do the Yeti, whom we see only briefly toward the end of the film.

   The plot is relatively straightforward. John Rollison (Cushing) and his wife, Helen (Maureen Connell) are living and working in the Tibetan monastery, Rong-ruk. They are guests of the enigmatic Lama (Arnold Marlé) who seems to know a lot more than he lets on. Although Rollison isn’t in the best physical shape in the world, he insists upon joining the expedition of the loud-mouthed American guide and showman, Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker). Helen isn’t happy about the arrangement.

   The party’s goal is find the Yeti. But Friend and his associates have different goals than Rollison. Friend, a conman and a fraud, wants to capture a Yeti alive and sell it to a carnival show. Rollison, more pure of heart, wants to study and learn about the Yeti.

   He posits both that Yeti are intelligent, sentient creatures and that they are merely biding their time on Earth, hidden up in the Himalayan peaks, until man destroys himself. They also have quasi-hypnotic powers.

   The doomed explorers do manage to find and to kill a Yeti, setting into motion a chain of events that leave Rollison the sole surviving member of the expeditionary party. The most important scene in the movie occurs in an ice cave when Rollison finally encounters live Yeti. He makes eye contact with one of them and realizes that his theory about Yeti intelligence was indeed correct.

   The film, a product of the anxieties of the Atomic Age, imparts a fairly obvious message about how man’s hubris may end up being his downfall. The theme of what it means to be civilized also features prominently in the film. This is notable given the fact that the late 1950s were the beginning of the end for British imperialism.

   While I would not go so far as to say that The Abominable Snowman is a particularly notable film, I found the story about how the Yeti will be man’s successors to be thought provoking. Unfortunately, the production quality now seems considerably dated.

   The film’s pacing can feel a bit slow. Indeed, unlike The Mummy (also from Hammer films two years later and reviewed here earlier on this blog), which remains an absolute gem, The Abominable Snowman, while not a bad film, really doesn’t stand up to the test of time. Perhaps that is one reason why, in late 2013, Hammer Films announced that they are planning to remake this oft-neglected British cult classic.

   In conclusion, The Abominable Snowman is certainly worth watching at least once, if only for the ominous Eastern-themed music, bells, and chants that provide the film with a strong fosters a sense of both wonder and of impending doom. The monastery setting, which features considerably in the movie, is also visually stunning. It’s a reminder that the film was meant to transport the viewer into a different realm of existence and human understanding.

   While I probably won’t watch the 1957 version again any time soon, I’m quite looking forward to seeing how the forthcoming remake turns out. I only hope the filmmakers do make it more of a psychological thriller than a creature feature.